Re-Engaging Relationships after a Summer Apart

Five easy steps to manage conflict and give your relationships the boost they need to have the best year ever.

By: Tracy Carson, Eta Xi-Presbyterian College 

Regardless of how old you are, there is still something so magical about the beginning of a school year.  School supply shopping alone might be one of the most exhilarating office supply store excursions I can think of.  I mean, hello, neon sharpies? Lilly Pulitzer planners? I know you get me. I don’t need to say any more about the beauty of new school supplies.  Beyond the pens and planners, what about the opportunity to spruce up your wardrobe? Yes please.  I don’t even start school in the fall anymore but I certainly do my own version of back to school shopping! And then there is the whole reason for the season…going back to school and reuniting with friends that you haven’t had the chance to see over the summer.  And for you, collegian members of the first and finest, it often times means moving back into the dorms or house with sisters.  The beginning of the school year is just an all around exciting time!

Except when it isn’t.

Relationships among college women are fun and wonderful and poignant but unfortunately they can also be catty and sad.  We get our feelings hurt and things are said and then the interaction that looms around the corner upon move-in day is dreaded instead of celebrated.  We have all had experiences where we wish we didn’t have conflict among our friends, especially our sisters, but the good thing about a new school year is that it gives us all the chance to start fresh, in the classroom and out of it.  Whether you have had an intensive falling out among friends or simply awkward interactions that lead to more questions than answers, here are 5 easy tips to help you re-engage your relationships as you return to campus this fall.

1. Give Your Sisters the Benefit of the Doubt.  Just as a new school year is starting, allow your mind to have a clean slate as you engage in relationships.  Can you let a small offense slide? Can you talk it out with minimal confrontation? Allowing everyone to have a fresh start is a great way to approach the new school year.  Remember, she may have had an amazing transformation over the summer, and potentially you did as well.  You are another year older and whether you are a Sophomore or Senior you are modeling loyalty and sisterhood to someone, so why not give your sister the benefit of the doubt

2. Engage Don’t Avoid.  Giving someone the silent treatment can be hurtful and only leads to long-term conflict.  You may think you are being the bigger person by ignoring but if you are still hurt or bitter then it’s a good idea to approach that person with love and kindness.  Use the beginning of the school year as an opportunity to place all of your relationships on equal ground and if you are able to engage the sister by asking about her summer internship or if she got into the best teacher’s English Lit class then it can be a small step toward reconciliation.  You don’t even have to address the conflict from the previous year, your initiation will let her know that you care about her, not the conflict and want to move on.

3. Strength comes in numbers.  Initiating relationships with sisters that we may not otherwise be so inclined to do can be intimidating and often times overwhelming but it helps if you don’t have to do it alone.  Use these potential obstacles as opportunity for growth and challenge yourself to think outside the friend box. Can you use the opportunity for a Target run to invite someone to go with you instead of going alone? Is there an older sister that you can ask about certain professors? Seniors, can you initiate to the younger women and help show them the best way to register for classes or what times the dinning hall isn’t as full?  I know how easy it is to get comfortable in our friend groups but the start of a new school year is the chance to look beyond your comfort and see what you might otherwise be missing out on in the relationship department.

4. Confront Wisely. If something absolutely needs to be addressed from a previous year, do so with a clear head and plan of action.  Don’t allow a personal conflict to infiltrate your chapter and cause ripples of disengagement.  If you need to address the conflict do it wisely.

– Use neutral territory- like a common area or the living room of the chapter house (not a dorm room or personal space.)

– Clarify your perceptions and misunderstandings and allow them to do the same.

– Manage your emotional reaction.  You have chosen to initiate the conversation so you need to expect the unexpected.

– Stick to “I” statement as opposed to blaming or “You” statements.  Simply talk about how you feel, not assuming you know how the other party feels.  Ex. “I was so hurt when I caught you gossiping about the break-up with my boyfriend on the chapter retreat.” Vs. “ You told everyone about my breakup like it was your information to share and then you assumed you knew why we broke up!”

– Come to a mutually agreed upon conclusion and action plan for moving forward.  Don’t push for apologies but instead ask for forgiveness for your responsibility and trust that they will reciprocate the gesture.

5. Finally, You don’t have to Like all your Sisters but you do have to LOVE them.  If you have heard me speak at Convention or Leadership Seminar in the past, you know that this is one of my mantras that I repeat often.  In any size chapter, it is impossible for every single sister to get along with everyone else.  Group dynamics just don’t operate this way.  However, as we follow our Creed and seek to truly live for each other it is important to remember that while all different, we come together to create the first and finest that your campus has ever seen.  Conflict can get in the way of maintaining our highest ideals of sisterhood and you have the power to make sure that it doesn’t.  Always remember that, “leadership requires confidence tempered with humility and courage blended with tolerance.”

Tracy is  a Professional Counselor with an emphasis on young women’s issues specifically eating disorders, depression and anxiety. Connect with her on Twitter, LInkedIn, and Facebook

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