Dating Wisely 1.16: Triangulation, Part 5

Interlocking Triangles

Today’s discussion on interlocking triangles brings us to our last post on how triangulation can impact your dating and mating choices. In the last two posts, we’ve noticed that the granddaddy of all triangles–the father-mother-child-triangle–drives our choice of mate, whether we know it or not. Let me provide an example of how this granddaddy triangle can interlock with others in a family of origin.

A Personal Example

Having come from a family of five, there were nine interlocking triangles in my family of origin:

  1. Dad-Mom-Jon (oldest child)
  2. Dad-Mom-Deb (middle child)
  3. Dad-Mom-MJ (youngest child, me)
  4. Dad-Jon-MJ
  5. Dad-Deb-MJ
  6. Mom-Jon-Deb
  7. Mom-Jon-MJ
  8. Mom-Deb-MJ
  9. Jon-Deb-MJ

The triangles that were most significant in my choice of mate when I was 20 years old, which resulted in a divorce 17 years later, were triangles 1, 3, 4, and 7. Of course, all of these triangles affect each other, so they’re all involved to some degree.

But the role of my father in triangle 1 was replaced by my brother in triangle 4. This would not have occurred if the dyad between my parents had been solid and secure, because when it came time to select a mate, I would not have been trying to replace my brother, who was standing in for my dad in my heart and mind. Both my father and brother had emotionally and physically deserted me (see “…Triangulation, Part 3”), leaving me with a deep, empty unconscious wound that I would eventually expect my future husband to fill–a sure set up for failure.


Ideally, when it came time to transfer my loyalty from my family of origin to my nuclear family, my father and mother would have been sad to let me go, but glad that I was ready to start my own family, creating something that was unique to my new husband and me. That process would have been more like a graduation than a cut-off.


Instead, as is common in chaotic families, leaving home to go to college in another state was both a difficult and relieving. I no longer had to hear my parents fighting all the time, but I had to worry about what was happening without my presence there. It turns out that within a year, with no children at home to actively triangulate with to diminish their tension, the stress had become so intense between my empty-nesting parents that my father paid with a fatal heart attack.

Incidentally, I had just begun dating the man who became my husband when my father passed away, so unbeknownst to him and to me at the time, Scott got neatly wedged into my psyche where the ghost of my father was. This meant that he wasn’t just his own person to me; he was playing a role he should never have been required to play.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Interlocking triangles are difficult to spot until you practice looking for them for a while. Then you see them all over the place. Although this can be disheartening, I hope you’ll also find it hopeful, in that you can’t change a pattern until you know it exists, and even then, it’s really hard to grow and strengthen new neuropathways where the old ones were operating outside your awareness.

I encourage you to find a good mentor for this, someone who’s got training and practice with understanding triangulation. I discover new dynamics of old triangles all the time, and I’ve been doing this for many years. Be patient with yourself and those in your triangles. It takes time, effort, and commitment to Dating Wisely Concept #7: Avoid Triangulating before you’ll be able to sort things out enough to make a tangible difference in your relationship awareness and in your dating choices.


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