All You Need to Know About Triangulation in Psychology

Last Update on January 11, 2024 : Published on January 12, 2024

Psychology is one of the most fascinating yet complex fields of science. Understanding the dynamics of human behavior and relationships is endlessly rewarding in psychology. However, psychology isn’t all about positivity, optimism, and constructive behavior. Sometimes, psychology is about introducing and understanding the dark side aka manipulation, in our case today. 

You might’ve been on the receiving end of manipulation — knowingly or unknowingly — but there could be times when you’ve been the instigator of manipulation. That could happen when you have a personality disorder, commonly known for manipulation tactics. 

One example of this can be narcissism. Narcissists, more often than not, are known to engage in manipulation tactics. One of the tactics they use could be triangulation. Although this manipulation tactic is known for being common in toxic families, you can find this manipulation tactic in different relationships. 

Let’s take a closer look at what triangulation is in psychology, what it looks like, and how to cope with it. 

What is Triangulation in Psychology?

Triangulation in psychology is a term that can be used to describe a dynamic where another person — apart from the people, involved in the original conflict or disagreement — is introduced into the conflict. This term is borrowed from geometry, where a triangle is formed. In psychology, the third point introduces a new element, often shifting power, communication patterns, and emotional dynamics.

What Are The Signs of Triangulation?

Recognizing the patterns of triangulation requires observation of behaviors. Some common signs of triangulation can include; 

  • Breakdown in direct communication 
  • Adding third party(s) into a relationship 
  • Escalating conflicts 
  • Unclear relationships between the people involved

Let’s take an example; 

You’re dissatisfied with certain aspects of your relationship, so you confide in your close friend rather than discuss your concerns with your partner. Your friend becomes your sounding board for your frustrations, and your failure to directly communicate with your partner causes misunderstandings and tension in your relationship. 

Triangulation in Personality Disorders

Triangulation is common in people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Other disorders that might be prone to triangulation can be antisocial personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. 

In narcissistic personality disorder, triangulation can be used as a manipulation tactic to maintain control and feed the selfish ego. The narcissist might intentionally involve another person or group to create a sense of competition, and jealousy, or to undermine the self-esteem of the person they are in the original conflict with. 

In direct contrast, people with borderline personality disorder might unintentionally engage in triangulation as a manipulation tactic due to their fear of abandonment. They might involve another person or group to seek reassurance and emotional support, inadvertently causing a strain on their existing relationships. 

Triangulation in Relationships: What It Looks Like?

Triangulation in relationships can look like this; 

  • In a parent-child relationship, triangulation can be used by the parent where they use their child as a mediator, creating an unhealthy relationship dynamic where the child is often caught in between parents and their disagreements. 
  • In friendships, triangulation can look like introducing a third person to mediate disagreements and offer support, causing shifts in friendship loyalty and dynamics within a friend group. 
  • In romantic relationships, triangulation can be when a partner involves a friend or family member to address relationship issues instead of directly communicating with their partner. This can cause misunderstandings in the relationship and increase tension within the relationship. 

The Impacts of Triangulation

The impact of triangulation can be long-term, affecting you and your relationships in different ways. In some ways, triangulation can result in a breakdown of direct communication, affecting conflict resolution and adding to the misunderstandings in the relationship.

When another person or group is involved in a relationship, this can lower trust between the people involved originally as loyalties and confidences are tested, and even betrayed. 

Triangulation can also lead to higher emotional distress, as you might flounder to grasp the complexities of the third party(s) involvement. Moreover, the power dynamics in a relationship might shift, causing feelings of manipulation, mistrust, and loss of control. 

Eventually, ongoing manipulation through triangulation can cause a strain in relationships, making it harder for you to create and maintain healthy and meaningful connections. 

How To Cope With Triangulation?

There are ways to cope with triangulation in relationships, but most of all, it involves self-awareness, communication skills, and a commitment to healthy relationships. Here are some ways you can cope with triangulation in relationships; 

1. Open Communication:

One way to cope with this manipulation tactic is to foster open and direct communication to address the issues and concerns with the other person involved, without introducing another person to the original dyad. 

2. Have Boundaries:

Having clear boundaries can also help you protect yourself and your relationships and prevent any unnecessary interference from people who might want to divide and conquer. 

3. Work on Trust:

Another way to cope with triangulation is to work on building and maintaining trust in the relationship. This can be done by being transparent, honest, and reliable. 

4. Seek Help:

If triangulation persists, then you can seek help from a professional. A therapist can offer insights and suggest healthy coping strategies to deal with this manipulation tactic. 

5. Reflect on Your Role:

You need to engage in self-reflection and understand your role in the triangulation process. Only by being aware of your role in the dynamics of your relationship, can you take steps to avoid being manipulative or being manipulated. 

Wrapping Up

Triangulation in psychology is a phenomenon that can affect the dynamics of relationships. Whether it’s within family structures, friendships, or romantic relationships, introducing a third party(s) or group(s) can have severe consequences on communication, trust, and emotional reliability in relationships. 

By understanding the signs of triangulation and practicing healthy coping strategies, you can learn to overcome the challenges presented by triangulation and foster healthier relationships. 

I hope this article will help you understand what triangulation is in psychology and how it can affect your relationships. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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