Drama Triangle: Conflict Resolution After Divorce

Posted at 11:46am on 24th May 2010

Dear Mel,

When I was divorced I thought I was going to be able to get on with my life and start over again – not with a new relationship but just getting myself back on track. My ex was very controlling when we were married and I wasn’t allowed to have any friends or go out on my own – even to night school to take an A level – but somehow he still managed to make people believe he was the victim, and I was the one in the wrong.

I’ve worked from home for years, just to make a bit of money to make life a bit better, doing the books for a builder in the village, but I always wanted to be a nurse when the children grew up. My ex wouldn’t hear of it. He liked me at home where he could keep an eye on me (he has a small garage and we live on site). But now that the boys are growing up – well the youngest’s nine and the eldest’s just twelve – I thought I might have a chance of training.

But actually I’m finding it even harder to do anything, and be a decent mum. Both my children seem to think I shouldn’t of left their father, even though the final straw was when he hit me – only the once but it was enough. He seems to have managed to convince them that I was to blame – though I don’t know how that works.

Now, my eldest seems to be turning out just like his dad – he acts like he's seventeen – and he seems to think he can tell me what to do all the time. To be honest, he walks all over me, but if I try to put my foot down, he just clears off to his dad’s. What happens is, he goes up to his room, rings his dad on his mobile and the next thing I know is that his dad’s over here collecting him.

I’ve never stopped the kids seeing their dad whenever they want. But it seems to involve me in an awful lot of ferrying them around. He picks them up whenever they ring, but it always seems to be me who has to go and collect them. Recently I’ve found out that he’s spending a lot of time with his new girlfriend and leaving them on their own, with the eldest in charge. Now he’s applied for child benefit and everything and says he wants maintenance off of me. I just don’t have that sort of money to keep myself, run my little house and then pay for him to have the kids when he’s not even there to look after them properly.


Mel's Comment:

Dear Steph,

I’m sorry to hear you’re still having problems, though not surprised. I’m afraid this is how it often is, these days. The new beginning that divorced men and women believe will be in their grasp may be no more than an illusion, with a new set of problems replacing the old. That’s not always the case, of course, and there are things that you can do to give yourself a new start, but it does require some hard work and dedication.


The conflict you are facing breaks down into three parts: political; social; and interpersonal relationships. It’s political because in the last few decades governments have given children more and more Rights and robbed parents of any authority they might once have had; it’s social because children now have mobile phones, which gives them greater independence than ever before; and it’s to do with relationship psychology because it sounds to me as if your children’s father has a classic lead role on the Drama Triangle.

There’s not a lot you can do about the first two aspects, but understanding the third will go some way to helping you through the conflict resolution process. The Drama Triangle And The Games People Play is something I’ve written about previously. You may, also, like to read: Transactional Analysis: Getting Off The Drama Triangle part one, and part two.


Briefly, the theory of transactional analysis is that we all play out a role within our personal relationships. This is either as a Parent, Adult or Child. The mature role is, obviously, that of the Adult.

In the Drama Triangle, there is no Adult role. Each of the three patterns of behaviour is faulty because all play the part of the Victim. The person playing the Persecutor blames everyone but him/herself. The one playing the Rescuer may start out in need of being needed, but ends up feeling resentful. And the Victim – the one being persecuted or rescued – becomes increasingly helpless.


You say that your husband was controlling throughout your marriage, in that he would not allow you out, nor permit you to train in a caring profession. Clearly, he saw himself as your Rescuer. Perhaps he felt this gave him kudos: he was your ‘carer’. Or perhaps he was fearful that you might become independent and no longer have need of him. Either way, he required you to play the role of helpless Victim in order to feed into his need of being Rescuer. He would, then, be able to adopt the moral high ground.

I suspect that as the children reached an age when you might have gone off to retrain, as a nurse, your husband felt that you were slipping away from him, and would no longer play your part on his Drama Triangle. That might explain his one-off lapse into violent behaviour. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m condoning it in any way!


The conflict resolution process is labour intensive, and will require a good deal of patience and hard work on your part, in terms of personal growth. However, you owe it to yourself and, perhaps more to the point, to your children, to persevere. As mothers we none of us want our offspring to grow up with undesirable traits – and you’ve indicated that this is precisely what your eldest is doing. He needs to be shown that there are other ways of conducting our interpersonal relationships, before he repeats his father’s mistakes in his own life.

So – what can you do?

  1. Choose your moment to speak to each of your children, individually. (A day out clothes shopping together creates the right tone, with a long car journey home lending intimacy, and giving you a captive audience.) Tell them – without any recrimination - that Dad has a problem and that we all need to help him. That ‘we’ is important: it puts you in a good light because it shows you’re ‘on Dad’s side’, and that you’re ‘all in it together.’
  2. Dad’s problem, you say, is that he lacks self-confidence. And the way to help Dad to gain in confidence is to help him to live independently. You do that by not being on call all the time. Tough love – just the sort of thing you do for teenagers – is about making people confront their problems.
  3. And then, without making any further reference to this, you show them how to get off the Drama Triangle. You enrol for night classes in A levels / nursing training / anything you want to do. Remember, the name of this game (which is not a game) is NOT to make a drama of it.
  4. Show your children the benefits of living a fulfilled life. That means that you choose if and when you collect them from their Dad’s home; you do NOT allow them to pull your strings and control you; you make your stand without making a drama or a game of it.
  5. Write to your husband, with a copy to your solicitor, pointing out clearly, but unemotionally, that you understand that the children are left in the house alone and that not only you are concerned, but it is also illegal to leave a child of twelve in charge of a younger brother.
  6. Remember, in everything that you do, to make rational choices. Learn to say ‘I’ll think about it’ instead of falling in with everything, instantly. We all know the games people play: the aim of this exercise is to stop yourself being a player on the Drama Triangle.


Note, I’ve said very little about the children blaming you for the break up of your marriage, and buzzing off to Dad’s every time you try to discipline them. At the moment they’re lashing out because they’re probably hurt. It’s instinctive to want to hurt those you perceive as having hurt you. Dad’s in Victim mode, casting you as the baddie – the Persecutor – so that’s how they see you. They’re creating their own little Drama Triangle – and you don’t want a bit part in that either!

In my experience, children usually come round. And if you simply get on with your life in a way which shows that, whilst you care about them and want to include them, it’s not the end of the world for you if they choose not to be with you, they’ll soon see what they’re missing. Provide a stable, loving home for them, and let them make their own comparisons.

As for the child benefit and maintenance, write to the appropriate government department and tell them that the children are resident with you. Frankly, I think you’ll find that the threat of applying for maintenance is just that – a threat. It’s Dad acting out his Persecutor role on his Drama Triangle. Show him that you are above such things; that you’re an Adult, and choose to behave like one.

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