January is over and we are well in to the new year. This month we return to the concepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory. I want to add more details about triangling because it is one of the most helpful concepts that I have learned from Bowen Theory.
Triangles often multiply as people seek relational stability. Let’s say I have a disagreement with my child. I am worried and I go to my partner for advice. My partner (who is the other parent of the child) talks to Child. We form a triangle of Child-Parent A-Parent B.
Child does not like what we say so Child goes to Grandparent 1. Grandparent 1 chastises us because Child is unhappy. Three more triangles form: Parent A-Parent B-Grandparent 1; Child-Parent A-Grandparent 1; Child-Parent B-Grandparent 1.
Grandparent 1 gets anxious about the situation and talks to Auntie. Six more relational triangles form. I won’t list all of the triangles that have formed! Suffice to say there are 10 overlapping triangles at this point.
Triangles can shift as people are talking or not talking to one another. When Child and I have a disagreement and I go to my partner (Parent B), I gain closeness with my partner and Child is in the less close/outside position. Child senses that they are in the outside position and talks to Parent B. The triangle shifts again so that Child and Parent B are closer and I am in the outside position.
In talking to Parent B, I realize that I am in the outside position and go talk to Child. Then Child and I move in to the closer position and Parent B is in the outside position. Parent B may then want to talk to me or talk to Child to regain an inside relational position.
And so forth and so on for eternity until the triangle is opened up by Parent B, Child, and I talking together to address the conflict.
Triangles Can Involve More Than People
We can form triangles using entities as the third point of the triangle. People may drawn in an entity or an office as the third point of the triangle in order to minimize anxiety. “The government,” “the church,” or “the school,” for example, can all be triangled to bring stability in to relationships. Let’s say someone’s child is not performing up to full ability in school. In order to deal with the anxiety over the child’s grades, the parent might triangle the school. “That school needs to adjust their grading policy!” the parent might say.
We can also form triangles using issues as the third leg of the stool. A church Finance Committee chair might be really worried about the financial future of the congregation. As Finance Committee Chair, the church member has intimate knowledge of the giving patterns of the congregation. Instead of risking relationships with church members, the Finance Chair becomes critical about the practice of paying apportionments in the United Methodist Church.
Look for Triangles
When we look for triangles, we begin to see them everywhere! Remember that triangling is a typical in human relationships. As I said in my first blog post on triangling, awareness is half the battle. When we are aware of triangling, we can begin to manage it in healthier ways.