How is the drama triangle used in couples therapy?

Does it feel like your relationship conflicts are cyclical and rarely resolved? Research has suggested 3 characteristics of  irresolvable interpersonal conflicts: length of conflict; hopelessness; and resistance to resolution.

If you think your relationship is beyond help, it could be that you are merely stuck in some bad habits, and that changing your communication style can break these. Let’s explore…

Are you playing games?

I frequently hear the phrase “we’ve been over and over this before”, and “I can’t keep having the same argument”. When I hear this, I know that the couple in front of me are stuck in a destructive cycle whereby problems cannot be resolved. I also frequently see game playing – complex narratives and scenarios that have been designed by the couple to out-do each other within the game. The problem is, nobody wins. The games never lead to resolution, and instead, create further conflicts.

To bring these patterns to the consciousness, I introduce something called The Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle is a respected psychological theory that has been used in psychotherapy for more than 50 years. It hypothesizes that in any relationship conflict, the parties are playing one of three roles: The persecutor (blaming everyone else), the victim (poor me / feel sorry for me), and the rescuer (let’s fix this). The roles we play are not set in stone. In fact, we can shift between the roles multiple times within seconds. Only by bringing the game playing to the surface can we identify the real issues that underpin them.

Here’s an example of The Drama Triangle playing out in an argument between partners Moira and Harry.

Harry wants to go on a ‘men only’ holiday with his male friends. His wife Moira doesn’t like this idea because, in the past, Harry has been unfaithful and she worries he is going to be unfaithful on the holiday. Moira sulks and feels sad for days, moping around the house (victim role). Harry tries to reassure her that she has nothing to worry about (rescuer). But Moira keeps thinking about the past and cannot believe Harry has not offered to cancel the trip. She feels angry that he is still considering going, despite her sadness, and tells him he cannot go (persecutor). Harry is miserable at Moira’s lack of trust and her attempt to control his holiday (victim). Harry then sulks for days and tells his friends Moira says he cannot go on holiday. His friends tell him Moira is awful and abusive for controlling him this way (persecutors). Moira feels guilty about telling Harry he cannot go, as she can see he is upset and that his friends hate her, and eventually permits it even though she is uncomfortable (rescuer).

As you can see, there are a lot of hidden and deep feelings bubbling under the surface of this scenario. And that’s where therapy can help.

In therapy, we work to move away from drama triangle dynamics and create safe, healthy spaces to communicate. If Moira and Harry were clients of mine in couples therapy, this game would be used to highlight the deeper issues between them – trust, respect and fidelity. And, if Moira and Harry continued therapy, they would not need to enter into game playing to discuss future issues – instead, they would use the tools and skills from therapy to create healthier conversations.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.