Try this on. You’ve just hung up the phone after an offensive conversation with a friend or co-worker. Pressure akin to a winter sinus headache builds as you replay the conversation–what was said, meant, implied. Tension hinges upon a small misunderstanding, but setting the record straight would probably make things worse.
What now? Workout like a doped-up cyclist? Throw darts? Clean something? Here’s what most people do: they pick up the phone to call someone else, and a new triangle is born….
Square-one of conflict management is actually a triangle. A relational triangle represents how two people are affected by some third person or thing. Simple right? If it weren’t for emotion, you wouldn’t need to know these three strikes of unhealthy triangles.
STRIKE ONE: Mind Reading
Nothing gets a person looking for validation like paranoid mind reading. You’re not nearly as good at it as you think. Jumping to conclusions can create an entire narrative with no basis in reality. Sometimes navigating a particular situation is like playing connect-the-dots without knowing all the dots. Resist the urge to supply your own dots.
STRIKE TWO: Pity Party
Triangles make relationships challenging for everyone, not just you. Sometimes it takes courage not to react. That’s no overstatement. Misunderstandings can feel like a great imbalance–or as Yoda would say, a “disturbance in the force.” Urgency pushes us to find relief. It takes courage to stay your hand, let emotions settle, and develop the kind of cooler head we love to see in other people.
STRIKE THREE: Co-Conspirators
The long and short of developing healthy responses to the triangles in your life is to surround yourself with the right people in the first place. Healthy people and true friends will take the risk to disagree with you. Sometimes we just need space to vent. Healthy friendships provide room for that without adding negative fuel to the fire. Do you relate well only to people who always agree with you, especially if you complain about someone? Or, do you have people who will push back on some of the things you say? Will they risk calling you out because they respect you and the other person?
Seven Laws of emotional Triangles (Based on Friedman’s Family Systems Theory)
1. The relationship of any two members is kept in balance by the way a third party relates to each of them or to their relationship.
2. If one is the third party in an emotional triangle it is generally not possible to bring change (for more than a week) to the relationship of the other two parts by trying to change their relationship directly.
3. Attempts to change the relationship of the other two sides of an emotional triangle not only are generally ineffective, but also, homeostatic forces often convert these efforts to their opposite intent.
4. To the extent a third party to an emotional triangle tries unsuccessfully to change the relationship of the other two, the more likely it is that the third party will wind up with the stress for the other two.
5. The various triangles in an emotional system interlock so that efforts to bring change to any one of them is often resisted by homeostatic forces in the others or in the system itself.
6. One side of an emotional triangle tends to be more conflictual than the others.
7. We can only change a relationship to which we belong.
What helps you in the heat of the moment?