Triangulation is a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic used by narcissists and sociopaths to instill feelings of jealousy and insecurity in their partners. It’s a tactic by which narcissists can create thrilling illusions of popularity, making themselves out to be far busier and more socially-in-demand outside of the relationship than they really are. This narcissistic strategy, like all the others, slips quietly into the relationship over time so that you – the loving partner – barely know it’s happening until you start to get “that feeling”.
When the narcissist triangulates, victims find themselves feeling jealous of people, places, and things that, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t warrant a second glance. If you’ve always known the narcissist to be a loner, triangulation makes it appear that you’ve been wrong all along. If the narcissist has always had “friends”, triangulation is used to milk his popularity for all it’s worth. Either way, the desired result is that you feel anxious, suspicious, and insecure about every little thing. You may even begin to feel guilty about your jealous thoughts and doubtful of your ability to act “normal”. When and if you do confront the N about your suspicions, he’ll call you delusional or needy or bi-polar and he will never admit to anything at all. He’ll look at you with a blank stare and claim he doesn’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about… “Fine,” he’ll say, “I guess I can’t tell you anything about anyone. All I’m trying to do is make conversation with you. You’re so insecure.” And the triangulation will continue.
Narcissist always triangulate – even if you don’t know they’re doing it. Patient as always, the N will simply do it and do it and do it until you fucking get it…until he breaks you of all that confidence and security that made you attractive to him to you in the first place.
The thing that makes triangulation so amazing is that it’s extremely flexible and can actually involve absolutely anything – even inanimate objects. My ex spent most our years together triangulating me with his cell phone…his cell phone! At any given time, his phone was either glued to his hand, hunkered down in the pocket of his jeans, locked inside his car attached to the charger, mysteriously lost (when he was with me) and then mysteriously found (after he got home), conveniently “out of the area” and unable to get a signal, turned off, out of minutes, not working properly (until a call came in), on vibrate (so that I wouldn’t hear it ring), suddenly unable to receive texts, or suddenly able to receive only texts. He always had a myriad of crazy-making excuses as to why I couldn’t see it, hear it, know about it, or get within five feet of it. In my mind, that cell phone had long legs, cute hair, and a great ass. As a bonus gesture, my ex would, during a silent treatment, even change his number, making me insane. Whether or not his phone, at any given time, really did contain the numbers of random girlfriends, I never really knew…but he sure jumped through hoops to make me feel that it did. Sound familiar? Believe me, The Cell Phone Game is all about triangulation.
A narcissist will triangulate whenever he senses that you feel a little too comfortable in your own skin or (God forbid!) a little to relaxed within the relationship. For example, if he starts a new job, he’ll triangulate by casually mentioning – just one too many times – the bubbly receptionist and how much she reminds him of his ex or his sister or even you. He may let it slip oh-so-casually that he shared a secret with her in confidence that only you had known about or worse, in the middle of a fight he might say something like,
NARC: “See? I knew you’d act this way. Even Jessica knew it. She told me you’d do that and she was right. She doesn’t even know you and she knows you!”.
PARTNER: Really? So, you talk to her about me? You complain to her about your girlfriend and she comments? What kind of girl does that? What the fuck?
NARC: Oh, here we go. (snickers) See what I mean? I gotta learn to keep my mouth shut. Doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, you’d have a fit. We were just talking that’s all. We talk about a lot of things.
PARTNER: Really? That’s nice. Why are you talking shit about me to anyone – let alone the girls at work? Do you have any clue how that makes me feel?
NARC: Stop starting shit and I won’t have anything to talk about. I gotta get back to the office.
I had the above conversation countless times with every new job he would start. Some narcissists, like my ex, will even set the stage before triangulation so that the inevitable betrayal will have the most impact. To do this, they may claim, at first, to actually hate the very female that later will quietly become the “confidante” OR they’ll go for long periods not mentioning anyone at all and then – BANG – suddenly some person you never even heard about appears to be his best friend. Yes, the narcissist will intentionally allow us to develop a false sense of confidence and security before he smacks us back to reality.
Now, to be clear, it’s completely normal for a couple to expect to share stories and have conversations about co-workers and friends…but nothing about these conversations are normal. Everything involving a narcissist has a slightly sinister edge to it. He can take a perfectly normal behavior – such as chatting amicably with his partner about casual events – and turn it upside down. It’ll be the passive-aggressive way he slips his clues into conversations or it’ll be the inflection in his voice or the attitude with which he says it. Above all else, it’ll be the strange way that whatever he is saying is making you feel. Triangulation is intended to make you doubt not only your importance in the narcissist’s life but your importance in the world in general. It’s a master tactic in the narcissist’s pathological relationship agenda and it is intended to wreck you.
A narcissist will triangulate you with a girl, a guy, his mother or some other relative, a co-worker, a newly acquired acquaintance (that you will never meet), the landlord, a neighbor, the bartender, his boss…it goes on and on. The possibilities are endless. The sky’s the limit! And this person he speaks of may not even be his next target…or maybe she is…you’ll never know for sure. As a distraction to the whole thing, he may even triangulate you with one person while he cheats on you with another. More often than not, this other person will have no idea they’re even being used to triangulate. It’s all a glorious mystery! The intention, as always, is to ultimately trauma bond you to the madness. The narcissist will never let you relax. Ever.
Triangulation may manage down your expectations of the relationship to the point that you become quietly complacent. I became very quiet in the last few years, tangled up in cognitive dissonance and confusion. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was make a big deal about nothing. His words, however, intentional or not, were my biggest clues as to what he was up to. By listening carefully instead of letting it all get to me, I slowly turned his ploy to my advantage. I learned how to read my narcissist like a book. Good or bad, I simply listened, storing information in my organized brain like I would in a file cabinet. Then, later, when I was alone, I’d pull out the files one by one and obsess about the phantom competition. It was a vicious cycle.
For those who’ve never been involved in this type of relationship, it’s hard to understand the dynamics of the triangulation strategy. Since there’s rarely proof to support our case, we often sound like jealous whiners with nothing to whine about. The sad fact is that triangulation becomes just another part of the nonsense that victims become addicted to. When, in fact, it should compel us to leave, it does the exact opposite. We instead become obsessed with holding on to our “position”. We completely forget what is and isn’t a “normal” part of romantic human interaction. Being subjected to this weirdness day after day changes who we are as a person – inside and out. It’s the death of a heart by a thousand cuts and yet another inexplicable reason why the aftermath – the emotional collateral damage – of narcissist abuse is so traumatic. Think about it and think about your life.
No one forces us to ride emotional roller coasters. In true love, there is no competition, real OR implied. Get a new attitude and take your power back. Life is so short and you deserve to be happy!