Healthy Living

Triangles in conflict rarely resolve successfully

I’m a huge fan of the television show “The Bachelor” — partially because my wife is a fan, so loving her means loving “The Bachelor,” and partially because of how this show can teach good and bad relationship principles. As a therapist and educator, I love finding examples of relationship concepts in the media, and “The Bachelor” is a treasure trove.

One concept seen repeatedly on the show is triangulation. Triangulation happens when conflict arises between two people, so they bring in a third person. Sometimes the third person is brought in to help mediate the conflict; sometimes the person is brought in to take a side.

Regardless of why that third person is there, forming a triangle in the midst of conflict rarely results in a successful resolution.

On a recent episode, a triangle was formed between two contestants — Victoria and Marylynn — and the man they are trying to win over, Matt James. This triangle is known as the “drama triangle” and it has three roles that play out: the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer.

Victoria — this season’s villain — has decided that the other women wooing Matt don’t like her, especially her newfound enemy, Marylynn. During some alone time, Victoria, who has taken on the role of the victim, tells Matt that Marylynn is bullying her (although no evidence of this was provided in the show). She does this to make Matt the rescuer. Victoria needs Matt to save her from the persecutor: Marylynn.

Matt jumps into this role confronting Marylynn, who becomes frustrated and tells Matt that she never bullied Victoria. Unsurprisingly, Matt becomes confused and doesn’t know who to believe. Marylynn tries to talk to Victoria, but Victoria amplifies her role as the victim and storms away from Marylynn.

While this makes for entertaining television, anyone who watches “The Bachelor” knows it’s not going to end well for Victoria. In almost every season, someone tries to get closer to the lead by telling the Bachelor or Bachelorette that another contestant is causing drama — and it almost always results in the person complaining to the lead being sent home.

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But triangles don’t just happen on television, they happen in almost all relationships. When partners fight, one of them may reach out to a parent or sibling to vent their frustration; when parents’ divorce, they can use their children to pass messages back and forth; or when siblings fight, one of them may run to a parent to tell them it was the other’s fault.

Triangles aren’t always bad. But most of the time when we triangulate someone into our conflict, it doesn’t end the way we want it to. That’s because, when we bring a third person into our conflict rather than resolving it, we often make it worse.

If you are brought into someone else’s conflict, listen, support and validate, but don’t take on the role of trying to solve the problem. Don’t be the rescuer. If you try to rescue others from their conflict, you can then become their persecutor, and the drama will play out again.

If you tend to bring people into you conflicts, don’t ask them to fix it for you. It’s OK to ask for their support and validation, but don’t ask them to take your side. If you’re trying to have a relationship with someone who has to rescue you, eventually both of you will resent each other.

Just ask Victoria.

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