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posted: 5/16/2013 11:32 AM

Honesty about emotions can head off conflict at home

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Within a minute or two of when your wife, child, parent or husband gets home, I'll bet you know exactly what type of day they've had.

All of us live in a variety of worlds -- work, school, a team, church, home, etc. -- and each of these worlds has its own set of stresses, strains, disappointments and satisfactions. That's life.

That can also be trouble. All too often the frustration we build up at work, for example, gets carried home. And we wind up taking it out on our family or friends there.

I call these emotions we carry with us "emotional baggage." Some of us walk around carrying a small overnight case with a few feelings we've packed away. But it seems like a good many of us lug around steamer trunks crammed with frustration, anger, bitterness and hurt. And when we finally get home we just dump them out, making a real mess in the process.

Dealing with emotional baggage -- ours, our friends', our family's -- is a difficult task. It requires a good deal of awareness, honesty, empathy, acceptance and forgiveness. Let's talk about that for a bit.

The best way to keep emotional baggage from overloading our relationships is to pack away as few feelings as possible to begin with. If we are ticked off at our supervisor at work, we need to find a constructive way to express this.

We might simply tell that person on the spot. Or if that's out of the question, we may want to share it with a coworker. We might even take a break; go for a brisk walk, and talk (or yell) to ourselves. The key is to get it off our chests when we feel it, rather than packing it away. "I'm mad!" So be honest about it.

Even when we work to keep our load of emotional baggage to a minimum, we are bound to carry a suitcase or two home with us. It is important, then, that we all recognize this and figure out a way to unpack these emotions carefully.

First, we have to be aware that they are there. I have a 15-minute drive home. Sometime during that time I try to ask myself, "what am I taking home from my office?" Good feelings or bad, there is almost something there.

Recognizing our feelings, we want to honestly clue our family or friends in on what we are carrying in the door with us. A simple statement like "I had a really lousy day" or "I've been missing you all day long" can give others the information they need to understand how we will initially be able to relate to them.

It is important at that point that those of us already home respond empathically. "Tell me about it," or "Yeah, you really look bushed," or "I like to be missed" are ways of letting another person know we hear them and care.

When we do this, we have also given our baggage-laden spouse, parent or child the freedom to unpack the various feelings they have carried home. They might not need to say anything else and be ready to enter into family life for the evening.

Or they may want to sit down and talk at greater length about their thoughts and feelings. As we listen, we need to remember that we don't have to solve each others' problems. We usually can't. When we listen empathically, caring, comforting and accepting, we allow each other to move beyond our feelings and work on resolving our own problems.

Such unpacking needs to be mutual. If our spouse has just given us a chance to share some of our emotional baggage, we need to then do the same for him or her. It goes both ways.

The final word I suggested was forgiveness. Recognizing that no matter how much we try to carefully unpack our emotional baggage, we will still make a mess sometimes. It is important, then, to forgive each other for not being aware, honest, empathic or accepting.

Sometimes we need to just confess, "You know, this is not how I want to treat you. Let's start over." Working together, we can often straighten things out a second time around.

Tonight we will head for home, probably all carrying a suitcase or two of emotions. Let's plan now to work on unpacking them with each other rather than just dumping them on each other. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.

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