The Difference Between Venting And Relationship Triangulation, Explained

Three's company? Arguing with your partner is never fun, but what happens when someone deviates outside the relationship for backup during said argument? That's where relationship triangulation comes in, and those pesky relationship red flags start to wave. "Triangulation is a relational process that occurs when one party in a dyad — meaning two people — involves a third person to help reduce stress or conflict within the dyad," licensed clinical social worker Iris Bowen told Bustle. And yes, people, that goes for bringing your mother into the equation too. In fact, according to Bowen, the only way bringing in a third party works is when it's by way of a professional couples therapist who is completely unbiased and adept at handling such matters. Your friends aren't therapists, and you shouldn't treat them like they are.

But it's important to be expressive with your feelings, so what about plain old-fashioned venting? Like calling up your best friend to spew off about how your partner continues to leave his dirty clothes on the floor instead of putting them in the designated hamper? Where does that fall in the grand scheme of things? And what's the difference between that and relationship triangulation? 

Venting seems harmless but may be damaging

Venting to a friend or another loved one about your relationship usually starts out pretty harmless. Alas, it can still do some damage in the long run. "Battles in a romantic relationship are often fleeting," psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, Ph.D., explained during an interview with Women's Health. "But when we share those disagreements with friends, it cements these fights into a pattern of hurt that others perceive us to be experiencing." In short: while you will most likely forget all about the little spat you had with your partner, your friends and family will not, and it could taint their perception of them. "It's human nature to judge others, and your friends are looking out for your best interest," she added. "Repeated patterns of negativity may signal a much bigger problem to them." 

Fortunately, many alternatives to venting don't include unintentionally throwing your partner under the bus to friends and family. Next time your significant other forgets to put the cap on the toothpaste, consider journaling your frustrations or even taking a power walk to think through the problem. 

Triangulation chips away at trust in a relationship

Sadly, triangulation often chips away at trust in a relationship. Vulnerability and being able to authentically express your emotions are important aspects of communication in a relationship, and this becomes impossible if someone else you know is involved. If you genuinely feel that your problems with your partner are bigger than what the both of you can handle, the only appropriate third party to bring in is a relationship counselor.

Aside from chipping away at trust, relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie told Stylist that once the other party is aware that the triangulation is occurring, they will typically operate differently as they are worried about what the third party will inevitably be told and may start to feel resentful as well, due to the fact that the person being brought in to referee is going to naturally side with the party that they are closer to. Wilke also explained that roping in a friend or family member to the argument won't truly help to solve the crux of the issue: "The underlying problems are likely to be about feelings; a third person will keep the argument stuck at the level of who is right and who is wrong. It creates dependency and avoids the couple learning how to argue well." As the old saying goes, two's company, three's a crowd.