THREE IS A CROWD
If past attempts at solving conflict have failed, couples often turn to a third party rather then their spouse when new conflicts arise. When we are really hurt, offended or irritated we often go to our best friend, parent, etc. to vent, but in fact we are creating an emotional triangle. Triangulation is detouring conflict between two people by involving a third person, stabilizing the relationship between the original pair. The reason people do this is because once they have “vented” and gotten the problem “off their chest” it then stabilizes their mood and sets their relationship back into a neutral state— for now.
When two people have problems they are unable to resolve, they get to the point where it is hard to talk about certain things. The frustration begins to mount and they look to others for advice and sympathy. The issue with triangulation or constantly venting to a third party about your relationship is that it lets off steam but freezes conflict in place. It is a diversion that undermines the relationship. Conflict is never actually getting addressed with the spouse, but there is a sense of emotional release and compassion from the third party.
Not every third party involvement is classified as a triangle and not every triangle includes a third person. For example, men tend to be more introverted than women and don’t necessarily like to vent to “the boys.” As a male you may find that you withdrawal to video games, your computer or even dive into work when in conflict. What makes this a triangle is that you are diverting energy to these activities instead of into the relationship. The involvement of a third party (whether a person or an activity) decreases anxiety in the twosome by spreading it through three relationships. This works to restore peace temporarily until so much conflict gets repressed or swept under the rug that peace can no longer be restored.
The encouraging thing about emotional triangles is that once we are aware of them, we can start to bring our relationship back into alignment. I challenge you to examine your third party interactions this week. When in conflict with your spouse do you automatically text, call or meet with a friend tovent your frustrations? Do you withdraw and stay longer at work or watch every sports game on TV as a means of de-stressing and bringing your relationship to a state of stability? These are the subtle behaviours that eventually snowball out of control and cause couples to become strangers to one another without even realizing. Spend some time this week analyzing your behaviour when in conflict. If you find yourself falling into a pattern of triangulation make an effort to address the issue with your spouse instead of taking it to a third party.