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Escaping from a toxic triangle

January 21, 2009 | By | 68 Replies Continue Reading

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I’m a 40-year-old woman who feels like she’s back in junior high. I have three kids who are very involved in sports and activities. Over the last four years, my husband and I developed a group of friends with kids the same ages. My closest friend in the group was a woman named Susan.

Recently we went away with Susan and her DH (dear husband), and another close friend Jenny and her husband. It was a terrible trip. Jenny was pretty much a bore and ruined much of the weekend. She ganged up against me and afterwards, my best friend Susan ignored me for an entire month or more—not answering phone calls, walking away from me at school events, etc. I finally confronted her at a baseball game. She called me names, and said she was tired of defending me to "everyone." I asked her what she meant and she said I was mean and biting.

Susan and I have been on three family vacations together: One was great, but the other two were terrible when Jenny and her family were involved. I can’t forgive Susan for the cruel things she said to me and for walking away without giving me a chance to speak. She spent weeks talking about me behind me back—poisoning other friendships with Jenny and even my neighbor. Next thing I knew, she was calling me for rides for her daughter, dropping off Christmas cookies, and baking us bread. She recently asked if my DH and me wanted to drop by for drinks.

I have no desire to befriend her again. Jenny and I started to patch things up after our trip but this weekend, she told me that she wanted me to know that her family and Susan’s were going on vacation together this summer. She wanted to know if my family would think about a "separate " house at the beach.

Some days I feel like I’m in some sort of depression. I wish these people didn’t bother me, but I feel terribly betrayed. Our kids are all in the same activities and I can’t get away from them, I’ve even considered moving our family to another state. Being made a fool of embarrasses me but I don’t intend to suck up to anyone to get them to like me.

I’m having a hard time coping…Thanks for your help.

Signed,
Patsy

ANSWER

Dear Patsy,

The reason why you are having a hard time coping is because these women have either been nasty or have been giving you mixed messages. Sometimes women are blinded to the foibles in their friends for the sake of the kids—until they get clobbered over the head. Because you and your children once enjoyed spending time with these two other families, you may consider these women “friends,” but don’t make that mistake. True friends aren’t petty, cruel, and divisive. You need to find a way to extricate yourself from this adolescent triangle and find friends with whom you are more compatible.

Susan and Jenny have drawn a line in the sand; they plan to keep you at a distance—in a “separate house.’ Is this acceptable to you? If you agree to remain a friend on their terms, you will continue to feel hurt. Opt out of the triangle now. You don’t need to make abrupt changes but begin to treat these women as parents of your children’s friends, not your friends. Let your kids take the lead in determining whether they want to get together with the other kids. I’m not sure how old your kids are but children reach an age when they want to make their own friends anyway.

Begin mingling with other moms and try to put these toxic women in the periphery of your life—downgrade them from friends to acquaintances. I promise you will feel better about yourself. Just because these women are acting like girls in junior high doesn’t mean that you have to play in the their playground.

Best,
Irene

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Comments (68)

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  1. Felixstowe says:

    Hi Ladies, I can totally relate to some of these situations and before I post about my issues I wanted to check that it is ok to do so here??

  2. Honestmom says:

    I cannot beleive I finally found a group of moms I can relate to!!! I wish I could invite you all over for coffee!!! Thank God bc my situation has been eating me up for about 1 year now, and all in the name of a “mom trio” that I cannot escape. It is an absolute nightmare. I am the “introducing member” (common demominator) between the 3 families– and my son is the original bond bw the 3 boys in our group. But bc I am always working w and not around while the other 2 moms coordinate rides, dinners, playdates, etc. my son is the one who misses out onvthe QT that he needs with one of the boys (who is his “BFF”). While the other boy, who happens to covet everything my son has including his friendships– is now spending all this time w my son’s BFF, which I fear is naturally going to cause my son and his BFF to drift away. That part just kills me bc they have been known as The Duo since they were in kindergarten, so this little boy means everything to my son. I beleive the feeling is mutual from the BFF back to my son, but they are kids (and boys no less) so sometimes I just dont know. To make this whole matter unbearable, we all live within 2 doors of eachother. Trust me, I have been telling my hubby we will be moving and he of course thinks I am being irrational and ridiculous. There is soooooo much more to this…not enough space on this page to write!

  3. Henna says:

    Lynn I am in a similar predicament , i was friends with some girls and they all became friends. I was feeling aware for some time that I was on the outside and then a year ago one of them dropped me. I have lived on a shell for the last year feeing miserable and sad and dropping out of my card games and my book club and my PTA as she is there and she completely pretends I do not exist. It is so horrible. I have slowly started to ease back into the land of the living but when I meet her and she acts so horrid it makes me feel ill. I have reconnected with some old friends on a one to one basis and I am happy to be out of the group. But it is so hard to go to the school gates every day and for someone to pretend that you do not exist.

  4. Lynn says:

    I need some advice please. I’m in my forties and divorced, no children. I have a wonderful friend who lost her husband a few years ago and has had a difficult time adjusting to being single. Another friend recently lost her husband so, in trying to ‘help,’ I introduced the two of them hoping they could support each other through this tough time.
    I had a falling out with one and won’t go into detail but now they go out and the other friend is constantly telling me how I was too hard on the other friend. I wasn’t.
    Meanwhile, I’m still friends with one while the two of them go out and discuss me. I know this because one tells the other I 1 don’t return text messages and 2 do not call her. Of course, through this, I know I’m being talked about. Not a happy predicament since I was the one who introduced them to support each other……..
    It’s very awkward. What should I do?

  5. ira says:

    After reading the comments here, i feel like I am not alone! about 2 years ago.. i bought all my friends from different walks together to form a group of friends hoping we will be like a big circle to support each other. last year, one of the girls tried to be sneaky with me over something we both had discussed, and i called her out on it. She turned out to be a very vengeful person.. she slowly started poisoning the others minds… it has come to the point where they have said very hurtful things about me behind my back, which one of them secretly keeps passing on, the others don’t know i know what they have said.. and it has lead to very uncomfortable friendships.. until i stopped meeting them frequently. i know it has come to a point where if i have a good relation with one person, these women go after them, befriend them, and talk rubbish about me! some believe them, some don’t. and we are talking about grown up women in their forties! i am so sick of them, and get so depressed sometimes.. because my Son still considers their kids as friends and asks about them. i wish i could completely cut off, but don’t because of my son. now i am almost afraid for them to know who I hang out with at all, because these women are something you cannot believe!! i am only keeping quiet and hoping that time will make them lose their wind, until they find their next victim..
    can’t believe we were good friends once!

  6. Liz says:

    Hi all! i have just experienced similar! I just wanted to share! My four year old child was not invited to his friends birthday party! This was because I had to take a break for a couple of months over a year ago from the friendship as the daughter continually scratched my sons face over 18 months and nearly blinded him a couple of times he constantly had scratches and required antibiotic cream for his eyes. It was so distressing and the mum didn’t try and stop her daughter! I was very hurt when i found out about the party as a substantial number of people attending were my friends! I meditated and realised she was never a friend, it was always about power and I did not raise her social profile I hate those kinds of games they sicken me. I felt a sense of relief when i realised I didn’t have to invite her to my next party. I wanted to have a special friends party, but couldn’t imagine her attending so had held off! I let go and trusted that if that was what happened ie no invitation to her party it was in my best interest, funnily I got a few texts from dear friends to let me know they were thinking of me and sending love over next few days around the party! My advice would be stay polite and let go! These women are your acquaintances, you have friends you have not met! Be kind to yourself and others and feel proud you are not a bitchy, spiteful game player, not understanding the psychology of those women is a blessing! I bet you genuinely have good qualities allow those to shine and walk away with dignity. ive that Save your loyalty and kind heartedness for those who offer it to you, With love, the writer x

  7. Trish says:

    Irene, I’m sorry to say that I can relate to your situation. I’ve been part of a group of friends for almost five years– when our boys entered kinder together. We all also have girls that are 2 or 3 years younger. We travel together every year, celebrate holidays together, etc. Problems started with girl drama about 1.5 yrs ago. Two of the moms have ganged up on me and my girl. The third mom just follows along with them. I also found out that they have all been talking behind my back. They don’t know a mutual friend is a “mole.” My kids and I are constantly excluded from things. (And then they bring me Xmas baskets, take me out for my bday, etc.) Incredibly painful. I try to stick it out for the sake of my son, but I have so much hurt, anger, and resentment built up. I am so conflicted that I lose sleep thinking about how to handle this.

    I’m considering reaching out to the third mom: talk to her about how I got to this place. My hope is that she will see my perspective and try to include my son with the boys. If it wasn’t for my son and the bond he feels with their boys, I would walk away completely. I’m kind of afraid to talk to her (even though she is the nicest of the three), but I almost feel like I have to in order to get some of this out! Alas, Irene’s advice is the best. My fear is that my son will be further left out.

    • Trish says:

      Patsy, I’m sorry to say that I can relate to your situation. I’ve been part of a group of friends for almost five years– when our boys entered kinder together. We all also have girls that are 2 or 3 years younger. We travel together every year, celebrate holidays together, etc. Problems started with girl drama about 1.5 yrs ago. Two of the moms have ganged up on me and my girl. The third mom just follows along with them. I also found out that they have all been talking behind my back. They don’t know a mutual friend is a “mole.” My kids and I are constantly excluded from things. (And then they bring me Xmas baskets, take me out for my bday, etc.) Incredibly painful. I try to stick it out for the sake of my son, but I have so much hurt, anger, and resentment built up. I am so conflicted that I lose sleep thinking about how to handle this.

      I’m considering reaching out to the third mom: talk to her about how I got to this place. My hope is that she will see my perspective and try to include my son with the boys. If it wasn’t for my son and the bond he feels with their boys, I would walk away completely. I’m kind of afraid to talk to her (even though she is the nicest of the three), but I almost feel like I have to in order to get some of this out! Alas, Irene’s advice is the best. My fear is that my son will be further left out.

  8. Renate says:

    I have almost given up on women friendships. After being on the receiving end of gossip, betrayal and working in with 100+ female dominated office, large extended family of aunts, cousins plus a church filled with a slander in the name of so-called concern. I read articles about the importance of friendships as we age yet have had more grief and heart ache. I am an introvert by nature and did not have any sisters so often wonder if I had a confidant in a loyal sibling if my experiences would be different? I am very thankful to have found this blog to feel less alone. I am in my 50’s and reflecting on my past friendships really makes me sad. I also feel too much and have a difficult time bouncing back from hurts and dwell on issues far too long. Like other comments, I question why over and over again. I was always a supportive friend and wanted the best for my girlfriends, was their bridesmaid, hosted showers and yet they never wanted the best for me it seems. Astounding really. It is almost like they fear I might be happier than they are so do not wish me well. Thanks for listening!

    • pepa says:

      Renate, I feel exactly the same as you. I have experienced deep hurt and disappointment at the hands of women everywhere. As friends, as colleagues, as family members, in mums groups. I only keep a handful of them as friends, but I’m weary and prepared that it can go pear shaped any time. I’m an only child, and often wonder if that has something to do with it all, which makes me feel at the same time guilty and inadequate somehow. I often think about this and it really makes me sad. I also feel women can get very jealous and unpleasant when they see you are happier than them.

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