Why is it that some people are able to have happy, healthy relationships with clear communication while others seem to be stuck in a perpetual state of dysfunction? The sex may be great, and the person may be dreamy, but you always seem to come across some sort of a disconnect. In some cases, the answer is as simple as maybe you haven’t found the right person or people just yet. Other times the answer is a bit more complicated.
Maybe you’re only dating other Polyamorous and Ethically Non-Monogamous individuals, so you know that your lifestyle has nothing to do with the relationship issues you may be facing. Still, you can’t quite figure out what the problem seems to be and you find yourself wondering why dysfunctional relationships seem to be the default in your life.
The problem may be that you and your partners are playing out roles on the Drama Triangle. The only way to find out is to get familiar with the Drama Triangle and see if you’re able to recognize yourself in any of the roles involved.
Understanding the Drama Triangle
Most of us were never taught about being polyamorous or ethically non-monogamous. Chances are, we were taught to not just “save the drama for our mama”.
The thing is, being a human is hard, and sometimes when struggling humans (who haven’t started working through their own traumas and personal issues) decide to start families and raise children, little bits (or sometimes massive doses) of trauma get spoon-fed to those children throughout their lives. As a result, many of us learn how to be in relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world around us by filling one of three roles:
- The Rescuer
- The Persecutor
- The Victim
This is called the Drama Triangle, and as implied, playing these roles in your relationships creates drama. In most cases, both the Rescuer and the Persecutor end up in dysfunctional relationships with the Victim. Understanding which role you tend to fill, and which role your perspective partners tend to fill can help you flip the triangle from something that’s often dramatic into something more empowering, called The Empowerment Dynamic. Empowerment Dynamic Roles include:
- The Coach
- The Challenger
- The Creator
In the Drama Triangle, people involved in a relationship tend to focus on problems. The Victim sees the Persecutor as the problem. The Persecutor and the Rescuer both see the Victim as the problem, and the energy for action comes from anxiety.
In the Empowerment Dynamic, people involved in a relationship work hard to focus on vision and desired outcomes. The Challenger and the Coach are also creators who co-create positive outcomes with the Creator. The energy for action in this scenario comes from passion.
The Rescuer Vs The Coach
In the Drama Triangle the Rescuer is a person who often seeks to provide temporary relief. Their actions don’t resolve problems long term which means they spend much of their time discounting their own needs in order to tend to the problems at hand, acting on behalf of others, and providing that temporary relief each time it is needed. They often do more than is ever asked of them, which keeps them exhausted and frustrated, while reinforcing their partner’s dependency upon them.
This dynamic creates a natural negativity between the rescuer and their partners. The Rescuer feels more and more that their partners are incompetent humans who wouldn’t survive without them, and the partners begin to expect more and more from the Rescuer, thus, creating a dysfunctional relationship.
If you are someone who identifies with the Rescuer, the best way to shift a relationship from dysfunctional to healthy is by becoming a Coach instead of a Rescuer. Coaches do not see their partners as incompetent, and they do not seek to take care of everything on behalf of their partners. Instead, they recognize when a partner needs help with something and choose to believe in their partner’s ability to take care of themselves. A Coach may facilitate by asking good questions that help their partners see more possibilities. They support their partner in the process of creating outcomes.
The Coach also recognizes that they must tend to their own needs and desires. The only person they really need to take care of is themselves. Best of all, when a Coach is well taken care of, he or she can be a supportive partner who encourages loved ones to take better care of themselves too, without forcing anything on them or doing anything for them.
The Persecutor Vs The Challenger
Another common role within the Drama Triangle is the Persecutor. The Persecutor loves to blame. They see their partners as the cause of many problems and they may give their partner a hard time for causing those problems. Often, a Persecutor will act only in their own interests without regard for the needs of others. Overall, they seek to dominate in their relationships – to be in control because they see their partners are incapable screw-ups.
This type of behavior can become abusive. A relationship can’t be functional when one partner is always seeking to dominate the other. Relationships are partnerships that require equality for all parties involved. If there is a power dynamic happening within the relationship, it is dysfunctional by nature. Note – this is different than exploring BDSM or playing out scenes in which you are the dominant one over your partner. These types of sexual encounters and relationships are created with clear communication and mutual consent.
In order to achieve a more functional relationship, the Persecutor must transform into the Challenger. The Challenger in a relationship is a catalyst for change, learning, and growth. Rather than blaming their partners for the various issues they may be facing, the Challenger encourages their partners to learn and grow.
Becoming a challenger means you also have to challenge yourself. In order to make this shift, the Challenger must let go of judgement, and adopt an attitude of compassion. And in order to do that, a challenger must recognize when they are being critical or passing judgement, and actively choose not to act on those feelings. Instead, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and treat them how you would want to be treated. Tough love is sometimes necessary, but it should come from a place of caring about your partner’s growth rather than how they’re experience with life is impacting you.
The Victim Vs The Creator
In the Drama Triangle, the Victim is exactly what it sounds like. This person sees themselves as a victim who is at the effect of other people and the world around them. It is an incredibly disempowering role to play, and it is often accompanied by low self-esteem. Victims feel powerless and at risk. They often discount their ability to act on their own behalf and experience positive outcomes in life.
When a Victim comes into relationship with a Persecutor or a Rescuer, it’s a recipe for dysfunction. Sometimes, Victims can even bring out the persecutor and Rescuer in others. If this sounds like you, the key to shifting your relationship struggles (and your struggles with everyday life) is transforming from a Victim to a Creator.
A Creator is someone who cultivates their own capacity to create outcomes. They seek relationships with co-Creators to support and be supported. This often means taking responsibility for things and holding themselves accountable for outcomes.
From Drama Triangle to Empowerment Dynamic
Flipping the triangle can be difficult, especially when more than one person is involved, or, if there is any unprocessed trauma that needs to be dealt with. However, there is hope. You don’t have to feel like you’re stuck in a dysfunctional relationship or like you’ll continue to bounce from one bad relationship to another for the rest of your life.
Talk to your partners about the roles you each play in your relationships (polyamory, ethical non-monogamy, kink and BDSM aside) and consider getting a mental health counselor involved. Getting support from a trained professional can make all the difference in the world when it comes to making major shifts like the ones described above. If you or someone you know is in a dysfunctional relationship based on the Drama Triangle, feel free to reach out for support. Get started by sending this article to someone who needs to see it or by using the tool below to schedule a free, brief consultation with me.