Friday, February 17, 2012

Of ACODs and Triangles

Adult children of divorce often find themselves in the middle.   They often are in the middle of two parents they love or have loved.  They are often in the middle of siblings who feel various things at different times and are moving in and out of their own stages of grief alongside each other. They can find themselves sandwiched between other relatives and friends as conversations are played out in front of them.  Being in the middle of things puts ACODS in a vulnerable position of being pulled into a triangle.  Let me explain..........


As an adult child of divorce have you ever heard statements like the following?

"Can you find out from YOUR mother what I am supposed to do about XYZ, because she won't talk to me."    OR   " What in the world did YOUR father mean by that do you see what I have had to deal with all these years?"   OR  "Don't tell dad that I talked to mom, he would be furious, but I still want to know how she's doing even though she left him".

The statements are fictional, but it didn't take me long to think of them.  We all, whether we are acods or not,  have been in situations like this where we have said something similar or are listening to a statement that is loaded with emotion and stress like the ones above . 
There is a  conflict between two people  that we know and it is not being addressed by the two individuals with whom the problem exists,  and we are being drawn into the situation to help reduce the tension.   We think we are listening,  but before we know it, we are part of the triangle that has been constructed by one of the people ( or maybe both) who is in conflict.

Triangles exist on many levels automatically and subconsciously in our everyday lives, and we should learn to recognize them.  When they become very unhealthy is when they become ingrained in the relationships, inhibiting real growth or resolution between the two people who have the original problem.

Here are some examples:

When mom wants dad to give her something back that he took when he left, she often will ask her son to tell dad that she wants it back, or worse, she may ask her son to get it from him.    The mother is pulling or triangulating her son into the relationship to help stabilize the situation, but the problem is not solved. 

Another example may be: 

When your brother tells you that he agreed to meet with your father's new girlfriend, and he likes her,  but he tells you not to tell your mother, because he doesn't want her to know and thinks she will be mad.  The brother is enmeshing or triangulating you into the stressful relationship with your mother,  but the  intensity of the problem is only lessened for him, not dealt with. 

Before I go on to describe what we can do about this, let me say that most of us don't even know we are doing this  and we dont' have any ill motives.  We just simply have not learned how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner.  We don't know what else to do.
It is not easy or natural to stay out of other people's conflicts or to determine to keep others out of our own, and to handle each disagreement with the one who is most directly involved.
We often do not realize that our behavior is actually preventing conflicts from being resolved  and healthy intimacy from being realized.

So how to we learn to talk and listen in more healthy ways?

*  If you are angry with Person B, put your energy directly into dealing with him
*  Don't use a child or a childish adult as a confidant
*  Don't ask others , directly or indirectly, to take your side or to blame others
* Evaluate whether it is gossip or not ( it may be gossip if you are not part of the problem or part of the solution)
 *  Be aware if the other person is merely sharing their feelings and hurts, or if they are trying to draw or pull you into their conflict with the other person in some way
 *  Know the difference between privacy and secrecy and don't allow yourself to be told something that you would rather not know or try to keep a secret

*STAY CALM  :   how you say things is as important as what you say
*  GET OUT  :     gently suggest that you want to change the way you relate at present
*  STAY IN  :       stay involved emotionally by showing you care in other ways
                                 or listen carefully , or suggest they talk with others as well

One last thing to help us ACODs who may find ourselves in the middle:
Below are some suggested possible statements that may help when we want to stop the unhealthy patterns, but don't know what to say.

Practice a few this week and I would LOVE to hear how it goes!!!! 

“I value my relationship with both of you. So, I would rather not be in the middle.”

 “I think it would be more helpful if you talked to her about your feelings, rather than for me "
“I want to listen , but I feel uncomfortable when you tell me such private details”
“Since we can’t change him, let’s think about  how you might have handled this situation .”
 “I don’t feel adequate to give you advice on this situation, but I’d be happy to help you look for a professional to talk to “
( Next posting will be on the issues of lies, mistrust and honesty for ACODs)

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