Triangulation is often unhealthy, and is a sure sign of the breakdown of a relationship. Are you, or other members of your family, experiencing a situation of triangulation? If so, help may be needed to reopen communication and save the relationship.

Triangulation in psychology is explained as the breakdown of communication between two people, and a third person becoming involved as a go-between. The third person often carries negative information and accusations between the two key parties. This does result in the messages occasionally being related incorrectly, and in some situations two parties are played off against each other. Some examples of triangulation show that it is the necessary course of action to keep everyone safe; this is often true in cases where one key player is an alcoholic or drug taker, or if abuse has occurred. Whether required or not, most situations of triangulation are very unhealthy, and are generally associated with dysfunctional families. However, triangulation can take place anywhere; in schools, workplaces, and between friends. It can be linked to normal ‘high school’ behaviour, particularly among groups of girls. This isn’t really a cause for concern, unless it escalates into abuse and bullying. However, if triangulation affects you later in life, the situation may grow more serious. This is especially true if the lack of communication between two parties extends for a significant period of time.

How Triangulation Can Harm Us

Triangulation can be very harmful to us if normal communication is not resumed relatively quickly. It can result in the total breakdown of a relationship between two people and will undoubtedly cause tensions in relationships with the third member of the triangle – the go-between. The situation can become like game of Chinese whispers, in which messages become warped between the two main parties. Triangulation can also result in insults being constantly thrown back and forth, stalemate, and no progress being made towards a resolution. This is very harmful, and can have other unforeseen circumstances. For example, it may result in people suffering from depression, or anxieties. One person might withdraw socially, and rely on the go-between for contact with the outside world. This can lead to further problems linked to agoraphobia. In some severe cases of triangulation, members can develop thoughts of running away, self-harm and suicide. The go-between is often quite a vulnerable person, and carrying out this duty can cause stress and anxiety issues for them. Also, the task of relaying messages back and forth can prove to be a significant distraction from their own lives, work or education may suffer as a result. Triangulation can be very harmful, and the longer it continues, the more likely it is that professional help will be needed to recover individually and in terms of the relationships involved.

How Triangulation Affects the Family

Let us look at an example of how triangulation could harm a family unit. A married couple argue because the man goes out drinking with his mates regularly, and the woman thinks he should be at home helping to care for their new baby. The pair also have another child, who is 13 years old. A situation of triangulation develops, in which the mother and father do not speak, and the 13 year old is the go-between. The mother might grow depressed or feel overwhelmed, because she now has to shoulder all of the care for the young baby. She might feel unsupported and have low self-esteem. The father might withdraw further from family life, he may even feel that he has to move out for a period of time; this can reduce the likelihood of a resolution. He might feel angry and depressed that he can’t see the new baby. If the father does not move out, tensions in the home will be heightened dramatically, and might cause issues of stress and anxiety for everyone involved. The 13 year old go-between might accidentally give warped messages, and grow fearful that they are making the situation worse. They might feel they are to blame and can suffer esteem and confidence issues as a result. Or they may grow resentful of one or both parents. In this manner, the relationship between the third member and the two key parties is damaged. As we can see, this results in highly negative consequences for familial relationships. It is also likely that if triangulation takes place in a different setting, similar results of unhealthy relationships will be found.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy may be required if any member of the triangle develops a psychological issue as a result of triangulation, be it depression, anxieties or another disorder. Therapy or counseling may also be needed to open communication, heal relationships and reform bonds. This can take the form of marriage or family counseling. Or one individual may need individual therapy to address underlying prior issues, before relationships can start to move forward; this is often true for substance abusers. Whether this is happening at home, at work, or among peers, help may be required. Do not feel ashamed about needing help; therapists will not judge or betray trust. If triangulation is affecting your life seek professional support to start overcoming problems and moving forward.

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