After growing up in a highly dysfunctional household, you may find yourself repeatedly engaging in the same relationship patterns later in life without knowing how you got there.
Dr. Stephen Karpman devised a simple way to understand how these kinds of relationships typically work. He calls it the “Drama Triangle.”
The Drama Triangle consists of 3 roles that each relate dysfunctionally to each other:
1. The Perpetrator:
- Believes they have all the power and control
- Bullies and blames to get what they want
- is aggressive/passive-aggressive
- Scapegoats the Victim and ropes the Rescuer into covering for them
2. The Victim:
- Believes they have no control
- Gives up on making their own choices
- Feels worthless and helpless
- Feels powerless against the Perpetrator and dependent on the Rescuer
3. The Rescuer:
- Focuses only on others’ needs
- Ignores their own needs
- Tries to control how others feel
- enables the Victim and makes excuses for the Perpetrator
Different family members will usually gravitate toward one or two of the roles, but over time the roles can start to flip around too. For example, the rescuer in the family may get so burnt out trying to help the family victim, that they start to feel victimized themselves, and begin to view the victim as a perpetrator.
Or the victim may begin to see the rescuer as a perpetrator if the rescuer gets too drained, leaving the victim feeling abandoned. Sometimes the perpetrator may also play the victim role to try to get someone else to rescue them from the consequences of their own actions.
What do all three roles have in common? Everyone on the triangle neglects to take responsibility for their own emotions. The perpetrator blames others, the victim waits to be rescued, and the rescuer focuses on saving others from their emotions instead of acknowledging their own.
Unless someone else is around to consistently model healthy relationship roles, kids born into highly dysfunctional families can grow up to assume all relationships follow this same unhealthy pattern. Then when they encounter similar relationships as an adult, they easily fall back into old familiar roles. It feels normal. When you don’t know what healthy roles look like, it’s also possible to accidentally assume someone is being a perpetrator, victim, or rescuer when they’re actually relating in a healthy way.
In a future post, I’ll talk about what healthy relationship patterns look like in comparison to the Drama Triangle. Stay tuned!
You can check out this quiz if you’re curious to see which role you fall into most: https://cdn.website-editor.net/848c74c539684751972b4649bf55aae7/files/uploaded/Drama%2520triangle%2520quiz.pdf
If the integrity of your relationship has been violated due to a harmful choice or behavior by either party, there are steps that you can take to restore trust and intimacy within the relationship.
There is no one size fits all approach for handling a trust violation in a relationship, however, there are ways to begin the process of repairing the relationship.
Here are 4 actionable steps that you can take to begin the process of healing:
Take 100% accountability.
Accountability is twofold. Accountability includes (1) acknowledgement of your wrongdoings and (2) not offering excuses to suggest that you couldn’t help doing what you did.
Developing empathy in a relationship is crucial. The most effective way to do so is to imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes. Ask yourself, how did my actions affect my partner’s life? Did my behavior cause damage to their sense of self-worth?
Taking accountability for your mistakes and acknowledging the impact helps you to avoid invalidating your partner’s emotions.
Offering an apology and asking your partner what can be done to rectify the situation and repair the damage.
Create an amends plan or contract to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship. An amends plan is a guide for navigating a breach of trust or betrayal; it generally includes an outline for what changes will be made on a personal and relational level. It will include actions and activities that indirectly restore your partner’s faith and trust in you.
For example, “Allow access to social media passwords, computer, phone, etc.” “Increase quality time with my partner and enjoy a date night every Friday.”
Your amends plan will need to be tailored to your relationship’s specific needs. Including your partner in the creation of the plan helps to show your devotion to your partner’s needs.
Making a promise to not betray your partner in the future and to follow-through with the actions you have promised.
Relationship check-ins at various intervals can help keep you on track and provide you with more of an understanding of what relationship needs are not being met and what promises have not been kept.
Communicating with your partner if you feel you are unable to follow through with promises made.
Increasing communication and vulnerability with your partner promotes emotional connection and intimacy. In order to repair and reconnect, you have to give your partner something to connect to. Secrecy, blame, anger, disengagement, and control do not provide connection points for repairing trust and faith in a relationship.
In seeking to mend a fractured relationship, the willingness to work on the relationship and reconstruct the trust that was broken is crucial.
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