Feeling Rejected? Look For the Triangles

The relationship pattern that’s causing you stress

Kathleen Smith
Published in
3 min readMay 11, 2021


Photo: Canva

I’ve been thinking about how our position in relationships can affect our ability to think clearly.

A triangle is a three-person relationship system. At any given moment in a triangle, two people are on the inside, and one person is on the outside. When things are tense between two people, you want to be in the outside position, away from the drama. But when things are calm and content between two people, it’s hard to be on the outside looking in.

You might be in the outside position of a triangle if:

  • Your partner is hanging out with a friend.
  • Your boss is praising a co-worker.
  • Your kid wants the other parent to help them.
  • Your friends are hanging out without you.
  • Your in-laws are visiting.
  • Your siblings disagree with you.
  • One of your parents has started dating again.
  • Your adult children want to get together without you.
  • Your friends are laughing about an inside joke.
  • One parent seems closer to another sibling.

When you are in the outside position of a triangle, it is easier to feel abandoned, unheard, or not supported enough. It’s easy to lash out, accuse others of being unfair, or try to pull one person to your corner.

When a person can rise above their initial reactivity, and see that they are simply in the outside corner of the triangle, they have a better chance of staying calm and responding with greater maturity. They can say, “My spouse isn’t rejecting me.” Or think, “My kids will probably have a better relationship with me if they have a strong relationship with each other.”

Families, friend groups, and workplaces function better the more everyone has a solid one-to-one relationship with everyone else. You’re not losing because your kid wants their dad to help with homework, or because two co-workers excelled at a project. But if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to feel and react as if that is the reality.



Kathleen Smith
Writer for

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.