A 2007 poll conducted by MSNBC and iVillage showed that half of the more than 70,000 respondents had been unfaithful to a partner, including 22 percent who were cheating on a current partner. Although most people will say it's wrong, unfaithfulness has become an accepted fact of life. Infidelity has become a central plot device for hundreds of plays, songs, movies, and television shows. While monogamy may be a cultural ideal, the reality is many people discover they're involved in a love triangle, often without quite understanding how they got there. If you happen to be one of them, here are a few tips on how to handle the situation.
Many people are taught not to express their feelings, to say everything's fine, and build up a great deal of resentment over time. Others are taught to be demanding and aggressive in order to get their needs met. Neither of these tactics is good communication. If you find yourself in a love triangle, communication is crucial not only with your partner, but with the third person also. Or, if you are the apex of the triangle, communication with both of your partners is essential to the future of your relationships. Successful communicators do more than talk they also listen. Listening with an open mind should be your primary goal. Though it may be difficult, try to listen without criticism or judgment. Be prepared to compromise.
Do take care of yourself.
Another of the keys to handling a love triangle with grace and class is to know what your emotional needs are so you can communicate them effectively. Self-awareness is an important part of any relationship, but a love triangle is no place for anyone who has major insecurities. For the inexperienced, distinguishing between emotional needs and possessiveness can be tricky. However, it's vital you know who you are, what's important to you, and what your emotional hot spots are. The clearer you are about your issues and goals, the better you'll be at expressing them during the communication process. You can use a variety of techniques to seek self-knowledge including blogging, writing in a journal, meditation, and reading.
One of the most difficult aspects of taking care of yourself as part of a love triangle is maintaining healthy emotional boundaries. Don't allow yourself to become a tool to make another partner jealous, a constant referee, or a message delivery service between the other two people in the triangle. If a significant amount of time with a partner is spent processing the other relationship, consider it a red flag. Time to work on those boundaries.
Though you may be tempted to blame your partner or the other woman (or man) in the love triangle, don't. Odds are your partner didn't intend to fall in love with someone else. Very few people can control their emotions enough to stop themselves from falling in love. Try to remember your partner didn't intend to hurt you.
You should also try to empathize with the third person. It's unlikely she woke up one morning and decided to fall in love with someone involved in another relationship. She may not have known about you when they started seeing each other. If so, she's probably feeling just as hurt and betrayed as you are. If she did know of you, he may have deceived her about the nature of your relationship. It's likely he gave her the impression your relationship was over or in trouble.
If you find yourself torn between two lovers, your position may be the most difficult. You need to empathize with both of your partners. Unless all of you gave prior consent to the love triangle, one or both of your partners will experience feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal, and fear. Old wounds may be torn open and emotional baggage exposed. It's up to you to listen to your partners and reassure them you're committed to the relationship and aren't trying to replace them. You also need to make sure you don't neglect either partner.
Do control your jealousy.
Jealousy is an umbrella term for several feelings such as envy, possessiveness, and insecurity. At its core, jealousy is rooted in fear. Instead of dwelling on why you aren't enough for your partner or worrying that your partner loves someone else more than you, think of jealousy like a warning light on your dashboard. Try to figure out exactly what you're feeling, what's causing it, and what you need to do to fix it.
Often, jealousy is fueled by imagination. It's that voice in your head that says she's better looking than I am or he's a better lover. Your partner fell in love with you do you really think you could be replaced so easily? Learn to disconnect yourself from your partner's other relationship. It's not about you. Next, work on your self-esteem. Remember you are worthy of your partner's love and your partner is lucky to have you.
Jealousy can also be driven by possessiveness. If you're the sort of person who looks at your partner and thinks mine, you might feel the other person is trying to steal your partner. Maybe you think there won't be enough time, attention, or love to get your needs met if you have to share your partner with someone else. However, people can't be owned. Attention, time, and love are not property. Learn to place emphasis on experiencing instead of possessing.
Do be honest.
Nothing destroys trust between lovers faster than a lie. If you find yourself falling in love with two people at once, tell them up front. If you're already involved with a partner and realize you've fallen for someone else, you have an obligation to be honest with your partner. If you want to pursue both relationships openly, you will have a lot of work ahead of you. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do seek help.
There's nothing easy about being in a love triangle. If you and your partners find you're unable to resolve issues by yourselves, consider finding a trained therapist or other counselor to help. If you've decided to open your relationship, you should look for a therapist who is trained to deal with alternative lifestyles in a positive manner. There are also several good books available on the topic of open relationships listed at the end of this article.
What Not To Do
There are a few tried and true methods of handling a love triangle in the worst, most dramatic way possible. Contrary to popular opinion, here's a list of things you should never do:
Don't give ultimatums.
Think about it you're asking your partner to make a choice between two people he or she loves. How would you feel if your partner told you to choose between him and your best friend? Or between her and your parents? Could you do it? Would you? Even if your partner chooses you, he or she will resent you for forcing the choice. The resentment will destroy your relationship.
Don't compete for your partner's attention.
As romantic as it sounds, having two suitors compete for your attention can lead to feelings of guilt. Being the competitor can lead to insecurity, jealousy, and resentment. All of these emotions are relationship killers.
Don't spy on your partner.
Reading your partner's email or text messages, listening to voicemail, and secretly following your partner are serious breaches of trust. Taken to extremes, they also constitute harassment, which is a crime.
During your many discussions, remember to use I language instead of you language. For example, rather than saying you make me so mad when you [fill in the blank], own your feelings. No one can make you feel a certain way unless you allow it. Instead, phrase your statement as I felt hurt and angry when X happened. This method of communicating is non-confrontational and less likely to cause your partner to become defensive.
Ultimately, you may decide you are unable to cope with being in a love triangle. Even if you end your relationship, using these tips will help you handle the situation with dignity and make a graceful exit.
These resources contain information on how to improve communication skills and handle jealousy. They also contain resources for finding a support group, therapist, or other health professional who is informed about alternative lifestyles.
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts by Raven Kaldera
Polyamory: Roadmaps for the Clueless & Hopeful by Anthony Ravenscroft
Loving More Magazine (www.lovemore.com)