What is Triangulation
August 4, 2020 by Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh bowens system theory, triangulation, what is triangulation 0 comments
You may have heard the latest celebrity gossip regarding Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s relationship drama. If not, let me catch you up to speed – Jada openly admitted to having an ‘entanglement’ with a much younger man without Will’s consent or knowledge. This abruptly caused a firestorm across the internet with questions and jokes about ‘entanglements’ and what this all really means. Underlying this drama is an important lesson about relationships and specifically, ‘triangulation’ within relationships. An ‘entanglement’ is a form of ‘triangulation’. Triangulation occurs in a relationship when something or someone disrupts the flow of communication or emotions between the couple. Triangulation could be a manipulation tactic by one person in the relationship, but quite often triangulation happens when a relationship is struggling and without people even realizing it is happening or that they are facilitating it. In Will and Jada’s case, her ‘entanglement’ with a third person may have served to evoke strong emotions or bring previous relationship issues to the surface, forcing communication. However, it certainly doesn’t take an affair or an ‘entanglement’ for triangulation to occur.
What is triangulation? Originally, the concept of triangulation came out of Bowen’s Systems Theory which is a theoretical model used by some therapists to understand and explain family dynamics. In families, triangulation occurs when one or both members of a couple pull a child in to be the third point in the triangle. In this scenario, the child absorbs some of the stress of the relationship or acts as a communication device between the couple. This can occur in relationships where the parents are still together, but struggling in the marriage, or when the parents are separated but do not take the necessary steps to communicate while continuing to co-parent. At any rate, triangulation within a family system puts the child in an extremely difficult position.
More recently people have noticed another kind of triangulation within their relationships. Within the context of family and marriage therapy, we see many forms of triangulation, even where the third point isn’t a person at all, but rather technology, and most often a cell phone. Quite often, one or both members of a couple may avoid in-person, direct communication about difficult or sensitive topics and instead rely on technology to do the communicating. For example, one member of the couple may post or interact on social media to passively communicate with their partner. One or both members of a couple may utilize their cell phones as either a conscious or an unconscious distraction device. Or, one or both members of the couple may seek comfort from their cell phone rather than their partner, avoid intimacy to be on their cell phone, or just generally not be emotionally available because they’re on their device instead of present in the relationship. Some studies have shown that just the mere presence of a mobile device, even when it isn’t being used, can detract from face-to-face interactions. Effective communication is essential for a positive relationship and while triangulation doesn’t signify the end of a relationship, it is likely to lead to significant problems.
By: Lauren Aikin-Smith
Audrey Juhasz & Kay Bradford (2016) Mobile Phone Use in Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 52:8, 707-721, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2016.1157123
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/