Healthy Relationships 1.16: Internal Systems

Internal Interpersonal Systems

Now that we’ve explored human patterns within the individual, let’s see how these patterns contribute to patterns in relationship. No man is an island, and much of our time as human beings is spent in interpersonal relationships. To connect with one another, we use four systems: thinking, feeling, operating, and triangulating.

The Thinking System

The thinking system tries to define facts and use knowledge to form opinions based on information, perceived reality, and experience. To the degree that our information is limited, we are apt to make inaccurate judgments because of our distorted reality, biased experience and the confusion that results when fact and feeling are confused. These mistakes create all manner of problems between people.

The Feeling System

The emotional system provides the longing for closeness with others, and is also the source of much difficulty in creating and resolving interpersonal conflicts. It is neither rational nor irrational, neither true nor false, neither right nor wrong. It is rated by function: how well it works or doesn’t work.

The Operating System

The operating system defines how we make connections. If a person is angry, how does he or she convey it? By silence, fury, sarcasm, withdrawal, passive aggression? If a person is pleased, how does he or she express the feeling to others? Explicitly, by direct expression of approval? Or implicitly, by giving gifts, committing acts of service, being in close proximity, refraining from criticism, being available to spend time together?

The Triangulating System

When the thinking, emotional and operating systems become overloaded with tension, a third person may be brought in to siphon off the tension, or to help resolve the conflict. This is the triangulation mechanism, which seems so instinctual that identifying it and changing the patterns of various triangles feels downright counter-intuitive. But change it we must, if we want to minimize tensions.

Differentiation to the Rescue Again

As we saw in an earlier post, differentiation involves our ability to separate our thinking and our feeling systems. When we do this, we are much more likely to operate with objectivity and respect for others from our own internal resources, and much less likely to call on the fourth operating system, triangulation, to help us do this using an external source.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how you and your partner can work together, using your respective internal systems, to create the climate you want in your relationship.


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