Marriage is an exclusive club. Marriage is a two-person arrangement, leaving out all other parties. This is why wedding vows often include the phrase, “forsaking all others.” Boundaries in marriage are meant to create a safe place for one’s soul; third parties can become disruptive to this safety.
Our love often gets segmented into other places. This problem, called triangulation, is one of the great enemies of good marriages. Triangulation occurs when one spouse brings in a third party for an unhealthy reason. A “triangle” is created when, for example, a wife (Person A) goes to a friend (Person C) for something that she should go to her husband (Person B) for. Or in a family setting, a sibling (Person A) calls you (Person C) to talk about “Mom’s problem,” without first talking to Mom (Person B). Here are some examples of triangulation that occur in marriage:
• A wife talks to her best friend about her unhappiness with her husband, but doesn’t let him know her feelings.
• A husband confides to his secretary that his wife doesn’t understand him.
• One spouse makes their child a confidant, becoming closer to the child than to her mate.
• A husband is more invested in his parents than in his wife.
In all these examples, a spouse is taking a part of his heart away from his mate and bringing it to an outside source. This is not only painful, but also unjust. It works against what God intended to develop in marriage—the mysterious unity that brings the couple closer to each other in ever-deepening ways. Triangulation betrays trust and fractures the union.
This is why God is so adamant about honest, direct relationships. He hates the deception and indirectness of triangulation. Gossip, for example, is a form of triangulation. The person who gossips (Person A) relates something about Person B to Person C behind B’s back, and “a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28). God tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
If you happen to be Person C—the one in the middle of two spouses—you may think you are helping the couple. In truth, we all need people to confide in us. But if you are involved in two people moving farther apart, you are being destructive in spite of your good intentions. You may need to tell the person coming to you, “Kathleen, these are hurtful problems between you and Dan. I feel for your struggle and want to support you. But until you are going to him first with these issues, I feel I’m a party to gossip and deception. Will you talk to him about it, and then let me know how I can help?” Remember that “he who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). Don’t be either the person in the middle or the one going outside of your marriage in unsafe ways.
Married love requires a great deal of safety for intimacy to grow. Marriage brings out the most vulnerable, fragile parts of us. And these vulnerable parts need a warm, grace-filled, and secure environment in which to grow. If a third party threatens this, those fragile parts cannot be safe enough to emerge, connect, and develop. A wife who has trouble learning to trust others, for example, will have great difficulty investing in her husband if he is kinder to other people than to her or if he discusses with friends what she shares in private with him.
In addition, marriage is designed to mature us. Living in such close proximity for so long with another person helps us come out of our isolation and self-centeredness. But it takes a great deal of work to grow in this context. You can be real with your colleagues and friends, but if you want to get the scoop on what someone is really like, the first person to ask is the spouse. The very exclusivity of marriage is like an oven: there’s a lot of heat, and you can’t always escape when you’d like to. But this heat can help us grow, also. The heat, or the pressure of living so closely with someone else, can help us face our weaknesses and work on them.
Learn new ways to make your marriage the best it can be, read Boundaries in Marriage.
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