“Retreat, Re-think, Recover, Re-enter.”

One of my goals for 2019 is to do better in my relationships. As I’ve written about before here, my time is exceptionally precious, and I am greedy with it. When I have even a spare moment, I don’t want to talk to you or my fiancé or my children; I want to write or read a book or nap. I want to soak up all of my extra time like a Bounty paper towel in those commercials and use it for meeee.

Relationships, though, remain one of the most reliable indicators of a person’s happiness. A person is more likely to be happy if they have close, supportive, and intimate relationships than someone who doesn’t. 

The only way to have relationships with other people is to deal with other people. This is the least fun part of people: that relationships with them will always be imperfect and messy. Conflict is inevitable, so conflict-management is inevitable too. 

I am a rather logical person. I like facts. Data. Things that seem simple and inarguable. If I could have a formula for dealing with all of my life, I certainly would apply it. If I do X, I will achieve Y? I’m in!

Which is why when I heard a friend of mine say these Four Rs, I was over the moon. A FORMULA FOR CONFLICT-MANAGEMENT! WINNNNNN!

When you find yourself in a conflict with one of your loved ones, follow this formula, shared below in its very simply, unfluffy glory:

1. Retreat.

If you find things are getting heated about a specific topic or you and your person are just grating on each other’s nerves, take a step back. This might look like a time-out (“hey, let’s talk about this in 15 minutes.”) or not responding to an e-mail you just received from a co-worker for a specific length of time.

2. Re-think. 

We usually have some kind of part in our conflicts. What is yours? Did you say something you shouldn’t have? Were you a little reactive because you hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night? Evaluate if you had anything you may need to own. 

It’s also an opportunity for you to consider whether this issue is something you should or should not take personally. Did it seem like an overreaction on their part? Maybe they had a rough day and you got caught in the crossfire. It might not be about you at all!

3. Recover.

It’s always good to consider what you can do for your own self-care. You might need to take a walk, read a book, pet a puppy, meditate, exercise, eat some chocolate, or whatever else you consider actually beneficial for yourself and your well-being to recover before going through with the next step. 

4. Re-enter.

We can’t run away from our problems forever, though I honestly would like to some days. The hardest part of relationships for me is re-engaging after some hostility or conflict. I’m usually fearful, and my guard is up. But re-enter them we must if we want to continue those relationships. 

The relationships that matter the most to us will be the ones we put the most work into. 

Re-entering in a gentle fashion is important. 

Here are some good examples:

“I’m sorry was snappy with you about that transaction today. That wasn’t about you.” 

“I noticed you reacted in a big way to my question. I wasn’t meaning anything by it, and I didn’t understand your reaction. Is something going on?”

“I’m really nervous about this conversation. Can I have a hug first?”

“Can you walk me through what you were experiencing when we talked earlier?” 

That’s the whole formula. 

Retreat, re-think, recover, re-enter. 

It’s ridiculously simple, but like much in life, it’s easier written or read or said than done. 

The doing is the part of relationships that sustains and maintains them. The being is when we get to be in the present moment and enjoy what is. If scientists are right about close intimate relationships being positively correlated to our level of happiness, then doing the work means we get to sit back and enjoy those awesome beautiful moments when things do in fact seem to be going perfectly. 


Tara Mae Mulroy is a freelance writer who focuses on relationships. She is a regular contributor on Medium as well as the author of the full-length poetry collection, Swallow, and other writing found at her website.
Tara Mae Mulroy is a freelance writer who focuses on relationships. She is a regular contributor on Medium as well as the author of the full-length poetry collection, Swallow, and other writing found at her website.

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