How Families Communicate

Many of the families that come to see me enter treatment with a child or adolescent as the identified patient.  It is true that the child is often of the most significant symptom bearer when there is stress within the family system; however, the therapeutic gains with the child often occur when changes in the family system take place.  When family stress occurs, a triangle can often be identified.  A triangle is a relational subsystem that develops when the stress and anxiety that occurs between two family members is relieved by involving a third person, who theoretically provides a “detour” for the anxiety.  This often occurs when parents are having marital difficulties and a parent attempts to ally his or herself with the child.  In this situation, the child is pulled in close to one of the parents, leaving the other parent feeling isolated and vulnerable.  The child then begins to act in a way to please the allied parent and further isolate the other parent.  Triangling can occur in more subtle ways as well.  This may include the language and communication one uses or physical space and proximity one chooses to exist in.  One goal of symptom relief in children is often to become aware of the various triangles that exist within families and under what circumstances they come to light.  Once this awareness occurs, more functional systems of communication can be created.

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