It often seems as if a third party is disrupting a couple’s relationship bond. The most concrete example of this is a love triangle in which one member has an affair. But there are other kinds of “love triangles” in which the third party is much less obvious than a direct romantic or sexual rival. The third party can be a parent, a child, a friend, a boss.
For example, Jack and Jill frequently argue about Jack’s childhood friend and drinking buddy, Steve. Jill feels Steve is a shady guy, a bad influence on Jack. She feels Jack spends too much time with Steve, and ends up drinking too much as a result. Jack disagrees. He feels that Jill is too hard on Steve. She doesn’t know Steve well enough to really appreciate him. And the way Jack and Steve grew up, this is just the way men drink. Jill just doesn’t get it. So every time Jack stays out late with Steve, Jack and Jill have an argument.
Arguing about Steve is just a distraction. It’s indirect. What does Jill really want? She wants Jack to drink less and be more present when he’s with her. What does Jack really want? He wants Jill to give him some space, to trust him more and be less critical. To resolve this issue, Jack and Jill need to focus on their own relationship rather than this tug-of-war about Steve. Rather than focusing on Jack spending so much time with Steve, Jill needs to directly communicate to Jack: I want you to make spending more quality time with me a priority. Rather than defending Steve, Jack needs to directly communicate to Jill: I need the space to live my life without feeling micromanaged.
A third party can only interfere with your relationship if there’s already an issue with your relationship. You can think of the third party as a kind of “stunt double” for your relationship issues. Remove the third party from your discussion and you can more directly address the core conflict.