Fax of Life: Work-Family Spillover (Jan-Feb 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
January – February, 2004

Researchers call it “work-family spillover.” My wife and I call it “kick-the-dog syndrome.” It is the problem some of us have with letting stress at work poison the most important relationships in our lives.

Police officers, customer-service workers, air-traffic controllers, teachers, practically all of us who serve the public – we occasionally get barked at by unhappy people. The customer bought a product that doesn’t work. The person who answers the phone catches grief for something about which she knows nothing. Hurt, angry, or grieving people vent raw emotions on some innocent soul.

Years ago my wife and I heard somebody tell about a fellow who got chewed out at work. When he came home that evening, he turned away from his wife’s welcome kiss to gripe about a tricycle in the driveway. She in turn went to a happy child and chewed him out for failing to put his toys away. So the five-year- old boy went to put his bike away – and kicked the family dog on his way. When I come home grumpy and out of sorts, my wife doesn’t get in my face about it. She just asks, “Are we going to have to buy a dog?” Point taken!

The domino effect of toxic emotions is very real. The good-faith effort to put customers first leads companies to train employees to take verbal abuse without firing back. Those companies seldom go the next step to teach those people what to do to keep from internalizing the attacks they suffer. So they get home at the end of a workday irritable, defensive, and unavailable to their families.

Some people are able to deflect these blows easier than others. They don’t take them personally. They take deep breaths. They drink herbal tea. They exercise hard at day’s end and sweat out their tensions. They let a co-worker, friend, or mate in on what has happened and drain some stress simply by talking about it. They pray for God to give them the power to be present for the people who love them – and to keep them from dumping their stress on those people.

Maybe one or more of these coping strategies will help the next time you face the problem. The point in raising the topic of work-family spillover is less to tell you how to avoid it than to remind you and me not to put others in that difficult spot. I’ve found it is easier to ask for God’s help to avoid venting my anger on the fellow at the counter or a lady on the phone than to try to make amends later.

“As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).New Wineskins

Rubel ShellyRubel Shelly

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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