The extremely painful experience of a marital/relationship affair is an emotionally layered one that occurs in many people’s lives. The affair, or the triangle relationship, contains different aspects for the individuals involved, and has more unconscious dynamics than couple relationships.
Triangle relationships are regarded as more complicated and are difficult to break through the illusions they create between the individuals. Individuals involved in triangles believe they know what is going on in their relationship by being self-absorbed in the surface level of actual happenings, but there are more unconscious dynamics. That is why, in most cases, if a marriage ends due to an affair, and the two people involved in the affair continue to have a relationship, they often find the emotional, intimate and sexual intensity soon dissipates in the new relationship within a short time.
Triangle relationships are definitely more complex than the two-partner relationship, and all involve drama between the individuals. This article will attempt to explain the components, that is, the more common unconscious dynamics involved in the triangle, and the resources that a person can use to disengage from triangle involvement and, more importantly, redeem the experience.
Triangles are often perceived as drama-filled relationships and victimize the participants, if the individuals don’t recognize the deeper meaning of their involvement. Triangles inflict emotional pain on at least one participant, if not more. Yet stories of triangle relationships have existed for thousands of years, and are found in Biblical texts and Shakespearean plays, and in many of the current themes in literature and film. The archetype and universality of a triangle can actually present purposeful patterns of intelligent inner development and can be a powerful means of spiritual growth and change. A degree of self-awareness is required for this to occur, as well as the ability to move out of the surface, drama-filled level of participation and to endure the suffering necessary to move into more spiritual and consciousness growth.
The Three Roles
The three players or roles involved in a triangle are the Betrayer, the Betrayed, and the Seducer. The Betrayer and the Betrayed are the two people involved in a committed partnership. The third party is the Seducer, and this role does not have to be a human one. For example, the Seducer role can be fulfilled by an all-consuming career or a favorite hobby. The Betrayer is the person who engages in an external and covert relationship with the Seducer, and the Betrayed is the individual who usually is left in the dark in regards to the secret relationship.
Common Triangle Themes
These three roles typically evolve from early, unresolved family triangles and produce profound repercussions in adult relationships. A common theme of a childhood Oedipal pattern is the child, in direct competition with the same-gender parent, who attempts to seduce the opposite-gender parent. Another triangle is the power and defensive triangle. These triangles are intended to avoid rather than experience deep relationship. For example, the wife may seek a relationship outside of her marriage in an attempt to avoid taking the committed marital relationship into a deeper level of intimacy.
There are also triangles in which the Betrayer will pursue a person outside of the marriage who is unobtainable. This type of triangle masks the Betrayer’s creative or spiritual needs that are not being addressed within him/herself. The Betrayer’s pursuit of a disinterested person distracts the Betrayer from attending to his or her creative focus that the Betrayer would have probably abandoned out of fear.
Another triangle is the competitive triangle. This triangle arises out of a childhood pattern involving competitive sibling relationships. A man may engage with a woman who is in a marriage and place himself in competition to the husband or partner, just as he experienced competition with his brother. This pattern is exemplified in the television reality drama, “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”, where 20 women or men compete for one person. These relationships, after the competition is over, rarely last or move into a deeper, intimate relationship. More on early family triangles is presented below.
Examples of Early Family Triangles in Adult Relationships
The following examples of early family patterns are expressed in the female gender, but the male gender can also be substituted. An example of an early Oedipal family triangle is a girl who becomes a daddy’s girl and who has actually seduced her father and is in competition with the mother. The seduction does not have to be a sexual one, of course, but there is a tremendous amount of effort involved in the girl’s getting the father’s attention and approval. If sexual incest is involved, then this pattern will carry a greater intensity in its expression, especially when it is expressed in adulthood. But, for this pattern to exist, sexual incest does not need to have occurred, and typically it does not. This pattern will manifest in adulthood with the woman as a seducer targeting a vulnerable married man and seducing him away from the wife.
Another early family triangle could involve a girl whose father has abandoned the family, and she blames the mother and has rage toward her for this. In this case, the girl will seduce the married male (the Betrayer), punish the Betrayer’s wife (the Betrayed), and if the seducer is married, will also punish her abandoning father by punishing her husband. The Betrayer (husband) also seeks to punish the wife, and at an early family-triangle level, the Betrayer (husband) is actually punishing his mother through punishing the wife in the affair.
The roles of the Betrayer and the Seducer involve actions that result in making each person feel good. That is the purpose of the seduction. Both of these roles are deeply controlled by unconscious dynamics. Each person is overwhelmed by intense feelings of romance, sexuality, and seeing each other in the best light—and most times seeing the other falsely. The Betrayer (husband) has split his psyche into the “Good Woman/Mother” and the “Bad Woman/Mother.” The Betrayer (husband) projects onto the Seducer (mistress) the “Good Mother” attributes and projects onto the Betrayed (wife) the “Bad Mother” characteristics that he needs to work out within his own mind. This plays out with the Betrayer (husband) criticizing his wife as an act of punishing the Bad Mother, while he showers the Seducer/Good Mother with compliments and love. Because of the powerful seductive qualities of these two roles, the Betrayer (husband) and the Seducer (mistress) have the most difficult time ever reaching consciousness growth.
Both of these roles must first sacrifice the ego-inflating aspects of their affair. The ego-inflating aspects between the Betrayer (husband) and Seducer (mistress) include lavishing compliments, attending to each other, increasing the romance and providing emotional support that the Betrayer may not be receiving in his/her marital relationship. Often times the sexual relationship has intensity because both Betrayer and Seducer roles are punishing the Mother (wife). The ego sacrifice requires the Betrayer (husband) to back away from the ego-enhancing relationship with the Seducer (mistress), and see the sex, compliments, and love as only illusions that are fed within a triangle dynamic. The ego sacrifice of the Seducer (mistress) is she must withdraw the need to punish her Mother and set aside the illusion of winning and seducing the Father/husband away from the Mother/wife. I have rarely seen individuals who are able to do this without intervention from a professional who is expert in these types of relationships.
One of the more painful roles is that of the Betrayed. The Betrayed takes on the most suffering of all the roles, and is in the position to achieve the greatest amount of consciousness growth from a triangle relationship. Suffering leads to greater consciousness. If the Betrayed can choose to end her reaction of rage or bitterness and remain vulnerable to the experience of rejection and abandonment, then she can open into True Power. True Power is a power that exists beyond control dynamics and arises out of a serene and quiet mind and heart.
How to Resolve Triangle Relationships
The first thing is to end the affair. Applying Integrative Consciousness Theory (see previous blog entries) to triangle relationships, involves becoming aware of your role and unconscious contribution to the triangle. Awareness is the first key. The second important aspect is acceptance of the underlying fear motivating the behaviors within the affair and marriage. For example, it is important to be present with the criticalness or not gaining your partner’s approval, so that this fear is not projected onto the relationsip. If you are the Betrayer (husband, in our example), you must explore what was happening in your life at the time the affair started. Were you living your life and following your purpose? Did your life have meaning? How were you getting along with your spouse? Were you critical? Did you avoid taking the marital relationship into deeper emotional intimacy? What were you fearful of before the seduction occurred? Were you bored? Boredom is a sign of not attending to your own goals in life, or is a fear of engaging at a deeper, intimate level.
For the Seducer (mistress, in our example), it is important for the individual to explore what is behind the unconscious need to punish the wife/mother. Is there a desire for the attention of the Betrayer/father figure? Or, if the Seducer is married, is there a need to punish the father through punishing the husband by having the affair? Does the Seducer have any fears of having a relationship with a man who is free to be a complete partner?
For the Betrayed (wife, in our example), it is important to work with the critical aspects that your partner is projecting onto you. If he or she sees you as too demanding, then you must ask yourself honestly, “Am I too demanding, and can I diminish this character flaw”? Another task involves working with the fear of abandonment and rejection.
Once the source has been identified, the task for the Betrayer—and the more difficult challenge—is to go back into his or her suffering, staying present with the vulnerability of the fear until the fear dissipates. One avenue this can be done is from the witness state of consciousness, and this occurs simply by shifting into the Heart Center. A person must hold the awareness at the Heart Chakra, be open to compassion, and then bring in the situation of fear, holding his or her attention on the fear until it slowly dissolves. When a person initiates and completes this process, then he or she is clearing out the fear and can now be open to experience the fullness of an intimate relationship. This results in taking the relationship into new and deeper levels of experience.
When you are in one of the roles of a marital affair the greatest challenge is to “see” beyond the drama and catch a glimpse of the desire of wanting change and more from your life experiences. Affairs can bring about opportunities for new psychological and emotional growth, if one does not get lost in the seductions and victimizations of affair dynamics.
Melissa Lowe, Ph.D. is a Psychological Depth therapist and teacher of mindfulness and meditative practices. Her office is located in Newton, MA.