Relationships, just like Nature itself, have their own “ecosystems”. Different elements work together and support each other, sustaining balance and harmony. But sometimes in relationships those ecosystems can become unhealthy, with different sources of negative energy feeding off of each other to sustain the balance. This is one reason why transformation in relationships can be so difficult – if you change one element you change the whole dynamic of the relationship, and it will try to re-balance itself, often leading to conflict. In this three-part blog series, I explore what is termed by Karpman, 1968, as the Drama Triangle. A social model, Karpman identified three possible roles that we typically take on; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. Each blog will explore each role in turn, how they relate to conflict in relationships, and how they often work together to sustain conflict patterns.
Deepa*, 29, was locked in a turbulent relationship with Terri*, 31. Terri would often drink too much, stay out late with friends, often without telling Deepa where she was or when she would be back. Deepa had left on 5 separate occasions over the span of 2 years because of it. Each time she would leave she would move in with her best friend or back in with her family.
Deepa’s friends and family were starting to get frustrated with Deepa, who would always go back to Terri when Terri would promise Deepa that she would change. Things would improve for about a month, but then inevitably, Terri’s dismissive behaviour would start all over again. Deepa was running out of support from her friends and family, and feeling she was no longer able to talk with them the about her issues with Terri, she had come to see me.
In all of our sessions, Deepa would talk about Terri – how unacceptable her behaviour was, how many sacrifices she had made for Terri and the relationship, and how unappreciated she felt.
When I pointed out to Deepa that it seemed she felt powerless, she really resonated with it. She had felt powerless most of her life.
As a result, she had taken on the Victim role.
Deepa was the second youngest of 6 children. Her parents were out at work a lot so she was mainly raised by her older sisters. Growing up in a large family she often felt largely unnoticed, only had second hand clothes handed down from her sisters, and if she had any emotional needs she would be told to “stop complaining”. She didn’t learn how to be assertive, and lacked confidence.
In relationships she would often find herself in situations where she was unsatisfied. But rather than having the confidence to be able to assert her boundaries or ask for what she needed, she would tolerate her partner’s unreasonable behaviour. Frustrated, she would complain about it to her friends and family, and would only leave when she had reached boiling point.
But this time, Deepa wanted things to be different. Through Relationship Coaching she was encouraged to focus on herself in the sessions, rather than talking about Terri. We started to work on building her self-confidence, and Deepa learned how to set healthy boundaries in her relationship. She learned the communication skills she needed to be able to assert her needs to Terri, and was able to do so in a calm and measured way, taking responsibility for the fact that she had in some ways enabled Terri’s behaviour by accepting it for so long.
Finding it difficult to tolerate the shift in dynamic, with Deepa more assertive and making more demands, Terri decided to leave the relationship. This can happen in relationships – when one partner grows and the other partner doesn’t grow to meet them. Not all relationships can or should be saved, however, and Deepa had already realised that Terri was not going to meet her needs. However the communication skills taught meant that they were able to part mutually and respectfully. Armed with her new found confidence and self-belief, Deepa was feeling more positive than she had done in years and was now looking forward to meeting a partner with whom she could have a more equal and balanced relationship.
The Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim triangle is an interesting concept. In relationships, we can move between one role and another while our partner does the same, all the time trying to re-balance the power and homeostasis in the relationship ecosystem. And regardless of what role we take on, we often both feel like the victim; if we are the rescuer we can feel “hard done by”, if we are the persecutor we can feel “vindicated” by our ability to blame (because we believe we are the rightful victim), and if we are the victim it really just means we feel powerless.
But none of us are truly powerless. We can all make choices about the type of relationship we want. But to do that we need awareness – awareness of our own unfinished business from the past, awareness of our relationship patterns, and an awareness of the responsibility we need to take for our own part in our relationship issues.
Recognising and understanding conflict cycles and relationship patterns that lead to stuckness are key components to my brand new course – Compassionate Conflict for Couples. If you would like my expert support to learn the EXACT techniques and steps to resolve conflict effectively without hurt, anger and frustration, you can now sign up! At just £99 it is incredible value for at least 8 hours of coaching, taking place over 4 weeks in the comfort of your own home, through videos, exercises and worksheets. And as an extra special gift for signing up, the first 10 people will receive a bonus 1:1 coaching call with me, absolutely FREE! These places will go fast and are strictly on a first-come, first-served basis so sign up NOW to avoid disappointment.
If you would like any further information about this course, or have anything else that you would like help with, I would be delighted to hear from you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care, and remember – just like a beautiful garden, maintain and tend to your relationship to feel it thrive!
*Client confidentiality is always protected. Case studies are therefore fictional and for illustrative purposes only.