In my work as a couple’s therapist, one of the more useful skills necessary for maintaining a healthy, thriving relationship is the skill of disengaging from a fight—disengaging from an argument. It’s a kind of a ‘time out, let me cool off, let me not say things I can never take back, let me listen and be present to what is happening and being said, let me be the grown up here’ behavior.
Disengagement is a skill that works in situations where tempers and emotions are heading in an out of control direction and oftentimes, we think we have to argue and defend ourselves when in fact the rational thing to do is to stand back and think rather than react. We get caught up in yet another argument with no resolve when in fact we do have a choice. Someone is yelling at you and you are about to yell back, think about stopping dead in your tracks and saying “ No, I’m not having this argument—at least not now.”
Disengagement means taking time to think about how you behave when you are angry and think about a new approach. It means becoming ever mindful for the next time and allowing yourself the option to stop talking, stop screaming, stop arguing period—think first. Way before you are in that situation, give yourself permission to disengage—give yourself the choice about whether to argue. It means literally stopping dead in your tracks and allowing the other person to say what they have to say without interruption on your part. It takes two to argue and as soon as a discussion begins turning into an argument when yelling, screaming, and hurtful words begin, much is at stake in the relationship. When tempers and emotions are heated, all objectivity is lost and the goal is usually to make your point and be heard. Never is one in a worse position to be heard and to make a point when both are competing for the very same objective. And in winning the argument you begin the descent of undermining the relationship in an irreparable way. It is the “thinking ahead and planning to disengage” that helps in resolving conflict in the long run.