Unhealthy Alliances – Triangulating

One of my father’s well-worn Bibles and a “red pencil.”
When I was growing up, my father was a workaholic pastor. When he wasn’t visiting people (he once had a goal of visiting 80 families a week), he was busy studying his Bible—hours on end and always with his red pencil. Now, both of those practices are noteworthy and I always admired (he passed in 2007) his discipline in that area of his life. But as a kid, I also felt that he had “checked out” of our family.
That’s when the triangulation began.
Now, I don’t know if the triangulation began because my dad withdrew into his work or if it was the trigger that sent my dad down a workaholic path. Either way, he seemed more like a distant uncle to me than a father while I was growing up.
When my older sister grew into her teen years, my mother (who passed in 2002) turned to her for support. But at some point that support turned bitter. My mother would complain to my sister about my dad. And in time, when I grew into my teen years, she also turned to me to complain.
This wasn’t the end of it, though. Another layer of triangulation began to develop.
Since my dad was like a stranger to me, I began to communicate through my mother the things I needed to say to my father, rather than telling him directly. Looking back on it now, I think that my mother’s bitterness toward my father began to poison my attitude toward him. And in time, I wasn’t avoiding telling him things just because he seemed like a stranger to me, but because I was losing respect for him as well.
I didn’t realize all the relational and psychological dynamics that were occurring when I was a child and teen. I’m not even sure that my mother realized how badly her triangulation was hurting our family. She probably witnessed my grandparents (her parents) using the same communication strategy … and so the pattern goes!
When I learned how dangerous and dysfunctional this practice was in my college psychology classes, it woke me up. It was then that I made a vow to myself that I would never practice this with my children.
Of course, God blessed me with three sons who’d rather do anything—including eating dirt—than to have a heart to heart talk about feelings, especially with their mom! So it really wasn’t a temptation for me! haha! However, there were times when my boys were small that I wanted to complain to them about their father—right after a fight or something—but I did not. I knew the power of my words to poison their young minds.
Is this type of an unhealthy alliance one you’ve experienced, or perhaps, instigated?
It can feel so right at the time, but it is so wrong!
Our children (no matter how old they are) should not carry a burden that is not theirs to carry. And carrying harsh, angry words against a parent is always a burden.
It’s what can make a non-messy or even slightly messy marriage, very messy, very quickly.
Would you join me today in speaking first to God about the hurts our spouses have inflicted on us, and then speaking the truth in love directly to our spouses.
After all, there shouldn’t be any other middleman than the Holy Spirit.

8 responses to “Unhealthy Alliances – Triangulating”

  1. Excellent article, Beth. Thank you!


  2. Thanks, Donna. I always appreciate your encouragement and readership! 🙂


  3. I liked the article as well! I was wondering if it extends to sharing with friends? I realize your blog is marriage related just wondering.


  4. Tonya, you bring up a good point that I probably should’ve mentioned in the post. “Triangulation” can occur in any social situation. It isn’t limited to parents with children. And it’s a dangerous, often insecure reaction, in every scenario where it crops up.


  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog today! I have been working as a child and family therapist for the last 3 years! I loved reading your post today and will be following you!


  6. i can relate. my home life growing up was a big fat mess. i have adapted some communication patterns that i grew up with because it’s all i know, but the Lord is redeeming me, teaching me what it means to have healthy communication. thanks for this reminder and Truth!-carissahttp://www.carissagraham.com


  7. Isn’t it great how God takes our messes and turns them into something good and beautiful. That’s part of what I’m trying to do here on this blog, in fact! Thanks so much for stopping by and encouraging me, Carissa … and for hosting Miscellany Monday for my “not-so-random” posts! 😉


  8. I’m so glad to e-meet you, Venessa! I will have to keep up with your blog too! Thanks for coming by here too and making me smile!


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