Stop Adding Friends to Your Relationship Fights

During an argument, you may feel like you need the help of a family member or friend to help find a happy medium with your partner. While seeking support from a third party may seem like a good idea, it can also be a sign of triangulation, which is a form of emotional manipulation.

“Triangulation is the interaction of three people to which the person did not give consent. Basically, it’s when your partner brings the other person into your relationship dynamic to help them achieve some goal of their own,” Dr. Sarah E. Hill , psychologist and dating professor, tells Lifehacker. “It usually happens when one partner tries to manipulate the other into behaving in ways that are beneficial to their own goals.”

Why triangulation hurts relationships

No one likes to feel like the third wheel in their relationship, and triangulation amplifies this unpleasant feeling tenfold.

“Intimacy is created by the couple sharing a private realm of communication and experiences that are not shared with others,” Hill explains. “So every time you bring another person into a relationship dyad—whether that person is real or exists in the abstract like the former—it reduces intimacy.” It is also harmful, she says, because it is ultimately manipulation. “Healthy relationships are based on direct communication about your needs.”

How triangulation manifests itself in relationships

According to Hill, triangulation occurs every time your partner tries to change your behavior or feelings using a third party as a means of manipulation. Below, she talks about some of the most common scenarios in which triangulation occurs.

  • Your partner mentions his ex and how hard he tries to get in touch with him. “Here they introduce a third person into your relationship dynamic to make you feel insecure and jealous to bring your attention to the relationship,” Hill explains.
  • Your partner has some problem with you, but instead of talking about it with you, he talks about it with someone you both know. “ [This is done] with the ultimate goal of getting information back to you,” Hill says.
  • Your partner is bringing a third party into your argument to tip the balance of power in their favor. “For example,” Hill says. “If you’re arguing about the importance of weekly dates and your partner is against it, he or she may drag a like-minded friend into the argument to try to get you to admit that dating isn’t important.”
  • A partner may tell you about a flirtatious colleague who is stalking them. “They might even ask for your advice on what to do with this person,” Hill explains. “They do this to give the illusion that they are highly desirable, to make you feel insecure and like you need to do more to make them happy.”

What to do with it

Hill says minimizing triangulation is often as easy as solving it directly. “If you don’t believe that your partner is intentionally manipulating you, you can simply say, ‘I understand that this is probably not your intention, but bringing this other person into our relationship seems like an attempt at manipulation.’ my behavior,” she explains. Then, says Hill, you can ask your partner to explain the reasons for trying to triangulate to see if the problem can be solved in some other way. “For example, if a partner talks about an ex because they feel they are not valued in the relationship, this is an opportunity to talk about healthy ways to make everyone feel valued in the relationship,” she notes.

However, if you believe your partner is intentionally manipulating you, Hill suggests having a slightly different conversation, focusing more directly on the inappropriate dynamics and clarity about your boundaries. “Triangulation can be a common ploy among narcissists, so it’s important to make it clear what you won’t tolerate in a relationship so you can escape if your relationship starts to get unhealthy,” she cautions. In this case, it may be a good idea to seek help from a third party, such as a therapist.


Leave a Reply