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Posted August 29, Reviewed by Gary Drevitch.
This is one of the most common dilemmas my patients have brought to me over the past four decades. Though there are multiple variations on the theme, there is one way in which they all are similar: two women are in a competitive triangle with the same man. Triangles are stable when all three legs are connected.
What that means in a three-way relationship is that each day is securely connected. A floppy relationship triangle exists when the man in question is at the apex of that triangle and the two women are represented by the other two points. Each woman is connected to the man but they are not usually connected to each other. There are many ways that can happen. The gamut can run from two women who have known one another in the past, even possibly friends, to total strangers who are now connected to each other only by being attached in some way to the same man.
Floppy relationship triangles are essentially unstable and the outcomes are not only unpredictable, but often dire. There are many factors that can affect these triangulated relationships, and how they are combined can affect the outcome in different ways. A new separation is clearly more undefined.
Committed couples often hit major snags in a relationship and lose each other for a period of time.
A man in griefangry, unhinged, or feeling newly free of cumulative stress can be a vulnerable target for an outside person, or even an unthinking seeker of temporary escape. People in unstable situations often make in-the-moment decisions that have nothing to do with what they may need or want as time elapses. A newly separated partner is often searching for validation and support and cannot see beyond those needs. If, on the other hand, a couple has been separated for quite a while, have made multiple attempts to reconnect and failed, the partners may have come to the conclusion that divorce is inevitable.
When that happens, they may not be as susceptible to any new relationship. The heartache that arises if and when those clandestine relationships are discovered never harbors a good outcome. A partner who may have understood a one-night stand that is immediately confessed is less likely to feel as humiliated as one who finds out much later or when a relationship is more established.
She will likely assume that person was there from the beginning and the reason for the break-up if her partner asked for the separation. Volatile, unstable relationships that have had a history of break-ups and re-connections are often laden with unresolved issues. As those problem must eventually re-emerge, the subsequent breakups are likely to happen more quickly.
Committed partners who still care deeply for one another, on the other hand, often separate because of external stress, worn-out interactions, infidelities, or a slow drift-apart that neither realized could have ended up in a separation. They are at a loss when it happens, but still feel attached to their history, friends, children, financial situation, mutual families, and a deeper caring. After a time apart, they realize that they want to make the relationship work and are highly motivated to make that happen.
The man in those unfinished relationships may be temporarily available to a new partner, but is highly likely to go back to his other relationship.
Those drifts can come from so many causes: illness, financial strain, too many obligations without Dating a currently seperated man, personal insecurities, stages in life that produce self-doubt, boredomneglect, too much hostility without reparation, or just plain growing apart. Relationships that are new have not had the time for enough negatives to accrue that can outweigh the reasons to stay together. Long-term commitments are filled with attachments to meaningful experiences, people, material goods, and history that may go beyond the loss of personal intimacy.
These attachments can bring people back together after a separation in ways that new relationships are less likely to do. It can also have the opposite effect. If one or both partners in a relationship have drifted too far apart to repair the loss, that separated man may be soured against getting involved long-term again or authentically seeking a new long-term relationship. In the midst of a separation, especially if many other people want that relationship to keep going, he may be overwhelmed with indecision and unable to see clearly what is best.
Men who have had relationships with other women throughout their committed relationship have either had partners who have regularly left and returned, or have been successful in keeping them clandestine. In either case, a relationship they begin while separated is just another kind of infidelity. Men who do not find themselves ever satisfied with only one woman are clearly not likely candidates to change that behavior in the future.
Women who feel they can corral that man when he is separated from his partner often find themselves broken and disillusioned when that man continues his prior behavior. There is one exception: Some men have had dual relationships for a long time.
They are in committed relationships with two women at the same time, most often without their primary partner knowing of the other woman. If their clandestine relationship ends, they find themselves unsatisfied with only that remaining partner, and want out of the relationship. They earnestly look for someone new to commit to, but triangles are highly likely to happen again.
Lest it appears that all separated men are untrustworthy and unstable, I must mention a subgroup of men who come to me torn apart by their loyalty to the person they have truly loved and the need to move on.
He may prematurely commit to that relationship without resolving his internal conflict first. Once he does that, he may find himself feeling trapped by the woman who moved in too quickly.
Randi Gunther, Ph. Randi Gunther Ph. Rediscovering Love. Learn some of the cues you need to be aware of. About the Author. Online: Randi Gunther. Read Next. Back Psychology Today. Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Personality Passive Aggression Personality Shyness. Family Life Child Development Parenting.
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