People say love is a battlefield, but seldom do they mention people outside your relationship that either consciously or subconsciously sabotage your romance. Frequently, this can occur when someone is struggling with how your relationship effects their sense of self. There are emotions of fear, frustration, anger and jealousy. When left unchecked this person or people can create unnecessary conflict between you and your partner. Read on to understand how to navigate the tricky politics of people who threaten your relationship.
Begin by understanding when someone external is undermining your relationship. Have you noticed you and your partner feeling suddenly distant from one another? It might feel like all your communication strategies seem to be not be working. One or both of you might have issues with physical health, sleep, or feeling productive and you might be struggling to bounce back from stressful events.
So, what do you do to end this cycle of hurt? First, have an honest dialogue with your partner. Be vulnerable with your thoughts, feelings and how everything is impacting each other. It can be helpful to breakdown internal sensations into thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Identify trigger buttons and ways you have managed to create healthy and successful outcomes in the past. Next, share your internal experiences with the issues with each other and discuss whether the source of this threat feels internal to your union or external. Regardless of the source, discuss ways you can work together to address and solve the root of the issue. If it’s external, talk about why the third party’s might be causing the tension and explore their motives. It is important to not make assumptions, but simply explore and learn.
After this initial discussion, identify ways to approach the third party in a safe and healthy manner. Consider if one or both of you should speak directly to them about this concern. Create strategies for the discussion to help them feel comfortable to address their concerns openly and without fear of judgement. Ask what they expected to happen as a result of their actions and motives. Again, never assume anything and instead focus on asking open-ended questions. If the motives stem from poor self-esteem, reassure them that you both care about their wellbeing and can help them find a therapist to discuss their concerns in private.
The third step is to work with your partner to set healthy boundaries with this third party. After self-care, the next most important factor is maintaining the health of your relationship. Work together to figure out the details of the where and when of the time you want to spend with this person. Establish what behaviors you both find appropriate and nonnegotiable, as well as what should happen if this person crosses a line. Likewise, map strategies to show this person the importance they have in your lives and if (and how much) one-on-one time you want to spend with them.
If this person is important to one or both of you, it is important they you understand how to show them love. However, this should never come at the expense of your partner who deserves to feel loved as well. Identify the role the third party has planned in your lives historically, now and how you want them involved in the future.
Address how this person might have filled a role in one or both of your lives prior to your relationship and how this role was altered when you fell in love with each other. This person could be acting out because they feel lonely, purposeless or underappreciated. Perhaps they were a former lover, or former confidant that doesn’t know their current place in your lives. How can you reinvent their role in your lives that can best meet all three of your needs? Nonjudgmentally, explore the situation, motives, intentions, behaviors and consequences. Try to remain rooted in love and care for all parties involved.
It is important to never place the third party in the middle! Value all perspectives, thoughts and feelings, and never pit one or both of you against the third party. It’s vital you all understand when this situation with the third person turned toxic and to whom. Although there may be serious hurts and concerns, you both need to remember this person is special to one or both of you, and any name calling will only hurt the person you love most. Be careful to avoid projecting ideas or making assumptions. If you and your partner find yourselves disagreeing on perceptions, work together to find ways to ease the internal conflict and make sure to both set and follow ground rules. It is ok, is you mutually agree to it, to ask the third party for additional clarification about the situation and their feelings. It might even be helpful to turn to a trained professional to help you all sort out this triangulation.
You can avoid future pain by setting firm limits. This includes: amount of time spent with them, conversation topics, appropriate behaviors and consequence for crossing a line. As a couple establish how much time, energy, money, and drama is enough before you again address the issue with the third party. Try to agree on what should be shared with any third party, any assistance requests, and what outreach is appropriate, include rules to help ease any potential future tensions. It is also important to ensure both of you as a couple are committed to self-care, feel empowered to solve you own issues and first turn to each other for love, friendship, advice and assistance.