This is a great model for understanding your relationship disputes. And, rather like its namesake in Bermuda, when you enter into a fight with your partner, reality is distorted. The basic idea is that, rather like actors in a movie, we take on stylised roles and follow a pattern. Often you can almost see the script as we act out our fight with our partner. Helpfully, this behaviour can be easily understood using the model below. When the pattern is clear, it is much easier to sidestep the game that occurs in the triangle.
The principle is that we take on certain roles within the relationship which can cause dysfunction when we act them out. The triangle represents an imbalance of power with more power at the top. The roles are dynamic and shift around the triangle.
The Rescuer offers to help the Victim with something. Often, the role of the Victim is taken by someone who feels overwhelmed.
In relationships, couples often ‘make a deal’ when they first get together. For example, the Rescuer takes on the role of being the big, strong and good provider (the “Knight in Shining Armour”), whereas the Victim is helpless and overwhelmed – the classic “Damsel in Distress”. The Rescuer feels needed, important and in charge whilst the Victim has someone to take care of them.
This dynamic works well until one of two things happens.
- The Rescuer becomes tired of doing it all. He/She feels like they bare all the weight in the relationship and are being taken for granted. The Rescuer then becoming angry and resentful towards the Victim and shifts to the Persecutor position and acts in a mean way to their partner.An example of this behaviour would be unexpectedly becoming angry about something minor like not washing the dishes, or gambling away a large amount of money. In their mind they deserve it for putting up with the Victim. The underlying message here, is that “It isn’t fair!”
- The Victim gets tired of being the victim. He/She feels as though they have no say in the relationship because the other person is “calling the shots”. The underlying message here is that “I feel controlled”. This frustrates them leading them to take on the role of the Persecutor and, just like the Rescuer, above, they become angry about minor things and lash out. This then leads to the Rescuer feeling sorry for themselves – taking on the role as the Victim.The Persecutor then begins to regret his/her words and actions, moving to the Rescuer position. Ultimately, just like with the first example, they go back to their original positions.
Although the dynamic in a relationship regularly changes, a person will be more comfortable in one role than another. This is determined by a number of factors including personality, upbringing and coping mechanisms.
Adapted from: The Relationship Triangle, It’s about being an adult, Published on June 21, 2011 by Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W. in Fixing Families