Triangulation: “Two of my best friends are telling me about how bad the other is and making me promise not to say anything, and then I feel guilty.”

"In the Loop" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

“In the Loop”—Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Next time one of your friends starts talking to you about another friend, you might just ask, “What would you like from me? How can I help you with this?” If they just want to vent and complain, then I would back away from the conversation because it’s just not going to make anyone’s life any better.

People “triangulate” when they bring a third person in the middle of their conflict in order to relieve their anxiety, not to improve the situation. Sometimes people allow themselves to be triangulated because they like the feeling of being included and needed. But triangulation usually involves taking sides and doesn’t end well. Listening to complaints is draining and fuels negativity.

Dealing with triangulation and dealing with derogatory gossip have much in common. Here are some ways you can respond:

1. Have empathy for the person being talked about. Take the other person’s side and play the devil’s advocate.

2. Respond with light-hearted humor.

3. Avoid getting in the middle. “I think it would be more effective if you talked to him about how you feel, rather than to me.” Or “I care about both of you and think it’s best not to get in the middle.”

4. Focus your attention on why your friend is preoccupied with talking about your other friend. “Why are you obsessed with Amanda? Maybe it would be better to focus on your own life.”

5. Be direct. “I’m uncomfortable listening to all this negativity about someone who’s not here to defend himself.”

6. Help your friend improve the situation: “Can you think of a diplomatic way to talk to her directly?” Or “Have you thought about how you may have participated in this situation?”

Part of friendship is helping with dilemmas, conflict, and relationships. However, if someone is not attempting to gain insight and improve the situation at hand, then that person may simply be using you to vent and avoid the difficult task of self-awareness and growth. In situations of attempted triangulation a friend should speak up and challenge the other person to be the best he or she can be.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication

Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Read “Triangulation: ‘My ex can’t stop complaining about me to my child. I feel like doing the same right back.’”

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