The Relationship Triangle (2023)

This is a useful way of looking at relationships and I use it in all of my work with couples to see where they are and where they need to go. It is based on the drama triangle, also known as the Karpman triangle, developed by psychiatrist Steven Karpman in the early 1970s. What follows is my interpretation and expansion of Karpman's original ideas.

Start by imagining or drawing an inverted triangle (do this now; it will help). Above are two letters: P on the left and R on the right. Below, the apex of the triangle is the letter V.

The triangle represents the relationship between two people. The P, R and V represent different roles that humans can play; they are not the persons themselves, but a role. The roles are intertwined and there is always someone above who seems to have more power and someone below. The relationship goes in circles as follows.

The person in position R is the rescuer. The person in this role is essentially in control of the "nice guy". It hooks to the V or victim. The person in this role sometimes feels overwhelmed. You feel like problems are falling on your head. The rescuer jumps in and says, “I can help you. Just do as I tell you, everything will be fine.” Couples often start their relationship in some way. Psychologically, they make a deal: the savior says I'll agree to be big, strong, good, and great; The victim says I will accept being overwhelmed and unable to control it. Everyone is happy. The lifeguard feels necessary, important and responsible. The victim has someone to take care of them.

And it works well, except occasionally one of two things happens. Sometimes the rescuer gets tired of doing everything. He feels that he takes all responsibility and that the other does not contribute, does not give back, and does not appreciate what the rescuer is doing. The rescuer is fed up, gets angry, gets annoyed. bam! Switch to P, the pursuer's role. He'll suddenly freak out, usually over something minor like doing laundry or who hasn't taken out the trash or acting odd like spending too much money, drinking too much, or having an affair. He feels like he deserves it (well, he tells himself, look what I can take).

The message behind the behavior and anger is often not very clear: "Why don't you grow up? Why don't you take some responsibility? Why do I have to do everything here? Why don't you guess what is I doing? do i do for you That's unfair!" The sense of injustice is strong.

At this point, the victim is startled and climbs into the R position, trying to balance and calm the water. "I'm sorry," he says. "I have not noticed it. I really appreciate what you do. I'll do better.” Then the persecutor feels bad for whatever he's done or said, and he puts himself in a victim's shoes, and that's ittranquilizers. Then both stabilize and return to their original position.

(Video) The Relationship Triangle

The other thing that sometimes happens is the victim gets tired of being the victim. He's fed up with the other guy always running the show and always telling him what to do. He gets tired of being looked down on because the lifeguard is basically saying, "You wouldn't survive without me." Every now and then the victim gets fed up and slips into the bullying role. Like the savior, the victim in this role will freak out and get angry, usually over a trifle or some sort of misconduct.

The underlying unspoken message is, "Why won't you get rid of me? Leave me alone, stop controlling my life! The rescuer hears this and assumes the victim position. He says to himself, "Poor man, every time I try to help, look what I get." The pursuer then feels bad about what he did or said and puts himself in the rescuer's shoes and says something like, “That was mestressedoutside, without my meds, tired of the kids. I'm sorry." And then they make up and go back to where they originally were.

While anyone can move between all roles, you often fit better into one role than another. That has to do with itpersonality, education and learned ways of coping. In the past, the child rescuer was an only child, the eldest, or grew up in a chaotic family. He didn't typically have many buffers between himself and his parents, and learned early on that he could avoid trouble and conflict by being nice: "If only I could stand on my toes and do what my parents (and teachers) all want them to do Time, I won't get in trouble."

This type of person learns to be very sensitive to others as a means of survival. They develop a good radar and can pick up the nuances of emotions. He is hyper-attentive, spends all his energy searchingthe environmentShe stands on her toes, always ready to do whatever the parents want. Essentially, take the position, “I'm happy when you're happy, and I have to make you happy.” He's rewarded for being good and his head is full of homework.

However, what works for the child may not necessarily work for the adult. The world is bigger now. Instead of just paying two or three important peopleAttentionbecause the adult first responder has so much more: the boss, the IRS, the president of the local Rotary Club, or VFW. Now he feels pulled in many directions, stretched as he struggles to adjust to what he thinks others want from him. He easily feels like a martyr, he is always in dangerexhaustion.

He also has a hard time knowing what he wants. Because you spent so much energy growing up looking outward and doing what others wanted, you never had a chance to sit down and decide what you wanted. Wanting, as opposed to following rules and obligations, is a feeling and often you are unaware of what you are feeling. If you ask him as an adult, "But what do you want?" hesitate and get stuck. It is important to you to make the right decision and not to offend anyone in your life or the critical voice in your head.

He also struggles with anger and conflict (which is why he got good in the first place) and tends to bottle up his anger until he gets fed up and starts choking on it. Then it explodes, and because it feels so awkward and creates so much drama, it feels like your worst dream has come true. He feels guilty and pushes everything down just for it to grow back up.

(Video) Triangles in Relationships

The victim, on the other hand, was often the youngest in the family, was overly protective of parents as a child, or had older siblings who would step in and take charge whenever they had a problem. What he missed growing up were opportunities to advanceconfidenceit comes from learning to solve problems on your own. Now, as an adult, he is easily overwhelmed, insecure,fearful. To deal with these feelings, reach out to the savior who will take charge and help you feel better.

The persecutor as a type is the evil twin of the rescuer. While the rescuer controls by being good and kind, and the pursuer is angry, criticizes and blames. This is the culprit, and obviously some couples start this bully-victim relationship by dumping it.childhoodrole models and roles. The tyrant learned early on that I get tough when I'm scared. If I can negatively control everything that happens around me, no one can sneak up behind me and catch me.

Now imagine or draw two aces side by side with a line between them (go ahead and do this; it will help). The A stands for adult. This person is roleless, more holistic, proactive rather than reactive, self-reliant rather than blaming, and outside the triangle. Adults are equal; They are on the same level in terms of power. This is where you want to be.

The adult says, “I am responsible for what I think, do, say. don't read my mind If you decide not to help me, I will have to decide what to do next to solve my problem. Even if something bothers you, it's your problem. If there is anything I can do to help you with your problem, please let me know. And if I decide not to help you with your problem, you can fix it. You may not handle it like me, but you can. I don't have to accept."

Two of the problems first responders and victims have in their relationship is that they expect too much from each minds("You need to know what's going on or how you can help without me having to tell you.") and then feeling frustrated, disappointed, or angry when the other person doesn't know. They also have a skewed sense of responsibility: The Savior tends to be overly responsible: "Your problems are my problems, I'm happy when you're happy, and it's my job to make sure you're happy." Attempting to make the victim happy, over time the victim begins to feel pressure and control, which triggers the outbreak. Also, the victim tends to be irresponsible - "My problems are your problems, I expect you to solve them, and I have to wait or manipulate you to do it."

Adults, on the other hand, are aware of who has the problem. This is represented by the vertical line that runs between them. If you feel it, it's yours. This is an invaluable key concept that couples need to understand and integrate. By knowing who has the problem, people can avoid the defensiveness, fear, control, and manipulation of couples caught in the triangle.

They can also be more intimate. The problem rescuers and victims face in their relationship is that the roles, which are not the people themselves but just parts of them, keep them trapped. The rescuer must not lower their alertness or become too vulnerable, fearing that the victim will not be able to cope. Likewise, the victim can never become too strong, as the rescuer feels threatened and unemployed. The long line between victim and rescuer is real. It represents the emotional distance between them.

(Video) The Relationship Triangle of Education | Suraasa

Adults don't have this problem. Both can be responsible, strong and yet honest and vulnerable. They can take risks, are not tied to roles and can therefore be more open and intimate.

Obviously, two people can stay in this pattern for a long time: seemingly getting along, suddenly exhibiting bad behavior or an emotional outburst, making amends, slipping back into their roles, and repeating the pattern over and over again. Sometimes, especially for the rescuer, this lasts until the weight of it all is gone: they have a heart attack or a mental breakdown and everyone is shocked and scared. Which can also happen over time and often leads to the coupletherapy, is that a person gets tired of going through the cycle or begins to overwhelm the role they are taking on. As with any other pattern, it takes two to play and as soon as one person moves towards the adult, the other gets scared and tries to pull him on.

For example, you might have a lifeguard who gets tired of the constant cleaning and starts to take a step back and better define boundaries and problems. The classic case for this is thecodependentindividuallyAlcoholic. For example, the wife goes to Alanon's meetings and tells her husband, “Jake, I'm not going to call your boss Monday morning and tell him you're sick. You can call him yourself. I won't choose. He'll pick you up from the front lawn on Saturday nights if you're drunk. The woman comes out of the triangle, and if Jake was drunk before, he'll be dead drunk to try and set his wife up again. If that doesn't work, Jake will likely switch to one of the other roles: can change bully, get angry, and threatendivorceand Custody or Money Court; he can be nice, tell her how he's going to start going to AA meetings to calm her down and win her back.

Even if the victim moves into the adult position, the rescuer feels threatened. This is usually seen in the empty nest stagemarried. The husband is more or less in charge, makes most important decisions, supports the family financially, and the children start leaving home. The woman starts saying something like, "You know, Bill, I'm thinking about going back to school. I never graduated because I stayed at home with the kids and now is a good time to do so. Maybe I will. " . Eventually I will go back to work. I think I would like to have my own checking and savings accounts to have my own money and be more independent."

While Bill knows what to do when his wife is in an inferior position, he doesn't know what to do when she changes. Usually the first thing Bill instinctively does is be nice, but he tries to convince his wife not to change: "Why do you want to go back to school now? You are 45. What are you going to do?” ? Diploma? That'll cost us $30,000 tuition for what? You don't have to take a full-time job. This is a time to relax. We don't need another checking account. It's $10 a month in fees that we don't have to spend."

The message is "Keep still". If that doesn't work out, Bill might switch to the bully role and get angry: "If you want to go to school, find a way to pay for it.retirement." Or Bill becomes victimized and depressed, leaving his wife to stay home and take care of him.

Finally, you can easily see that this dynamic is an abusive relationship. When the victim of a bully-victim relationship decides to get out of the triangle or relationship and stop being a punching bag, the first thing the bully will do is do more of the same. If he was angry, now he becomes explosive. He will chase you, chase you, emotionally abuse you, or hit you. If that doesn't work, it might look good. he will call youAnger controland ask him if you could call his wife or girlfriend and tell her he asked for therapy, so don't go any further. If that doesn't work, he may become depressed and even threaten suicide to get her back in the relationship.

(Video) Karpman drama triangle | Understanding relationships

If all maneuvers fail, the one left behind has two options. You can end the relationship and find someone else to fill the role, someone else to control, someone else to care about. Or the person left behind can also switch to the adult position.

The challenges for both partners to reach adulthood are many. The natural feeling of those left behind is that if they take care of themselves, they will stay in the triangle. When they both move, the partners have to find new ways to show that they care about each other. There will be a transition period while these new forms are made, and the new forms won't be as good as the old ones, at least for a while. There are also the challenges of learning new skills, especially for those who feel left behind.

The reason the triangle is so strong and works is because the roles complement each other. Each sees in the other what he cannot see in himself. The rescuer, for example, is not as good or as strong as he thinks, but he sees his vulnerability and anger in the victim and the pursuer. The victim is not as weak as they think, but they project their strength and anger onto both the rescuer and the pursuer. The persecutor is not as tough as he thinks, but he sees his weakness and goodness only in the victim and saviour.

To be successful, everyone must learn to recognize and integrate what is left out. The lifeguard has to learn to recognize their desires and risks not being good and being too responsible. You must learn to recognize your anger and use it to get information about what you want. You must experiment with letting go of control and resist the temptation to fix your own fear by taking control when the other is struggling. You must learn to let go of your vigilance so you can learn to trust and be vulnerable and care in a truly caring way insteadTimeand the need for control.

Likewise, the victim must develop their self-confidence, take risks and do things on their own and use the rescuer not as a rescuer but as a support. You need to learn how to deal with problems so you don't feel so overwhelmed. As a rescuer, you must harness your anger and use it to better define your boundaries and desires.

Finally, the bully needs to realize that their anger is a defense. He must search for the softer emotions he sees in the victim - the pain, the sadness, the regret - within himself and under the guise of his anger. You also need to exchange your power for something more generous, you need to find ways to be loving and to let the other nurture you.

The relationship triangle provides a way to conceptualize the dynamics of a relationship.

(Video) The Drama Triangle (Victim, Prosecutor, Rescuer) by Stephen Karpman Explained

See where it fits.


1. Triangle Angle Relationships and Equations
(When The Bleep Are We Going to Use That!)
2. Relationship Triangles
(Bowen Center)
3. The Drama Triangle | Transactional Analysis Games | Lauren Kress
(The Cheat Sheets)
4. Triangle Inequality Theorem/ The Relationships Between the Sides of a Triangle/ Geometry
5. The Relationship Triangle
(Laura McHarrie)
6. The Relationship Triangle
(913 Ministries)
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