5 Commentsby   |  09.28.09  |  Uncategorized

Triangulation happens then “two family members join against a third” (McGoldrick, Gerson & Petry 2008). Triangles are relationships that contain individuals in “sets of three relationships in which the functioning of each is dependant on and influenced by the other two” (McGoldrick, Gerson & Petry 2008). The formation of a triangle usually comes from instability or tension from two individuals, in order to stabilize their relationship they join a third person to the relationship. The two people may join up to help the other person or to gang up on them, either way they are relying on the third individual. Nichols (1987) talks about not only the tendency of couple clients to involve others as the third person in their triangle, but therapists as the third person in a triangle. Therapist may be tempted to side with one person or the other, and often times they will be asked to.

The easiest way to understand triangulation is through models. One common example of triangulation is between parents and a child. One child can be cited as the problem in a household. Reliance on the behavior of the child’s negative behavior is an important factor. On the opposite end, a child may be sick, and the parents join to take care of the child. When the parents become overwhelmed with the problems of the child they do not have to face the problems in their own relationship. “In triangulation, each parent demands that the child side with him against the other parent” (Munuchin, 1974). In this scenario the child is used to maintain the current relationship between the parents. Here is a video of a child being used as a third person in a relationship. Much of the material I found pertains to divorced or separated parents; however children can be involved in triangles within an active relationship. Restructuring triangles is an important part of the therapist’s goal (Munuchin, 1974). Depending on the rigidity and the type of triangle there are several methods for restructuring their interactions. Families may come to therapy asking for help with a presenting problem, such as a child’s behavior, and not understand that the functioning of their relationship is dependant on the child. In order to help the family therapist should make it safe for the third party to have a separate relationship.

Triangles are loosely defined as the addition of a third party to enforce the stability of a couple, can common interests progress into triangulation? And what could cause this progression? How distinct is the line between bonding point/ common interest and triangulation?

Could a couple create a triangle with an object or thing that is not a person? (ex. pet, house, drugs, finances)

Triangles are sometimes helpful to the third person, for instance in joining to help a sick child, should they only be addressed once the need for help is no longer required, or are they always detrimental to the family system?


McGoldrick, M., Gerson, R. & Petry,S. (2008). Genograms: Assessment and intervention. New    York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Family and family therapy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nichols, M., (1987). The self in the system: Expanding the limits of family therapy. New York:       Brunner/Mazel.


  1. Blake Berryhill
    7:40 pm, 09.28.09

    2. I think a couple could create a triangle with inanimate objects. In my own FOO I have seen a family member “triangle” with her addiciton of alcohol.She uses this triangle as her way of coping with her anxiety and stress.

    3. I do not think that triangle are always detrmiental to the system. There are obvious cases, like the sick child, when forming a triangle is necessary. The trianlge can become dysfunctional if the triangle continues after there is not a need.

  2. Jacqueline Roberts
    10:47 am, 09.29.09

    (1) I definelty think taht common interests can sometimes progress into a triangle situaiton. For example, people involved in some sort of a competative sport would all share a similar interestes. However, because they are competing against each other insecurities and frustration might create triangulation between the players on the team.

    (2) I believe couples can form triangles around objects. Especially in today’s society were indepednece, career goals, and wealth are highly valued couples can get in a triangulation trap.

  3. Jaime Goff
    4:07 pm, 09.30.09

    Great video displaying triangulation! It’s so common for children whose parents are divorced to get pulled into very dysfunctional triangles. Even though I knew it was being role-played, my heart was aching for that little girl in the first scenario.

    As far as triangling things like pets, I definitely think it’s possible. I think my husband and I do it since we don’t have any kids to triangle. Self-disclosure alert…sometimes when I’m too frustrated with Eric to speak directly to him, I’ll tell my cat, Cassie, how irritated I am (even though he’s in the room and can hear me). Now you all know how weird I really am :).

  4. Tara Stephens
    3:23 pm, 10.20.09

    Triangulation is done out of necessity to keep stability. If a couple can not handle the anxiety or stress of a situation that is when another person or object is pulled into the situation. If the couple can handle the level of stress and anxiety of their relationship on their own, the other people or objects in their life are simply beneficial, not necessary.
    I definitely agree that triangulation could be between a couple and an object. My late aunt and her husband never had children and basically had a good marriage but during her battle with cancer, my aunt’s husband bought an old lake house to fix up. Basically, he brought that into their relationship to take his mind off of her cancer and to help relieve some of the anxiety he was feeling from his lack of power in his own life.

  5. Morgan Myrick
    2:55 am, 12.09.09

    Triangulation has definitely victimized me at multiple times during my life. I’m sure this comes as no shock to anyone seeing as how many times my parents have been married and divorced! I know all too well how hard it can be to be put in the middle and forced to deal with the overwhelming amount of emotions and confusions caused by this system. I do believe that triangulation can be done with objects rather than people. Couples use cars, money, homes, and other inanimate objects against one another all of the time. I have seen my dad start multiple projects during times of seperation from my mom that he used to keep the focus off of being alone.
    I don’t think that triangulation is always negative but I do think that it has to be controlled on a regular basis because it could change on a moment’s notice. However, I think that it is almost necessary to incorporate it at certain times and it can often be positive in helping families get through rough times if used in an appropriate way.

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