Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

ID-100112057Mom and dad are fighting. Mom turns to you and says, “Your father is unreasonable. Tell him he is being impossible right now.” You think, “Dad is being unreasonable. I see mom’s point. Should I say something and support her right now?”

No, resist. The fight doesn’t involve you, but suddenly you are brought into the conflict between mom and dad. This creates an unhealthy triangle–two people have a conflict, but now a third person is brought in to reduce the tension or stabilize the interaction.

Family triangles form when two people (mom and dad) stop relating directly to each other and a third party (you)  is brought in between them in order to reduce the immediate anxiety or tension. This is not a position you want to be in as it prevents the two people with the conflict from talking and resolving the issue. This “triangulation” puts the third party in an uncomfortable position to take sides in an issues that really isn’t about him or her.

When you are the third person in an unhealthy family triangle, your job is to detriangulate yourself out of the conflict. Get out of the middle in order to force two people to deal directly with each other. Refuse to take sides and push the two people involved back to each other. This will feel uncomfortable because pulling in the third person is an attempt to reduce tension. But refuse to be that third point of a two person conflict no matter how uncomfortable it feels. For example, you could say, “Mom this is between you and dad and I really don’t want to get involved. It’s better for you and dad to work it out.”

The forming of family triangles often prevents family members from working out their conflicts directly, a skill necessary to develop intimacy and grow in a relationship. So if you find yourself being pulled into a family conflict that doesn’t involve you directly, push the problem back to the two people involved. Don’t be tempted to solve it or take sides, as this will not help the two people involved learn to deal with each other directly. And being the third person in a two-person conflict can negatively impact your relationship with one or both of the two people as well.

So if you see an unhealthy triangle forming, refuse to be put in the middle. Lovingly say, “I’m not going to get involved in a problem that really doesn’t involve me. I think you two should work it out with each other.”

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