When two people are having a conflict, and one person brings a third party into it as a way of either trying to resolve the problem or easing the tension, a “people triangle” is created. Think about it: How many times have you had a problem with your boss, a friend, a spouse, or family member and then eventually went to someone else to talk about it?
Probably all the time…you’re just not aware of it.
I was witness to the creation of a “people triangle” just the other day. There was an argument at a recent holiday dinner I attended between a brother and a sister, both in their mid-twenties. It ended in an awkward silence, with the sister getting up and walking to the other side of the house. Lots of tension in the air. Very uncomfortable.
A few minutes later, some members of the family decided to take a walk, but the mother stayed behind to talk to her daughter about what happened—to “make sure she was okay.” Later in the day, she talked to her son to further smooth things out. And even though the mother was trying to make things better, she probably made things worse for her children’s relationship in the long run. That’s simply because the brother and sister never had to work it out on their own; Mom had eased the tension, which took away their motivation to work things out amongst themselves. She had put a big Band Aid on the relationship for them.
People triangles, like this one, leave our relationships with lots of unresolved conflict, stunt our psychological growth, and have a tendency to turn into unproductive complaining and conversations that are critical of others. If you want to be happier in your relationships, learn how to deal with differences, conflicting points of view, disagreements, and tough emotions by dealing directly with the person you’re having difficulty with, instead of involving a third party.
Go ahead—give it a try!