Stopping Triangulation: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Involving a Third Person in Your Problems

Most of my clients have some kind of challenge in their relationships with others. The struggle may be with a spouse, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a child, a neighbor, or a landlord. No matter who the struggle is with, we often discuss what someone else said or did and how my client felt hurt or angry about it during our sessions. When we dig deeper, many times I find that a big part of the problem is triangulation. Triangulation is when a third person gets involved in a conflict. It might feel good temporarily, but it will hurt you in the long run.

Think of an imaginary triangle of three people. An issue triangulation triangulation may come up between two of them: maybe something one person said or did that upset the other. Triangulation occurs when one of the two individuals involved in the issue ‘invites’ a third person into the debate or argument. By ‘invite’ I mean talks to the third person about the individual they have the issue with or talks about the issue itself. The original issue has little or nothing to do with the third person! The problem here is when we use this as a way to vent our feelings.

This is what talking behind someone’s back is all about. Let’s say it starts when you take issue with what someone said. You then ‘invite’ a third person in by talking about it with them INSTEAD of talking directly to the person you had the issue with.

This feels good temporarily because it gives you a chance to vent your feelings and feel understood by someone else. And putting someone else down is a means of getting revenge.

Triangulation, however, is NOT helpful in the long run. It complicates the original problem because now another person’s thoughts and feelings are involved. More importantly, it denies us the means to solving the issue. The best way of solving an issue is talking directly to the person who hurt or angered us. So, what do you do instead?

First, realize who the issue is really with. Identify which two people the original debate or hurt or anger is between.

Second, don’t ‘invite’ a third person into the discussion (in other words, don’t triangulate). It is OK, and quite beneficial, if you do choose to talk to a very specific 3rd person: that person being your therapist. It is a therapist’s job to help you figure out your personal relationships. Talking to your therapist is different from triangulation because the therapist’s intention is to help you decide how you’re going to resolve the issue. Your therapist will offer you tools and ideas for solving the problem and your therapist will encourage you to talk directly to the person involved in order to get it worked through.

Are you not in therapy, but you can see how you triangulate? Sorting this out is one of the many benefits of being in a supportive therapy relationship. We are here to help you find solutions to your problems.