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Monday, November 2, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your Relationship

In the past, I've written about love triangles from the point of view of the person who is the other man or the other woman.  I've also written about how triangulation in families can lead to love triangles later on in an adult child's life.  In this article, I'm focused on how one or both people in a relationship use love triangles that involve affairs as a way to avoid dealing with the problems in their relationship.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing with Problems in Your  Relationship

What is a Love Triangle?
Love triangles involve three people.  In the type of love triangle that I'm discussing in this article, there are two people who are in a primary relationship and a third person who is in an affair with one of the people in the primary relationship.

As opposed to a "menage a trios"(translated as a "household of three") where all three people are consenting to the romantic arrangement, in a love triangle, all three people are not consenting to the arrangement.  Usually, one of the people in the established relationship is either unaware of the third person in the triangle or knows about it and is opposed to it.

In the "rivalrous triangle," where each person knows about the other, two people are competing for the attention of the person who is involved with both people.  So, in other words, if Peter  is involved with Mary and Ann, and both women know about each other, they are each in competition with each other for Peter.

In the "split object triangle," which is what I'm discussing in this article, the person in the triangle involved with two people splits his or her attention between two people.  So, for instance, Betty is involved with both Steve and Joe, and she splits her attention between both people.  Joe and Steve may or may not know about each other.

There can be many reasons why people, who are in a primary relationship, engage in love triangles.  One of the main reasons is that they're unhappy in the primary relationship and get involved with someone else in order to avoid dealing with the problems in the primary relationship.

The person who is involved in this type of love triangle is usually involved in an romantic or sexual affair and wants to keep the third person in the triangle a secret from his or her primary partner or spouse--at least in the beginning.

In many instances, the person, who is involved in a primary relationship and in an affair, uses the affair to leave the primary relationship.  So, not only is s/he avoiding dealing with the problems in the primary relationship, s/he also has problems leaving an unhappy relationship without  having "someone in the wings" (the person that s/he is having an affair with).

Having a new romantic partner, who is "waiting in the wings," gives him the motivation and courage to leave the primary relationship.

As compared to the established relationship, the new relationship is usually exciting and, because it's new, it usually doesn't have longstanding problems like the established relationship.  So, it seems more alluring and attractive.

But, often, the same problems develops in the new relationship.

Rather than working out his or her emotional problems related to the established relationship, the person  entering the new relationship brings all of the "emotional baggage" to the new relationship.

Also, if s/he has problems coping and communicating, this will likely be a problem in the new relationship which could lead to an ongoing pattern of affairs where this person looks to escape to a new person each time there are problems in the current relationship.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your  Relationship

Not all love triangles end with the breakup of the established relationship, even if the spouse or significant other finds out about the affair.  Nor does everyone who gets involved in an affair necessarily want to end their primary relationship.  Many marriages and long-term relationships survive the love triangle or affair, although there will be much work to do to overcome the hurt and mistrust because of the infidelity and betrayal.

A Love Triangle as a "Way Out" of the Established Relationship
Let's look at a specific example of a love triangle where one of the people in the established relationship is looking for a way out of the primary relationship and gets involved with someone else in order to avoid dealing with the problems in the primary relationship and also a way out.

The following is a fictionalized scenario that is an example of how love triangles are used to avoid and also to leave the primary relationship.

Harry and Linda and Harry and Ellen and Harry and...
Harry and Linda were married for five years.  They met while Harry was involved in an unhappy relationship with another woman.

Initially, when they got married, they were close.  But over time, they grew apart and they each became resentful about their differences, which were many.

Harry wanted to have children, but Linda didn't, so they never had children, which Harry resented.

Their sex life was never very passionate, and by the second year of their marriage, they were barely having sex.  Harry was much more sexual than Linda, and resented her refusal to have sex.

Linda wanted to move back to the West Coast, where she was raised, but Harry didn't want to leave his job on the East Coast, so they stayed on the East Coast, which Linda resented.

Linda was a saver and Harry was a spender, so they were usually at odds with each other when it came to money and making financial plans.

A few years into their marriage, Linda, who wasn't religious or even spiritual when they first got married, felt drawn to the religion that she was raised in as a child.  She wanted Harry to join her at church services, but Harry was never involved with any religion and he wanted no part of it.

By then, Linda and Harry were barely communicating.  Linda tried to talk to Harry about their problems, but he refused to talk or to even acknowledge that they were in crisis.  Then, she told him that she wanted them to attend marriage counseling, but he refused.

At that point, they were coexisting in the same house, but slept in separate rooms and spent their free time apart.

Harry knew that Linda wanted to try to repair their relationship but, as far as Harry was concerned, their relationship was over and beyond repair.  But he was too afraid to leave the relationship and to live alone, so he remained stuck in an unhappy relationship where they could neither go forward nor go back.

Then, one evening, while Harry was at a business convention, he met Ellen, a young attractive woman, at the hotel bar.  After a few drinks, they were flirting with each other and Ellen invited him to her room.  This was the beginning of their affair.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your Relationship

With Linda, Harry felt old, tired and bored.  With Ellen, Harry felt young, attractive and passionate.  Although Ellen knew that Harry was married, initially, she didn't care because their relationship was mostly sexual.

Linda began to suspect that Harry was having an affair because she noticed the change in him.  Instead of being grumpy, irritable and spending the weekend in rumpled sweat clothes, Harry seemed happier, energetic and he was dressing better.  He also stayed out late during the week and would say he was going to the office on weekends to do work.

When Linda confronted him, Harry adamantly denied being involved with anyone else.  But, over time, he realized that he cared less and less about Linda's suspicions because all he could think about was being with Ellen.

He also realized that now that he was seeing Ellen, he wasn't as afraid of leaving Linda and being alone.  He didn't want to hurt his wife, but he was feeling a yearning to finally be free and able to spend all his free time with Ellen.

Within several months, Ellen began pressuring Harry to leave his marriage and to move in with her.  No longer happy to just see him for a few hours when he could get free, she would tell him that she would stop seeing him if he didn't spend all night with her instead of leaving after a few hours.

Harry told himself that he didn't want to stop seeing Ellen, so he spent the night with her.  But on an unconscious level, he also knew that Linda wouldn't tolerate this and that staying out all night would precipitate the end his marriage without his having to tell Linda directly that he wanted out.  This is what he really wanted.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With the Problems in Your Relationship

When Harry got home the next morning, he found Linda already packed.  She told him that she would have been willing to work on the marriage, even though she suspected that he was having an affair, but when he stayed out all night, she realized that it was over and that he no longer cared how much he hurt her.  She was flying out to the West Coast to live with her relatives.

Part of Harry felt relieved to be free of his marriage.  He also felt guilty about cheating on Linda, but he pushed aside his guilt, and he continued to see Ellen.  Soon after Linda moved, Harry moved in with Ellen.

Within a year, he and Linda were divorced.  When Harry received the divorce papers, he felt a flood of sadness and guilt that he could no longer push away.

Never having learned how to express his emotions, Harry didn't know what to do.  He tried to talk to Ellen about it, but she got angry that he wanted to talk about her about it.  And, whereas their relationship had been so passionate before, Harry no longer felt as sexually attracted to Ellen.  He began to see all the differences between them and felt lonely.  He wanted out of his relationship with Ellen, but he didn't know how to tell her.

Within a few months, he started an affair with another woman, Nicole.  After Ellen found Nicole's texts on Harry's phone, which he left out in their bedroom, and she ended her relationship with Harry.  Harry  felt badly, but he was mostly relieved not to have to tell Ellen that he wanted to end the relationship.

After this pattern repeated itself a few more times with other women, Harry knew he needed help.  As avoidant as he had been to see his problems, he couldn't help seeing that he was repeating the same pattern in his life. He knew he would never be happy in a relationship until he got help in therapy.

In Therapy to Overcome the Pattern of Getting Involved in Love Triangles

Harry explored his pattern of getting involved in love triangles and avoiding the problems in his current relationship by finding someone new.  He also explored his fear of being alone.

He was able to make connections between this pattern and the triangulation that went on in his family when he was growing up (see my article:  How Triangulation in Family Relationships Can Lead to Love Triangles).

The lack of communication in his family, especially when it involved emotions, lead to triangles in his family where his mother and his sister were aligned against Harry and his father.  Harry's father also had numerous affairs that eventually lead to his mother ending the marriage.

Harry could see the parallels between his family triangles and the love triangles that he got involved in as well as similarities in the way that his father avoided dealing with problems with his mother. He knew that his father used these affairs as a way to get his wife to leave him, rather than telling his wife directly that he wanted to end the marriage.

Harry never liked this about his father, and he was unhappy to realize that he was following in his father's footsteps (see my article:  Discovering That You Developed the Same Traits That You Disliked in Your Parents).

In therapy, Harry learned to overcome his fears, deal with his uncomfortable emotions, and express his feelings.

After many missteps, Harry was able to enter into a healthy long term relationship, deal with his emotions, and express his feelings as problems came up.

Conclusion
There are many reasons why people enter into love triangles.  One of the most common reasons is to avoid dealing with the problems in the current relationship by entering into a new relationship that seems exciting and new.

Having a new person "in the wings" waiting will often give the person who begins the affair the courage and motivation to leave the established relationship or, like Harry and his father, to get the other person in the primary relationships to leave.

But this is only a temporary "solution" because sooner or later problems will develop in the new relationship and a person who cannot cope with or express uncomfortable feelings is bound to have a similar experience in the new relationship.

Psychotherapy can help someone who is caught in this pattern to develop insight into his or her problems, including underlying issues from his or her family of origin, and develop the skills to tolerate uncomfortable feelings as well as the skills to express those feelings in a healthy way.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people, who enter into committed relationships, don't have the maturity or skills to be in a committed relationship.  Often, in these cases, they didn't grow up in a family where there were healthy models to learn from, and they didn't get help in therapy to overcome the problem on their own.

Getting Help in Therapy

When things go wrong, they will often look for a new and exciting relationship to get out of the current relationship.

After cycling through several relationships in this way, many people will recognize the pattern and realize that they have a problem.

If you recognize this pattern in yourself, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to understand and overcome these destructive patterns.  By overcoming these patterns, you have a better chance of having a healthy relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.































































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