Do you find yourself bringing past fights into current fights with your partner? Do you hold back talking to your partner because you’re holding a grudge? Have issues popped up, without warning, which creates a bigger fight than anticipated? Using your parking lot of emotions can be a useful tool to avoiding all these setbacks in your communication.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations where we realize we have unresolved issues with a loved one, but the emotions can feel overwhelming and difficult to address. It can help to handle these emotions similar to how we use a parking lot. Parking lots are good for leaving your car while you go on an errand, visit a friend, go to work, or do some other task, and then returning to your car exactly where you parked it. In a parking lot of emotions, you leave your emotions that come up that may be problematic, while you go resolve some other issue. A parking lot of emotions help to resolve arguments and feel emotionally supported by your partner.
You might realize your unresolved issues while in the throes of an argument. Maybe you’re fighting about balancing your children’s schedules with your own and you remember the fight about a text message you found on your partner’s phone. Fighting about scheduling and a text message are two separate fights, both emitting a whole parking lot of emotions. You may feel the betrayal again, or the distrust. Another common time you realize you have unresolved issues is when you do not have the emotional capacity to discuss them. You’re tired from your day or, you have so much other stuff going on that you can’t give your full attention to this one issue. Save the discussion in your parking lot of emotions to revisit when you’re more energized.
Both of these situations can utilize the parking lot of emotions. Chances are, you’re feeling an underlying emotion that was triggered by the current situation. Whether it’s something your partner said in the current fight that reminded you of the feelings from the other fight. Or, you’re current lack of emotional capacity for things allow feelings to surface that you’ve been keeping buried. In healthy fighting, it is unhealthy to bring things up from the past, which is where the parking lot of emotions can be helpful.
Your parking lot of emotions can be a tangible piece of paper with a list, a note that you keep stored in your phone, or you can keep it in your head. Either way, you want to keep track of emotions that come up for you during conversations or arguments that don’t necessarily relate to the topic at hand. Creating your list is your action with that emotion in this moment. Do not bring it up in the current conversation, but be aware of the emotion and record it. Whether you feel unworthy, unloved, uncared for, excited, ambivalent, angry, sad, hurt, any emotion, you can put it aside to be worked through later.
Having a parking lot of emotions allows you to do two things. The first allows you to concentrate on the topic at hand. You won’t find yourself distracting the conversation with a tangent of the other emotion or the other, previous fight. Without distractions from previous fights, you and your partner now have the focus to fully resolve the issue at hand. Ideally, through communicating effectively about only the issue at hand, it will be resolved and the issue will not come up later where you might have to put it into your parking lot of emotions.
The second thing a parking lot of emotions allows you to do is act with more intentionality. You get to choose when to communicate about these unresolved issues. Instead of acting on your triggered emotion and risk communicating inefficiently as a result, you can choose a time that is best for you, maybe when you are relaxed and in a better state of mind. Or, after you’ve carefully thought about what you want to say and how you want to say it. You can also schedule the conversation, giving your partner the opportunity to prepare himself or herself for an emotionally driven conversation, making sure you both are in the best state of mind to be discussing harder, more emotionally driven issues. There is nothing worse than being ready to communicate something that is upsetting you and having it fall on deaf ears because your partner does not have the emotional capacity to receive what you are saying in that moment.
Think of your most recent argument. How did it go? Do you feel a sense of closure in how the fight was resolved? Did you feel empathy from your partner? Did you feel understood? Was it resolved? If not, add the emotion you were feeling to your parking lot of emotions. During this same fight, were other topics brought up? Were they resolved? If not, add these other topics to your parking lot of emotions.
Now think about how you’d like to bring these issues up to your partner. What do you want to say? How can you say the message so that your needs will get met, but your partner also has a chance to feel heard? When is the best time for you and your partner to talk, when are you the most calm? Do you usually do best in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings? During the week or on the weekends? With the children around or alone? In public or in private? Trial and error can help you to identify what works best for you and your partner if you don’t already know. Do you or your partner have a big stress coming up, or maybe did you just get through one? All of these factors need to be thought about so that you can make room to resolve your issues at last.
Once you have thoroughly thought about when and how you’d like to discuss your unresolved emotions that are sitting in your parking lot of emotions, schedule a time with your partner and start talking about one of the issues. Again, it is healthier to only discuss one issue at a time. Do not try to go over the entire parking lot of emotions in one sitting. Look over your list and choose just one thing based on level of importance and priority for you. Schedule a check-in once a week to discuss any possible parking lot of emotions. Your check-in will help you feel like there is always a time and place to deal with these lingering issues, and therefore less of a need to overwhelm yourself or your partner with too many emotional issues at once.
The parking lot of emotions not only helps you stay present and on task with focusing on one issue at a time, but it also allows you to be present throughout your relationship, outside of resolving issues. Unresolved issues can loom over you and prevent you from being truly present with your partner. Knowing that you always have a place to “park” your issues, as well as return to them on a regular basis can provide a sense of emotional safety, and a sense of productivity.
There is no time like the present to start identifying the unresolved emotions you’ve been carrying around day in and day out in order to work through them You can put this article into action right now, by grabbing a pen and paper and write down the first thought/feeling that that may be unresolved with your partner. If you struggle with trying this approach on your own, a therapist can help you develop this skill as well as provide you with an emotionally safe place to unpack your emotions. Help is available: 215-922-5683 x 100