Saturday, September 3, 2011

Emotional Triangles

Anxiety may be the most common byproduct of living in this fast-paced and complicated culture. I am sure that every generation has had to deal with its particular set of stressors back to the dawn of man. But what might set apart our more current generations is the intangible quality of many of the fears and threats that we have to face. There just seems to be more and more things that we cannot control or affect. And the result is increased anxiety.

So what does this have to do with triangles?

In relationships, a dyad (two people or two factions) is considered to be unstable. As long as a dyad is free of anxiety, it will function well. But introduce some stress into the relationship and it will become unstable.

One way we try to bring stability to the relationship is to form an emotional triangle. We look around to find a third party to absorb some of the anxiety the dyad is feeling. Parents do this with kids. They over invest emotional energy into an acting out child, which takes the focus off their own troubled relationship. The child can then be blamed for the stress in the marriage.

We can also reduce our anxiety by bringing in a third party as an advocate to our position. If I can convince a friend or family member that my spouse is the problem in our relationship, then I feel some relief. The problem is that it creates more distance between me and my spouse. And as an added bonus, when I eventually make up with my spouse I may have to deal with a damaged relationship I created between my spouse and the third party.

We not only can form emotional triangles, we can also be drawn into them. Other people will often try to bring us in as the third side of a triangle. It happens in families, it happens at our workplace and it happens in churches. It can occur through gossip (“Did you hear what so and so said about Judy? Can you believe that?”)

Every time we form an emotional triangle we will compound the problem.

The only solution is to be very vigilant to recognize when a triangle is about to be formed and resist it. It is important for problems to be dealt with directly between two parties.

Am I saying that it is always wrong to bring in a third party to a problem?

No, of course not. Sometimes it is the only solution. But the third party must be as unbiased as possible. The Bible has already outlined this process.    

Matt 18: 15-16 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.

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