Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Drawing a Relationship Triangle

Information based upon Dr. David Stoop's description of charting family dynamics.

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:

Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

[Note: Dr. Stoop uses a wavy line in his book, but I use dashed lines.]

Drawing a Triangle Diagram of Relationships


A balanced relationship between three people is represented by a triangle diagram. Each point on the triangle represents a person in the relationship, each point connected to the other by STRAIGHT lines. Each point and line is equally supportive and solidly connected to the other point (person) through healthy communication and appropriate intimacy for that relationship.

Unhealthy, Unbalanced Relationships


Within an unhealthy set of relationships, a RED, DASHED line between two points represents an unhealthy, unstable or inappropriate relationship between those two people within the group. This opens up three possible types of systems.


The first would depict a system where each individual in the system has a distorted/unhealthy relationship with every other person in the system. This is represented by a triangle with each three points (individuals) connected by RED, DASHED lines (unbalanced, unhealthy relationships).

Within the second dysfunctional system, two individuals have a healthy, stable and balanced relationship with one another, so one boundary of the triangle is represented by a STRAIGHT line between those two points. However, each of those two people (or points in the triangle) each have a troubled relationship with the third party in the system. So the two solidly connected people each have a RED, DASHED line connecting them to the third person in the triangle. The third person has no stable and healthy connections with anyone. That person is the “trouble maker” or the “odd man (or woman) out.”


This system is a bit more stable than the first example where all the relationships are rocky, as that one stable relationship between the two points (connected by a STRAIGHT line) acts like a base for the triangle. They are balanced and help to maintain more balance within the system as they can share and distribute the difficulties of the third party. They can work together, strengthening one another to ground the system. Stoop says that though it doesn't represent an ideal situation, it is capable of lasting much longer than the first system (with RED, DASHED lines between all parties). He goes on to say that the two people “aligned” against the third often “draw much strength from their mutual distaste for the third person” (pg. 138).


The third example of an unbalanced relationship is a bit more complicated, wherein one party has a strong and healthy relationship with the two other parties, so we see one point with two STRAIGHT lines connecting them to both of the other people in the system of three. This might seem like it is actually more balanced, because there is more healthy communication and better relationships overall. However, the one stable and more healthy person becomes a fulcrum that supports and balances the unhealthy relationship between the other parties (connected by a RED, DASHED line) who don't communicate well. The one with the two healthy relationships bears the brunt of the pressure, as this more stable person will be relied upon to support the system. They are the obligatory peace maker and the one who sacrifices most to support the others.

Before we venture any further into the discussion of Botkin Syndrome and what these dysfunctional relationships might look like, we should learn just a little more about how family relationships effect one another. In the next few posts, we will examine what Dr. Stoop has to share about what tends to happen in families and different ways families pull themselves into a functional balance, whether healthy or unhealthy. Another little taste from his book looks at relationships from the Old Testament patriarchs as an example of how families tend to develop and relate follows in future posts. He also gives pointers on how to diagram the relationships within your own family and significant relationships.


Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)