Relationship Reality: Part 1 The Not-So-Musical Triangle

A.  You accept where you are by facing the reality of your situation.

Part of facing our reality is looking at the conversations we’re having. As addicts, we’re naturally drawn to people who like to help. As Al-Anons, the draw is toward those who appear to need help. For decades, we’ve had this verbal chorus of detachment and dependence that AA’s and Al-Anon’s perform. Some have labels for it, co-dependency, enabling, manipulation, drama, abuse… let’s just say it’s a factor that makes co-existing difficult.

In my circle of friends and family, we often explore the dynamics of conversations. As I said earlier, I trained people in communications for 25 years, so I love this topic.

I have begun using the following to help myself think through dialogues. There are many ways to break down communications but the one that I discovered lately with friends in crisis is really basic and seems to apply to more than just the AA’s song of choice, which is usually control.

You should know, before I use this musical metaphor, that I played in the grade school band before I was asked by the band director to quit. I have no ear, no talent and the flute I used was from the attic. Needless to say, I didn’t like to practice and I didn’t like band, so quitting was wonderful. I might have done better with a percussion instrument, like the triangle, but maybe not. Even in conversation, I’ve always struggled with timing.

Without success, I tried to find out if the three sides of the percussion triangle make the same sound or it they’re different. If you know, please leave a comment. My guess is that they sound different. What I can say is that I see an analogy here. Single notes of noise, jangling, and if overdone, a cacophony of sound without the ebb and flow of harmonizing or melody—just unpleasant noise.

If you want a hands-on way to dissect the jangle of conversations that are troubling you, give it a try. Think of a triangle and then dissect the conversation, lining up the intent of the words with the appropriate side. Is it a fight statement? A flight statement? A helping statement? Be aware that no one stays in only one corner.

Fight Side 1: blame, shame, attack, threats, demands, insults, criticism, acting superior

Flight Side 2: poor me, helpless, fear of reactions, capitulation

Helping Side 3: advice, problem-solving, offer of help, making excuses, appeasing, rescuing

Play with this concept for 24 hours and in the next post, I’ll give you a sample conversation and illustrate the way conversations move from one corner to the next. Just like the use of the percussion instrument, the use of triangle conversations is done for effect. It doesn’t move the conversation ahead at all. There is little content, just posturing and manipulation. Nothing is resolved or shared from the heart or mind. Therefore, it’s not relationship conversation. It’s manipulation of words to gain a response, not to gain understanding.

Though this model helps me gain perspective on a difficult conversation, it might not work for you. I would be interested in hearing what has helped you.