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Relationship Geometry

Drawing mathematical pictures can help to figure out challenging relationship issues.

One of the basic units of human interaction is the relationship triangle as discussed in “Relationship Triangles” and “When One Plus One Equals Three”. You can figure out how to deal with a difficult situation in your life by drawing a triangle, then playing around with the components and structure of the diagram on paper. This is a good way to examine and rethink your participation, and explore how various options might make a situation better or worse.

Here is the three step process:

1)      Draw a triangle on a piece of paper to represent a situation in your life. Put a symbol or a letter to designate yourself at one corner of the triangle. Put symbols at the other corners of the triangle to represent the other people involved in this situation.

Where is the tension right now? Draw a zigzag line between any two people who are experiencing tension. Draw parallel lines between people who are closely connected through positive emotions in this situation.

For example, J.T. an elder in his Presbyterian church become furious with the office administrator when he caught her throwing out a stack of old hymnals. These were the hymnals he had sung from as a boy. J.T. yelled at her. She explained that another elder had told her to do it. J.T. stormed out of the office.

At home he expressed his anger to his wife. His wife went to church the next day and berated the office administrator.  J.T. felt  embarrassed by her behavior, but at the same time, this interaction balanced out his rocky relationship with his wife. Now they had a common enemy.

These following two diagrams depict the original conflict between J.T. and his wife and the triangle relationship he developed in this situation:

(The full story which is more complicated than this brief examhe Congogram for Lay Leaders”).

Draw diagrams for your own life situation at home or in your congregation.

2) Study the diagrams for your own life situation. How might you rearrange the position of people and interactions in order to deal with the tension differently?

Try practicing by mapping out possible alternatives to the J.T. example.  If J.T. had called the other elder instead of talking to his wife that night, the diagrams might look like this:

In this example J.T.’s relationship with his wife wouldn’t have been affected one way or another.

What would the diagrams look like if J.T. went back to church the next day to confront the office administrator himself? Or, if didn’t talk to his wife or the other elder, but took his concerns to the next session (council) meeting at his church? What might the diagrams look like if he talked to the pastor about his concerns, or if he explored his intense feelings about the issue with a therapist?

Consider alternatives to your current personal situation and try diagramming these possibilities. For more details on diagramming see “Steps to diagramming your life issues” in the article, “How a Diagram Can Change Your Life”.

3) Try it for real. Experiment with using one of these new patterns in your life.

Look at all the options you have brainstormed and diagrammed to determine which new pattern appears most promising. After you try carrying out this different approach, diagram what it looks like in reality in your life.

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