When was the last time you found out a vital piece of news through a secondary source? For instance – a (presumably close) friend gets engaged, but rather than telling you personally, they post it on social media. Or your sibling shares something your parents said that hurts your feelings.
Short of our partner or spouse, we can’t expect everyone to tell us every piece of news ( that is why social media is great!), but some miscommunications just put a pit at the bottom of your stomach. It’s almost like another person didn’t want to tell us personally to avoid conflict, but they still want to get a message across so they use another person (or social media) to take the fall.
That is called triangulation. We see it in every form of relationship, but in families it happens when someone is made the go-between for an important conversation. Triangulation is toxic in relationships. It erodes trust, creates bitterness, and has a habit of warping the truth. Some people use it purposefully to manipulate others and get what they want, or pit people against one another. Others use it to avoid conflict. sometimes people don’t even realize that practicing it is unhealthy – it’s all they know.
Here are three ways you might see triangulation appear in your life and how to combat it:
1. With your partner/spouse
You have expectations of each other about cleaning, intimacy, money or parenting styles, but instead of bringing it up gently, you gossip about it to your friends and expect them to bring it up with your spouse. Eventually your partner will change their behavior so you’re happy, right? Wrong. Also, this damages your friendships. Make time to have an honest, gracious conversation with your partner and understand where they are coming from. Direct communication is key!
2. With your children
Do you feel awkward or uncomfortable having a certain conversation with your child? Maybe you ask your spouse to do this all the time, or you seek another adult in their life, to fill the gap for you. It’s not bad to have a support team around you while you raise kids – but instead of dismissing tough and life changing topics to someone else, get their input and support so you can pioneer the chat with your child and support them afterwards. As a parent, this is your responsibility.
3. In parental conflict or divorce
When a couple is breaking up, the kids become the go-between. Often, they believe it is their fault their parents are breaking up, and they will go to any length to try and keep the peace or keep favor with one or both parents. It is understandable you don’t want to speak to your partner following a break up, but do not rely on your child to pass on vital messages. Make a phone call, share a message via the solicitor, or send a text. But keep the pressure off your child.
Another way triangulation happens during couple conflict and divorce is that children become pawns and are expected to counsel their parent, fill the gap of the spouse, or hate the other. This happens when the parent speaks badly about the ex, in front of their children, or vents about their associated own pain and expects their child to comfort them – much like an adult friend or spouse would have done.
We often see kids act out when this happens, or they grow up too quickly and learn they need to save everyone. Your child isn’t responsible for you or your spouse’s health, so reach out to a professional for help and learn coping techniques. If you need time and space to break down, ask a friend to baby-sit or move in with family or friends for a season. And when it comes to talking about your ex, you don’t have to paint a picture of sunshine and roses. Be honest with your kids, but don’t be disparaging. Over the course of your child’s life, they may choose to have a relationship with your ex, and it’s important they don’t feel like they are betraying you if they pursue this.
Do you triangulate? Would you like to learn healthier communication strategies? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now.