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Escaping from a toxic triangle

January 21, 2009 | By | 61 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 (61)

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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