The truth about triangulation

“The Story of Joseph is YOUR story.” ~ DA

 

There is always a staggering toll initially for telling the truth, especially about family

Every parent needs to be studied. Every marriage must be truthfully pondered. One’s role among siblings needs to be comprehended. This is not being critical; it is studying the landscape to make one’s way through the dark woods of past harm. We are formed in the midst of the crucible of attachment and the tensions of our family of origin. We can’t even begin to understand our character until we better understand the role we played in relationship to every member of our immediate family.

This will unquestionably bring up stories of harm…

The goal is not to tell our stories to get over them, or even to gain insight. Instead, we must enter the stories for the sake of grief, anger and forgiveness. Grief opens the heart to receive comfort. Anger moves the heart to stand against injustice. Forgiveness frees the heart from resentment and the accusations of evil.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, pg 224 DA

This is the first blog in a series about how children can be harmed within families. This blog is about the concept of triangulation within a family- what it is and the harm it does.

God designed marriage to be an exclusive relationship, of highest priority and loyalty between a husband and wife, secondary only to their relationship with Him. In fact, the marriage relationship is meant to be an allegory, a living picture, of our relationship with God (see Ephesians 5, Song of Solomon, Hosea, Ezekiel 16, among more!).

There is to be a “leaving” of all others, not just in a sense of location- changing residence, but leaving emotionally, spiritually, and in the sense of loyalty. And then a “cleaving” to the spouse above all others in these same areas.

This reality of mutual giving and receiving of love can be weighed in the question- How much delight does the wife have for her husband? and he for her? Do their eyes light up for each other, and something deep in their soul says “Yes!!” for the other? And secondarily, how much honor is there between husband and wife?

The negative form of assessment might be, instead of this lighting up for the other is there a groan, a rolling of your eyes for the other?

John Gottman, phD studied couples and marriages and found rolling eyes highly predictive of divorce, *because* it is a sign of contempt for the other. (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman)

This assessment is important, because it is here, in this breakdown of love- of honor and delight- there forms a fissure in a marriage.

Whenever there is a fissure in a marriage there will be triangulation with the children in the family. The unmet needs of each parent to delight in another and receive delight don’t just disappear. When those needs are not being met by the spouse, there is a vacuum that MUST and WILL be filled. The desires of the heart will inevitably be redirected, often towards a “chosen” child, resulting in an emotional affair. We use language that makes it palatable and call this the “favorite” child syndrome.

Reread the story of Joseph- see the fissure in his parent’s marriage, how Joseph was the “chosen” of his brothers, the envy, and sabotage… the suffering Joseph endured. And when he said, (Genesis 50:20) “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” He’s talking about FAMILY, not some outside source of evil, but his own family meant him harm!

Here’s the typical triangulation scenario in our day: For whatever reason, distance comes into a marriage between husband and wife. They may still keep proper appearances, but all desire, delight, and true heart to heart intimacy is gone.

The shift of the woman’s heart can be seen in her eyes. While there is an eye-roll or a groan toward the father, the mother’s eyes light up for her son and she has a smile for him that she has never had for her husband. Her husband is not oblivious to this, he knows that her heart has been given to this child in a way that she has not given it to him. What then is human nature? The husband will be filled with envy toward the son. We may call his harsh treatment, cynicism, criticism, and mockery toward the boy “tough love” or laugh it off as “all in good fun”, but in reality it is sabotage and revenge toward his rival- the “surrogate husband” of his wife.

Of course it goes both ways… the husband chooses his “favored” child as well. (either sex, but often a daughter). The same scenario plays out: sabotage from the envious mother, often in the most subtle of ways… a comment about the daughter’s weight, or clothing that “is only meant to help” of course… or can manifest in emotional neglect- lack of protection or guidance that an adolescent girl would need.

Then as well, the son will feel that his sister has a special relationship with the father while at the same time he feels the father’s disdain. Human nature would incite jealousy in his heart toward his sister. And what does he do? Well, he also knows the envy in his mom’s heart- they share this in common. He colludes with her in sabotage of the daughter. He is delighted in handing over his sister to his mother on a silver plater. What does this mean? Anything that will increase the daughter’s shame, alienation, and contempt from the mother.

In his podcast, Dan has said, “When you engage triangulation, you are engaging the Kingdom of Darkness. When you begin to name these dynamics, and stand against it, all Hell will break loose- literally.”

Most families have at least two triangles. It’s so common that we consider it normal. A daughter is described as a “Daddy’s Girl” or a son “Momma’s Boy”… there’s the jokes (and realities) about intrusive mother in laws. Why is that a cultural expectation? Because *often* a mother will turn to her son to meet her emotional needs when her husband is emotionally avoidant or physically absent (workaholic or divorce for example). And then what happens when her son grows up and marries? The new woman isn’t simply her son’s new wife… she is her rival.

And what is the damage done to the “chosen” child?

To be the chosen one is to be the object of a parent’s delight; it is also to feel the shame of arousal, desire, fear, and disgustnone of which can be felt for long without revealing the truth, so it must be wedged into a crack of consciousness and then covered over. The animosity in the family needs to be ignored or explained, so the real issue is obscured and fault is felt as some flaw in the self. Needless to say, the more subtle, crazy-making, shame-inducing, blame-avoiding the harm, the more free Evil is to sow seeds that are actually more difficult to address, at times, than overt abuse.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, DA

The damage done can be legion and varied just as the triangulation will be unique in how it plays out in each family culture. The harm can be strictly emotional, but can also involve direct or covert physical and sexual abuse. Even though emotional abuse may seem lesser, each can have a trail of physical effects on a person’s life: chronic depression, anxiety issues and disorders, sexual promiscuity or involvement with abusive partners, self-harm in various addictions or chronic physical ailments such as fibromyalgia. (see book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk)

For more information, see Dan Allender’s new book, Healing the Wounded Heart. There is a chapter called, “The Damage of Covert Abuse.” He outlines 4 types of triangulation and describes the aftereffects:

There are four forms of interaction that are most common for generating emotional incest: critical and/or demeaning, dependent and/or fragile, sensual and/or sexualizing, and infantilizing and/or hyperprotection.”

Listening to our children

RECAP:

The last post covered the reality that we do (mostly unwittingly) harm our own children. I emphasized the responsibility of knowing your own story and woundedness so you can begin to see where you are living out of brokenness that will impact your children. And then secondly, how we really do need the wisdom and insight from others to point us to see truths about ourselves that we truly are powerless to see on our own.

LISTENING TO OUR CHILDREN:

When it comes to the reality of harming our children, there is a second responsibility we as parents have: *Listening to our children*.  If you are thinking “okay, I got that one!”, let me suggest that it’s not as easy as it sounds!  Sure, we can listen to our children as they talk about school, or friends, or even being bullied on the bus… being involved makes us feel like “good parents”!  But what if your child is telling you: “Your anxiety (or anger) consumes our home. I often feel like it’s swallowing up my whole childhood. I don’t feel safe and happy at home.” 

Most families have an unspoken code (that children pick up on even before language develops), that such honesty and truth is unacceptable… They know that with such truth their parents would become completely unglued, and the whole family system would collapse. Since children depend on their caregivers for survival, they would rather loose their voice and keep their family intact.

If you want a family culture where your children can freely speak their thoughts and feelings, and be seen and heard (not just when it makes you feel good, but ALSO when you feel like you might actually become unglued!) it will take an immense amount of intention (and probably outside support!!)

Your children will start by observing your communication, honesty, and ability to repair in your marriages. Is that a scary thought? ;o)  If they see that “negative” thoughts and feelings are met with defensive attack  (instead of listening curiosity) they will assume that their thoughts and feelings will be met with the same.

Curiousity is a key concept here. *Listen with curiousity*  If you child ventures out to share a negative emotion (in any context), for example, they express anxiety about the families finances, if you immediately try to take away their anxiety and say “Oh honey, you don’t need to feel anxious, that’s for mom and dad to take care of… blah blah blah”, the child won’t feel heard, or validated, or safe in sharing. A *curious* response could be as simple as, “I’m so glad you shared with me that you feel that way, tell me more about that feeling. When does that feeling come over you? Where do you feel that anxiety in your body?”

This is a resource that Ryan and I really enjoy using: “Comfort Circle for the Listener”

https://www.howwelove.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ComfortCircleGuideForTheListener.pdf

NEXT post, I’ll get to categories of actually how we harm our children.

 

 

What about harming our own children?

After my last post, I realized that the material immediately begs this question- as we examine and come to understand the harm and brokenness in our families of origin that has shaped our own stories, what about our own children?  If you are brave enough to articulate the question- “How have I, or am I currently harming my own children? … Because just as my parents were not “pre-fall Adam and Eve”, neither are my husband and I!”

Ryan and I were fortunate to have a wise premarital counselor who told us: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parents.”

I think that gave both of us a huge feeling of freedom as we set out in our young family. It was kind of like permission from the beginning to fail. We simply accepted brokenness as part of the picture, and realized that we weren’t going to build our lives around a facade…  We didn’t have to waste years of frustrated parenting efforts to be “perfect parents”… Instead we built a family culture of *reality, honesty, humility, repentance and forgiveness.”

So if you never had the benefit as we did of our wise counselor, I’m telling you now: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parent.”

If you take this to heart, you may think- okay, then what next? start a savings account for my child’s future counseling?  (Actually, that IS a good idea- Dan Allender and his wife actually DID just that! *EVERYONE* needs counseling… only the brave and honest actually get it. As Ryan loves to say, “The people who say they don’t need it, are the really scary ones, and actually need it the most.)

I believe that given this premise, it is our responsibility to know our own stories, and to know our own woundedness. You will either parent out of your woundedness or out of wisdom… the only way to swing the balance (our woundedness will *never* be completely out of the picture) is to be growing in awareness… God designed us so radically for relationship, community and intimacy that we *CANNOT* grow on our own… we are dependent on others to grow in truth and faith. (supporting verses Ephesians 2:21, 4:16; Colossians 2:19; many in Proverbs)

The problem is… that *shame* and *pride* cause us to hide the broken and wounded parts of our hearts.  When we isolate our marriages and the reality of our family dynamics, insulating from any outside input or wisdom, Evil is bound to creep in, take root, and flourish.

Isaiah 30 speaks of our natural inclination to live in a false reality- either by distraction (*Social MEDIA*), dissociation (TV! Video games), addictions (PORN ), *Busyness* :

Isaiah says that these people, whom we are *just like* say: “speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions.” (30:10) Like them, we don’t want to face the truth of sin and evil  working in our families- that we grew up in, or that we are raising.

But verse 15, gives us the source of *HOPE* and *JOY* in the midst of painful reality:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;

In coming to the Lord and each other in honesty and repentance there is healing, hope and joy- as this passage says- **REST**. Otherwise, if you keep covering up, you will always be running, *fleeing*… anxious, and exhausted, and still feeling so weighed down with guilt.  Is that what you want??  Maybe the pain of truth is worth it because at the end there is rest, quietness, trust… and the Lord Himself.

In my next post, I’ll get into some categories or starting places to look into your stories and how they are lived out in your communities and families.