If you are conflict averse, having to initiate difficult conversations with loved ones can be so extremely anxiety provoking! I get it. When our significant relationships go haywire, we may frantically search for anything and in some cases anyone, to repair the pain.
Triangulation is a psychological process that describes a situation in which an outside person intervenes or is drawn into a conflict or stressful relationship in order to ease tension and facilitate communication. A healthy example of triangulation can be considered couples counseling or family therapy, in which a therapist is triangulated in the relationship as a source of new ideas, hope, support and guidance. When utilized effectively a helpful third person (such as a trained therapist) can support a relationship in adapting new perspectives. Nevertheless, when triangulation is utilized inappropriately, a lot of damage can be created.
The most obvious harmful example of triangulation includes having one person in a relationship engages in a secret love affair. Abusive forms of triangulation include but are certainly not limited to: flirting with others in front of their partners, emotional and physical infidelity, as well as comparing their partners to others as a way to manufacture insecurities in them. If you look at your life, you can most likely see your own examples of triangulation. Psychiatrist Murray Bowen, who was a pioneer in the field of family therapy, believed that triangulation can often be seen in our family of origin. For example, if a child is born into a strained marriage, that child becomes the third party, naturally absorbing some of the stress from the parents’ relationship and lessening the intensity of the issue between them.
If you see a strong theme of triangulation in your childhood, it is common to also have recurring themes of triangulation in romantic relationships, friendships, professional connections, social groups etc. Laura Brooks, a clinical social worker and faculty member at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family provides us with a greater understanding of why triangulations will be created in certain situations and not in others. A third person will be pulled into an already strained dyad in order to distribute stress more broadly among parts and therefore achieve a better sense of balance.” However, when triangulation is overly utilized in families, this dynamic can also cause people in a relationship to avoid directly addressing problems. For example, a couple who is experiencing difficulties might overly focus on their child instead of working on their marriage. The excessive attention on a child’s performance may inadvertently place undue stress on the child.
We can easily see the complexity of triangulation. When we utilize this method of coping in our personal and intimate relationships it can lead to further disconnection, avoidance and stress. Do you see themes of triangulation in your life? If yes, please know that you aren’t alone and support is available. If you are currently in a triangulation it can be highly beneficial to find a qualified therapist or counselor and explore possible causes of the conflict. It is very common to have stress inside of our intimate relationships. However, if you are struggling, consider addressing it directly with the person you are intimate with and/or invest in professional help. Any behavior that is learned can be unlearned! But it takes support, commitment and the help of experts to guide you to creating new patterns.
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