Triangulation is a term that describes a narcissistic manipulation technique where they’ll triangulate three people (typically themselves, a wife, and a mistress). I have been involved in many triangulations in my life, as my ex-husband was a narcissist and there have been many other narcissists in my life. My husband triangulated me from everyone, including my parents, my brother, friends, everyone.
One of the most common triangulations is of a wife and a mistress/girlfriend. This is about the only example I haven’t been involved in myself. In this scenario, we’ll say the narcissist is a man. Say he is attracted to someone. Narcissists need their ego constantly stroked and they also bore easily, so sometimes they’ll do things just to create a conflict. They see something in someone that they can come in and pretend to fulfill.
They approach another woman, a girlfriend, and do a smear campaign on the wife. They’ll talk about how such a bad time they’re having with the wife. Things may have been great once, but now she isn’t the same person they married, that she has changed in a negative way, perhaps by becoming an alcoholic, addict, gone crazy, or she’s abusive. He tries to make it look like he’s not a bad guy for having an affair, and he’s actually a good guy for staying so long. He comes off like a pillar of strength who has tried hard to make things work.
He’ll have sob stories about other people too, like his parents. He will try to make the girlfriend feel as if she’s the only one who finally makes him feel heard and understood, who makes him live again. He targets her because he thinks this will appeal to her for some reason, which it does. It gives her a dopamine surge, which was depleted in her for some reason. Could be a recent break up, a bad family situation, or something else. She was depleted of dopamine so this new thing feels really great.
He backs it up with lots of attention and amazing sex, which gives her an oxytocin surge. By now she’s in a brain fog. All of this attention helps to assuage her inner loneliness. At some point he will decide to go back to the wife. He may be trying to stir things up again. Now, he engages in a smear campaign against
the girlfriend. He will come up with excuses like she had the wrong idea, she was stalking him, he was just trying to be a nice guy and she got attached to hi, she’s crazy, any excuse. He will say the girlfriend said things about the wife. The wife, because it’s easier than disrupting her life by placing blame upon her husband, will become a flying monkey against the girlfriend. She’ll start gathering her friends against the girlfriend, identifying her as a homewrecker.
Meanwhile, the husband is enjoying the chaos he created. The girlfriend will be suffering withdrawals from the man’s attention, so she’ll do something like write a letter explaining how much he’s hurting her, because she thinks he’ll stop if he realizes how much he’s hurting her. Though that’s what a normal person would do, the opposite will happen with a narcissist, because he enjoys the attention and her attention is feeding his ego. He enjoys her suffering. It makes him feel important.
If his wife gets sick of his lies and tries to leave, he will next go to the kids. He will say something like, “Mommy wants a divorce. You don’t want that, do you? I’d be so sad if I wasn’t here. Tell Mommy you don’t want us to break up.” Perhaps he’d go to the church, or her parents. He pretends to be a normal person, and he shows up showing so much remorse. He has a lot of excuses like he was having a hard time, or drinking too much, or something happened, but he’s over it now. He claims to have changed.
Narcissists have a huge sense of entitlement. He will think doing something small, like counseling for two weeks, will make up for lies over five years. He’ll say it’s all in the past and his wife should get over it because that was the old him. He really believes anything he’s doing now should make up for everything he did in the past.
These sorts of triangulations can happen with anyone. It can happen between a parent and two kids, between two parents and a kid, between a boss and two employees, or any relationships. For me, it was between my husband, parents, and I. It happened between my parents, my brother, and I. It happened between my brother, my sister-in-law, and me. It happened between my husband, my friends, and I.
The narcissist comes in with a small nugget of truth wrapped in a whole bunch of lies. I can’t defend myself because I’m taken completely off guard and my brain is just trying to catch up to what’s happening. By the time I have, they’re already out of my life. I have to go back and piece it all together. Now I can go back and see what the recipe for disaster was in those relationships, but at the time I was just dumbfounded.
It can be a small comfort to know that if a person truly loves you, they won’t be very triangulatable. A quality person will talk to you and try to figure out what’s going on, not just easily manipulated. On some level, these relationships were already dysfunctional. They had their own triggers. No one left my life because of anything I did. They left my life because of something they were afraid of, and they had some sort of wound my ex was able to rub raw.
I know how I would have reacted. I saw a precious few friends who were not triangulatable. They loved me. They wanted the truth, and they weren’t willing to throw away a relationship based on manipulation without having a full heart-to-heart discussion with me.
You may have people you’ll lose to triangulation, but quality people who love you will not be susceptible. After a lifetime of showing who I was, some people believed things about me that were so outrageous. It’s more outrageous that someone would be lying about me in that way, which should have raised concern. After my ex got my immediate family on his side, everyone else followed. This made an excellent strategy for him. I had also had an inexplicable heart issue, which seemingly had no explanation. He made other suspicious that I may have had a drug problem, which was not true at all, but people wanted some sort of explanation.