Thinking: Me and you against him

My two boys are often best friends, but also are frequently worst enemies. There have been so many occasions where, for example, Bright Eyes ends up yelling at Max, "Diiiiiiiie!*" across the kitchen, or Max is belting into his brother with fingernails bared.

These times are becoming more uncommon, however, and grateful as I am, I'm not sure that it's for a good reason.

You see, Bright Eyes and Max have decided to focus on a common enemy. They have singled out one little boy from Bright Eyes' previous preschool as their most hated foe. If the two of them are starting to fight, one will say, "Oh, no, I'm your friend. We'll hit Anikin instead." Then they dream up all sorts of dastardly deeds and punishments to inflict on Anikin.

Poor Anikin. I have to say I'm glad he's not around.

What my boys, at the tender ages of 5 and 3 are doing, is called Triangulation in Family Systems Theory. They are relating, not to each other, but with each other against someone else.

Triangles occur in all families and relationship systems. I am shocked when I think about it, to find how many triangles there are in my communication. Triangulating is a way of assuming a closeness or relationship with someone, but only in the face of something else to focus on. So really, the relationship is a false one because it is dependent on the 'other' in the triangle.

Some examples of common triangles:

  • husband and wife talking about child
  • child and friend talking about teacher
  • mother and daughter talking about other sibling
  • congregation members talking about the minister
  • minister and colleague talking about congregation
  • Parish council and minister talking about finances

Sometimes I try to give myself a test: how often during the day can I relate to people I'm with without bringing in a triangled 'other' to make it easier?


*Other variations on his insults include: "Be covered in sharp sticks", "Be eaten!" and "Mum, make him die!"