Here is a useful way of looking at relationships, and I use this in all my work with couples both as a way of seeing where they are, but also where they need to go. It is based on the Drama Triangle, also known as the Karpman Triangle, which was developed by psychiatrist Steven Karpman in the early 1970s. What follows is my interpretation and expansion of Karpman’s original ideas.
Begin by imagining or drawing an upside-down triangle (do it now, it will help). At the top are two letters: P on the left-hand side, R on the right. At the bottom, the tip of the triangle is the letter V.
The triangle represents the relationship between two people. The P, R, and V represent different roles that the people can play; it is not the people themselves, but a role. The roles interlock and there is always someone on top who seems to have more power, and someone on the bottom.
The Relationship Moves in a Circle as Follows:
The person in the R position is the rescuer. The person in that role essentially has “nice guy” control. He hooks into the V or victim. The person in that role feels overwhelmed at times. He feels that problems are falling down on his head. The rescuer steps in and says, “I can help you out. Just do what I say, everything will be fine.” Oftentimes, couples will begin their relationship in some form of this. They psychologically cut a deal: The rescuer says that I will agree to be big, strong, good and nice; the victim says I will agree to be overwhelmed and unable to manage. Everyone is happy. The rescuer feels needed, important, and in charge. The victim has someone to take care of him.