What Is Triangulation In A Relationship?

Relationships require a lot of work. Even if both you and your partner excel in communication, that doesn't mean that your relationship will always be flawless, seamless, and without problems from time to time. Relationships are supposed to have their fair share of issues and couples are supposed to argue. Arguing isn't just healthy, but sometimes necessary for two partners to get to the heart of the matter.


"Arguments in relationships have a broader meaning when applied to different situations," counselor Manjari Saboo tells Bonobology. "Through arguments, couples can find solutions to their issues, clarifications, peace of mind, a better understanding of situations as well as each other's thought processes. This, in turn, enables better handling of each other's point of view."

But while arguing is normal and healthy, sometimes one partner doesn't want to handle the relationship's problems on their own. Instead, they'd rather reach out to a third party to get their perspective and insight into the problem the couple is having. There's no denying that a third party can be beneficial to a struggling couple as long as that third party is unbiased and, ideally, a trained professional. However, some partners opt for a close friend of family member to get involved to remedy things instead of a therapist. This is called triangulation.


What's triangulation?

If you haven't heard of triangulation, that doesn't mean that you haven't experienced it in your relationship — perhaps you have, but just never knew the word for it.

According to PsychCentral, triangulation is when one partner brings a third person into a conflict within a relationship as a way to "remain in control." From the onset, it can seem like a good idea to get a third party's input on an issue in a relationship, especially if it's been ongoing. In most cases, though, the person who decides to bring in that third party suffers from narcissistic traits. It's their way of manipulating their relationship to be as they want it to be by playing both their partner and the third party against each other. It's ultimately about "divide and conquer" so the narcissist comes out on top of every argument every time.


Triangulation is a form of abuse. But because it's being done by a narcissist, it doesn't always look abusive because these types of people rely on manipulative tactics to keep themselves in control of all situations. Gaslighting and the silent treatment are just two techniques that narcissists use to abuse their partners and force them into a form of submission, per Healthline.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Why triangulation isn't a good idea

Although an unbiased third party can help diffuse tension and conflict in a relationship, if the person bringing in the third party is a narcissist, then the likelihood of that third party being unbiased is pretty low. There's also manipulation hard at work by the narcissist.


"[Bringing in a third party] is usually done to create emotional distance and space between the abuser and the person they would like to control or manipulate," licensed marriage and family therapist Tameca Dove tells Bustle. "A person uses triangulation to manipulate others and communication is used as a way to control and mislead."

Even those who swear up and down that they can't be manipulated, can still be manipulated by a narcissist — they have unseen skills that people who aren't narcissistic can't even fathom.

Not only is triangulation manipulative and abusive, but it can also be a sign that the person who keeps relying on a third party needs to work on their communication skills. A relationship involves two people — if it's not polyamorous — so there really shouldn't be a need to bring in someone else to "fix" the problems of the two people in the relationship. Unless, of course, that person is a trained counselor or therapist.


In all other cases, people should stay out the business of someone else's relationship. If your partner doesn't agree, you may want to ask them what they plan to gain by inviting a third party to discuss your problems that, ultimately, you two can figure out on your own in time.