“Triangle” is a term out of Bowen Family Systems theory used to describe a phenomenon in family systems whereby a third entity (not always a person) is used to stabilize conflict and distress in a relationship between two people. Triangles are generally thought of as undesirable because it is a communication avoidant strategy or pattern that resolves the distress surrounding an issue without resolving the issue. Triangles involve shifting alliances among three entities; these alliances always leave one of the three on the “outside”.
Triangles exist because the relationship between two individuals in a family system is regarded as the most unstable. If a significant issue between two individual doesn’t get resolved a consistent thread of distress in the relationship that bleeds into the day to day life of the relationship can develop. This may bring some hefty long term consequences to the table (lack of intimacy, lack of communication, avoidance, infidelity etc.)
One classic triangle involves the person struggling with addiction, the rescuer and the substance. This is a useful example because the relationship between these three is usually in a consistent state of distress during the latter part of the addiction and it is during these times that triangles become more noticeable.
During times when consequences of the use or addiction is contained to the family system (work is going okay, no legal issues etc.) the person with the addiction and the substance form the inside relationship. The rescuer typically utilizes nagging and other use control behaviors to try to prevent the person who is using from using. These behaviors are typically ineffective and create more distress in the relationship. In some ways it can, in the addict’s mind, justify increased use as a means of “dealing with it”. This places the rescuer in the role of “outsider”.
Eventually the person with the addiction is going to face an external consequence for their behaviors (bank notes as finances deteriorate, employment issues, legal troubles). Each of these consequences presents...