What happens when people you love can't stand each other?

What happens when people you love cant stand each other?

Triangulation is the process of dragging a third person into a fight - and it can lead to severe emotional consequences

By Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Fri 6 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 7 Sep 2019, 9:20 AM

And they lived happily ever after.Everyone's heard of this clichéd ending to every fairy tale. However, as adults, we realise that 'happily ever after' is a mythical fairy tale in itself. Often, the nuances of human relations are so varied and unique that they are beyond our wildest imaginations. What if you are caught between two people who you love but who hate each other? It is a common relationship conundrum that affects many.

"When two people are not getting along, they may drag a third person in, as a means of strengthening their position and feeling validated. This process is known as triangulation," says Christine Kritzas, counselling psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia. "Some triangulation is healthy, for example, when siblings call a parent for mediation. However, triangulation can also be unhealthy when it causes undue stress on the person being pulled in."
A doctor by profession, Fathima* is one such person caught in a classic case of in-law triangulation. "My husband always accuses me of loving and respecting my father more," she said. "It started before marriage. When I was engaged, my husband wanted to take me out. Being from a conservative family, my father refused to allow me to go and I accepted this. From that day, my husband has feelings of animosity towards my father."
Fathima thought the tension would get over when they got married but was wrong. "Once I got married, it was almost like constantly walking on eggshells. My husband, sometimes I felt deliberately, said the opposite of what my father said just to see what I would do. One of these instances occurred when I was pregnant. I was still completing my degree and, due to morning sickness, had to find a house close to college. My husband suggested a place and so did my father. Although the house my husband suggested was good, it was not as convenient or spacious as the one my father suggested. You can imagine the hullaballoo when I took the house most convenient for me."

It's a tricky situation, but also more common than we would like to believe, according to Dr. Susan Koruthu, director of Life Skills and Mind Fitness Center. "I see it almost every day in counselling sessions," she says. "The effects vary, depending on the depth and strength of the relationships but the basic elements are always the same."

Singapore-based sales executive Rakesh* is trapped in yet another familial triangulation. "As a family of seven, we all have a special bond," he said. "But I am especially close to my sister. Being the youngest, she is excessively pampered and often major decisions are taken based on her preferences. Ever since I got married, I'm in a war zone between my sister and wife. I am generally a very diplomatic person so I am able to manage, but sometimes things just get out of hand."

Changing family dynamics is always a source of tension, agrees Rakesh. "I went from being the doting older brother to being another woman's husband overnight," he said. "My sister is unable to deal with the change and reacts in the only way she knows - by throwing tantrums. I know that a lot of it has to do with her young age and immaturity. So, I am hoping that it passes soon."

Being caught in an unhealthy triangulation often leads to severe consequences, cautions Christine. "It can lead to anxiety as an ongoing feud between two of your loved ones can make you feel helpless," she said. "It can also lead to strained relationships which impact the entire family. More commonly, it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. When we invest all of our energy in trying to resolve a conflict between two of our loved ones, we have very little energy left for ourselves. As a means of trying to cope with the stress, you may find yourself engaging in avoidance strategies like making excuses not to see your loved ones, numbing your feelings by binge-watching Netflix or spending countless hours scrolling through Instagram. There is also the danger of abusing substances like cigarettes and comfort eating."

MEET THE EXPERTS: Dr Christine Kritzas; Dr Susan Koruthu
Dubai-based Deidre is in a different situation. "I am caught between my best friend and his wife. I am almost like the third wheel of their relationship," she chuckles. As colleagues, Deidre was a witness to her best friend's love affair, which later led to marriage. "Within a few years, it became clear that the whole marriage was a mistake," she says. "But by then, they had two children and the husband and wife were not interested in tearing the family apart. So they continue to stay in a loveless marriage for the sake of their kids."

Deidre admits that being in between the couple often leaves her frustrated and unhappy. "The husband and wife could be sitting right next to each other but he will call me and say 'Please tell my wife so-and-so' or the wife will call me and say 'Please tell him to do so-and-so'," she says. "Sometimes I want to tear my hair apart and say 'Tell them yourself'. But I love the children very much. I am their godmother and they are the main reason I put myself through this stress."

John is from Italy and he experiences triangulation in his work life. "I had a line manager who I really looked up to," he says. "He had been kind to me and helped me secure a promotion. So I was indebted to him. I also had this colleague who took me under her wing when I was new in Dubai. She would invite me to family dinners and picnics so that I wouldn't feel lonely. Both these people were very dear to me. However, they hated each other. My boss felt like said colleague always tried to undermine his authority whereas she felt like he was trying to boss her around. Both of them would spend hours trying to convince me the other person was evil. And hearing so many horrible things about a person you like very much is not nice."

John says that the situation got to a point where he started to get panic attacks just thinking about work. "I loved my job and the company I worked for," he said. "But this situation left me feeling trapped. I started to get palpitations and for a couple of weeks, I would run a fever every Saturday. It is only after I started attending therapy that I realised it was fear of facing my boss and colleague on Sunday that caused the fever. After a few sessions of counselling, I understood that this was not something I was in control of nor was it my responsibility to solve it."

The realisation that you cannot control the issues between two people is the most important part of being in a triangulation, according to Dr. Susan. "The people you are in a triangulation with are adults. You have a good relation with both of them but it is not your responsibility to solve the problems between them," she said.
It is clear that triangulation is a regular occurrence that affects a person at least once in their lifetime. However, it is important to not let the situation control your life or become a stress factor. As they say, beautiful things happen when you let go of negativity.

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