Strengthening Your Emotional Intelligence: Stop Triangulating

How to stop triangulating which is harmful to close relationships.

Triangulation defined:  a tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead, s/he uses a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle. Manipulative, controlling, and destructive.

We all need to vent, but venting to a loved one can quickly become triangulation. Avoid the relationship sin of triangulation by using one or another Complaint Partner.

What is a Complaint Partner? Someone you can rant to who will not act on your complaints, but keep them confidential, and challenge you to do something constructive when your complaints are constantly about the same person or same thing. Therapists make a living being paid Complaint Partners. 

Some suggestions for success using a Complaint Partner

1. Do not use family to complain about another family member; do not complain to friends about someone you both know. Do not use work colleagues as Complaint Partners about work problems.

2. A Complaint Partner cannot be at another’s beck and call.  Complaint Partners can say “Not now” if you call on them at the wrong moment. You have the right to do the same if called at a time you cannot offer support.

3. When listening to another’s complaints, offer a bit of sympathy, but don’t go overboard. Too much sympathy can turn a whiner or complainer into a victim. Unless someone has died or been seriously maimed or had a similar life blow, limit sympathy to nods and some neutral verbal expressions to indicate you hear the complaint.

  1. Rarely offer advice. We are all tempted to offer solutions, but usually, ours only recounts what the person already has tried and at its worse, is patronizing. Instead of offering advice say, “I know you can figure out on your own what you need to do”
  2. Three exceptions to the advice rule:

  • The first and most important one: Safety issues. Then offer advice by saying: “It sounds to me, like you are not safe, you need to be safe. How can I help?”

  • If children are involved, you must report abuse. You can do so anonymously through the local Child Abuse Hotline. Best if you can share that you are going to report – but that is not as important as making the report.

  • If you have expert advice or really you know a solution the other has not tried, ask if the person wants to hear an idea that has worked for you and others. Respect their answer.

5. Always end with an affirming statement; this one usually works: “I know this is a struggle and hard, but I also know you have handled bigger problems. Go do something nice for yourself now and know I am here for you.“ If you are the complainer, end with a “Thank you for listening.”

  1. If the same complaint surfaces repeatedly, and you are the listener, you are entitled to comment on that fact, but still not offer any advice. If it feels right, you might add, “I hope being able to vent is helpful.”
  2. If you notice you are the one always complaining about the same thing, make sure the venting is not embedding bad memories and strengthening them. As long as the complaining helps you cope better let your complaint partner know you realize you are complaining about something frequently, but that it does help.

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