This week I’ve been thinking about how our position in relationships can affect our ability to think clearly.

triangle is a three-person relationship system. At any given moment in a triangle, two people are on the inside, and one person is on the outside. When things are tense between two people, you want to be on the outside position, away from the drama. But when things are calm and content between two people, it’s hard to be on the outside looking in.

You might be in the outside position of a triangle if:

  • Your partner is hanging out with a friend.
  • Your boss is praising a coworker.
  • Your kid wants the other parent to help them.
  • Your friends are hanging out without you.  
  • Your in-laws are visiting.
  • Your siblings disagree with you.
  • One of your parents has started dating again.  
  • Your adult children want to get together without you.
  • Your friends are laughing about an inside joke.
  • One parent seems closer to another sibling.

When you are in the outside position of a triangle, it is easier to feel abandoned, unheard, or not supported enough. It’s easy to lash out, accuse others of being unfair, or try to pull one person to your corner.

When a person can rise about their initial reactivity, and see that they are simply in the outside corner of triangle, they have a better chance of staying calm and responding with greater maturityThey can say, “My spouse isn’t rejecting me.” Or think, “My kids will probably have a better relationship with me if they have a strong relationship with each other.”

Families, friend groups, and work places function better the more everyone has a solid one-to-one relationship with everyone else. You’re not losing because your kid wants their dad to help with homework, or because two co-workers excelled at a project. But if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to feel and react as if that is the reality.

Have you been in the outside position of a triangle lately? As many people become vaccinated and begin to spend more time with others, you might find yourself in the outside position from time to time. Can you see the triangle and slow down before you pick a fight? Can you observe when other people are reactive because they’re in the outside position?

It’s no secret that when you try to drive two people apart, it often encourages them to cling more intensely to each other. So instead of butting into the happy twosome, think about how you can work on your one-to-one relationship with each person.

So get to know your dad’s girlfriend. Spend time with your kids individually. Call your in-laws. Be curious about your impressive coworker, instead of competing for the boss’s attention. Thinking one-to-one calms down a relationship system, and it slows down your tendency to see other people’s interactions as a rejection.

Some questions for you:

  • When have I been on the outside position of a triangle?
  • How did I react, and what was the result?
  • Is there a more thoughtful way of responding when I am on the outside?  

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