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I have several friends on Facebook that I have recently unfollowed. Not because I don’t like them anymore or no longer desire to have a relationship with them, but because there are things that they say or post that result in me experiencing negative feelings about them as people. When it gets to that point, I know, for me, it’s time to disengage for a while.

At some point, all relationships will be stressed by some level of conflict or disagreement. Sometimes in the midst of the situation, we find ourselves wanting to engage with the person in ways we know will not be helpful. When we don’t make a choice to manage ourselves, we often do or say things that damage the relationship more. This occurs sometimes in our service settings between co-workers or between caregivers and people served. In those moments, it may be the time to disengage.

When I say disengage, I am not talking about avoiding the person and cutting them off. Instead, I am talking about taking the time you need to manage yourself and seeking ways to reengage in a more positive way. Sometimes all we need is a short period of time to calm ourselves and sometimes we may need longer. There also may be other stressors that we need to recognize are affecting the way we feel about this person right now. When we are ready to reengage, it may also be helpful to communicate to the person in a respectful way how their behavior affected you to increase their awareness of the situation.

Maintaining healthy relationships takes a lot of work. Avoiding people and walking away without the intention of reengaging can often result in regret later on. Maybe, in those situations, a better response could be to unfollow for a while instead of unfriending.

Doug ZehrVogt, Mandt System Faculty

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