Healthy Relationships 1.27: Triangulation, Part 5

Triangulating with Another Partner

In the last several posts, we’ve been discussing how people form triangles when the stress in their dyads seems too great or too complicated to resolve. Sometimes people do this by triangulating with another partner. Such a triangle is a particularly painful one for everyone involved.

Divorce with Awareness

At the age of 38, I found myself divorced. I had never expected to go through such an experience, and the process was excruciating. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and the only reason to go through it is when staying in a relationship is even more painful than dissolving it.

I was extremely careful as I navigated through the end of my marriage, conducting myself in such a way that I wouldn’t dishonor my husband or myself as we separated. The last thing I wanted was to get myself embroiled in another relationship, and certainly not before we had brought a solid legal end to our marriage.

I committed to learn everything I could from that failure before I moved on to my next relationship. In fact, it felt to me like I might never be ready. It’s amazing how many people engage in serial monogamy without attempting to learn from the failure of their relationships.

Undifferentiation Kills Relationship

I learned from the failure of my marriage that both my husband and I had entered into our marriage as children. We hadn’t really separated from our families of origin to become our own individuals, and we unconsciously hoped that the other would take away the pain of our unresolved childhood wounds. Instead, we simply recreated the conditions to re-injure those old wounds, a process described well in Patrick Carnes’ The Betrayal Bond.

Back in the Market Again

When I got back out into the mate market 2.5 years after the divorce, I was armed with an understanding of how the wounds of my childhood had played out in my choice of a mate, and I wanted to make different choices this time. I wanted to conduct myself as a Woman with a capital “W,” not just a girl grown into an adult body. Furthermore, I wanted to be with a Man, not just a boy in an adult body.

Because healing from old wounds such a painful process, I was aware that it was unlikely that there would be many men who’d done this work. I expected an awful lot of men to be unaware of their own inner workings, because there weren’t many women who seemed committed to this kind of self-understanding, either.

Careful as I tried to be, over the next nine years, I ended up in two relationships in which my romantic partner misrepresented his availability to me. In the first, with Gene, I was intoxicated by the fact that we shared many interests and commonalities, including a master’s degree in psychology. I thought I might have gotten lucky. However, Gene was very close with a woman who he’d dated for 10 years, and who had veto power. In the end, Estela’s ultimatum to Gene was friendship with her or romance with me. I didn’t want to be in a relationship under those conditions, so I backed out.

Although Gene told me early in our relationship that his romance with Estela had been over for 10 years, I came to understand that he was still in an emotionally exclusive friendship with her that was very much like a marriage. The tension between Gene and Estela was chronically high, and his relationship with me eased that tension for about 10 months. In the end, everyone got hurt, and Gene’s relationship with Estella was left in an even more tense state.

A Second Attempt at Triangulation

Several months after I severed our relationship, Gene emailed me: The covenant I have with Estela is too strict and must be enlarged to permit the growth of spirit. In principle, I understand the urgency of her terror, but we all must live.

In other words, even after the betrayal that both Estela and I experienced, Gene was seeking me out again to form a triangle to ease the tension between he and Estela. Needless to say, I didn’t accept. Had Gene had the courage to be honest with Estela, I would have respected him as a Man. Sneaking behind her back was the game of a boy.

Defining Your Principles in Times of Calm

In my view, a Man is confident, but not cocky; self-assured, but not arrogant; poised, but unassuming. He knows who he is, and he’s able to take care of himself. A Man or Woman with a capital “M” or “W” is not just a male or female child who has grown into an adult body. A “Man” with a capital “M” is an adult who has done the hard work of growing up into his own unique person, separating from Mom and Dad, and then reconnecting with them as equals, with appropriate boundaries. Same with “Woman” with a capital “W,” and that’s what I aspired to be.

The mating market is filled with people who are triangulating with other partners, because they haven’t taken the time or put in the effort to define their principles. Consequently, they’re motivated by fear of being alone or loneliness. Fear and loneliness are forces so powerful that they can cloud our judgment and cause us to forget that satisfying the hungry lion by engaging in relationship with someone who’s not really available will harm others. Living with awareness and integrity, defining our principles during times of calm, can help us avoid the pain we create for ourselves and others when we engage with other partners as if they’re mere objects to quell our desperate desires.



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