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Relationship Triangulation

Question:

I am a divorced mother with 3 daughters. I am having major relationship problems with my eldest who is 16. Her father and I have a very strained relationship and when occasions arise for her to spend other time (than the normal visits) or when arrangements change, he refuses to discuss them with me and will pass messages and problems through my daughter – she then has to discuss them with me and make the appropriate arrangements. I feel that this is putting enormous strain on my relationship with my daughter, as it puts extra pressures and responsibility on her shoulders. I have tried to explain to her that she shouldn’t be in this position – she is still a young person that needs guidance and shouldn’t be trying to deal with all these problems and decisions. Am I being unreasonable? I feel like I am at my wits end. There are continual arguments at home and she is always defending her fathers actions with me being portrayed as the ‘baddie’. Please help. I really want a good healthy relationship with my daughter.

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Answer:

You aren’t being unreasonable at all. It simply isn’t healthy for your daughter to be a messenger between your ex-husband and yourself (a relationship that therapists call “Triangulation”). Placing her in this role forces her to choose between you and him in a way that will further threaten her sense of security. Even in divorce a boundary must be maintained between parents and children so that children don’t get burdened by parenting issues. You may not be together as spouses anymore, but you will be together as parents for the rest of your lives. If your ex will not discuss issues with you directly (and you should make continued attempts to get him to speak directly to you) then explain to your daughter that it is not healthy for her to play messenger in this way and that in the future you won’t discuss messages originating from her father with her except in emergencies. The trick will be to do this in a way that does not stress her further or insult her father. A family therapist might help you and your daughter (and your ex if he will attend) to sort this stuff out. If nothing else works, ask your ex to write down what he has to say in a sealed envelope or send you email. That way if your daughter is still the messenger, at least she will not participate in the messages. Good Luck!

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