Triangles are stable when all three legs are solid. What that means is that each dyad is securely connected. A psychologically floppy triangle exists when the man is at the apex of that triangle and the two women represented by the two legs are not connected to each other. That gamut can run from two women who have known one another in the past, even possibly friends, to total strangers who are now connected to each other by being attached in some way to same man. Floppy triangles are essentially unstable and the outcomes are often unpredictable.
There are many factors that can affect these triangulated relationships and can affect the outcome in different ways.
A new separation is clearly more undefined. Committed couples often hit major snags in a relationship and lose each other, sometimes only temporarily. A person in grief, angry, unhinged, or feeling newly free of cumulative stress is a vulnerable target for another, or an unwitting seeker of undiscerning escape. Anyone, who is in an unstable situation, lacking a clear path, can make in-the-moment decisions that have nothing to do with what he or she may need or want as time elapses. If those newly separated partners are searching for validation and support, they often only focus on that aspect of a relationship, blinded to what the eventual problems would be.
If, on the other hand, a separation has been in effect for quite a while, multiple attempts to reconnect have failed, and both partners are coming to the conclusion that divorce may be inevitable, that compulsive hunger to immediately reconnect is not the driver it might have been at the beginning. Those quieter reasons for seeking another relationship can give both people the time to choose another relationship more carefully.
If the separated man is concerned that a new relationship may inflame the other partner, he may choose to keep a new relationship quiet. Many people considering divorce are in the throes of conflict and don’t want another source of trouble adding to what is already a difficult situation. That is especially true if the new relationship can threaten the other partner’s potential access to resources or loss of what they have. If the separated man isn’t sure about reconnecting with his partner and a new relationship would make that option far less likely, he may not want to lose those choices by keeping his two worlds separate.
The heartache that arises if and when those clandestine relationships emerge is never good. A partner who may have understood a one-night stand is much less likely to weather feeling a fool for some period of time. She will likely assume that person was there from the beginning and the reason for the break-up if her partner asked for the separation.
Volatile, unstable relationship that have had a history of break-ups and reconnections, are often laden with unresolved issues. Intimate partners, who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other, often take semi-legitimate breaks from the relationship from time to time, either with or without other partners in between. When they are initially back together, they are in renewed ecstasy and often don’t want to deal with their recurring problems. As they must eventually emerge, they become quickly allergic to those deal-breakers and disconnect. Over time, and especially if they’ve been in disappointing other relationships, they miss each other and valiantly try to “make it work again.” If they don’t see those patterns and correct them, that process will occur until they either wear each other out or find someone they’d rather invest in.
Committed partners who still care deeply for one another, on the other hand, often separate because of external stressors, worn-out interactions, infidelities, or a slow drift-apart that neither realized could have ended up in a separation. They are at a loss when it happens, but still feel attached to their history, friends, children, financial situation, mutual families, and a deeper caring. After a time apart, they realize that they want to make the relationship work and are highly motivated to make that happen.
The man in those unfinished relationships may be unknowingly available to a new partner, but is highly likely to go back to his other relationship.
Time the prior relationship has existed
All committed relationships go through stages where the partners feel connected and that they wouldn’t want to be with anyone else, and other times where one or both starts to feel that the partnership is on a collision course. Those drifts can come from so many causes: illness, financial strain, too many obligations without reward, personal insecurities, stages in life that produce self-doubt, boredom, neglect, too much hostility without reparation, or just plain growing apart.
Relationships that are new have not had the time for enough negatives to accrue that can outweigh the reasons to stay together. Long-term commitments are filled with attachments to meaningful experiences, people, material goods, and history that may go beyond the loss of personal intimacy. These attachments can bring people back together after a separation in ways that new relationships are less likely to do.
It can also have the opposite effect. If one or both partners in a relationship have drifted too far apart to repair the loss, that separated man may be soured against getting involved long-term again or authentically seeking a new long-term relationship. In the midst of a separation, especially if many other people want that relationship to keep going, he may be overwhelmed with indecision and unable to see clearly what is best.
Men who have had relationships with other women throughout their committed relationship have either had partners who have regularly left and returned, or have been successful in keeping them clandestine. In either case, a relationship they begin while being separated is just another kind of infidelity. Men who do not find themselves ever satisfied with only one woman are clearly not likely candidates to change that behavior in the future. Women who feel they can corral that man because of their specialness often find themselves broken and disillusioned when that man continues his prior behavior.
There is one exception. Some men have had dual relationships for a long time. They are in committed relationships with two women at the same time, most often without their primary partner knowing of the other woman. If their clandestine relationship ends, they find themselves unsatisfied with only that remaining partner, and want out of the relationship. They are earnestly looking for someone new to commit to, but triangles are highly likely to eventually happen again.
Quality men who are truly torn
Lest it appears that all separated men are untrustworthy and unstable, I must mention a sub-group of men who come to me torn apart by their loyalty to the person they have truly loved and the need to move on. They have deep and current needs to be soothed in their conflict but do not want to hurt the person they’ve left or are not over the loss of a woman who has left them. They are the most vulnerable to any predatory woman who, knowingly or unwittingly, seeks the opportunity to be that man’s solace. He may prematurely commit to that relationship, without resolving his internal conflict first. Once he does that, he may find himself feeling trapped by the woman who moved in the situation too quickly.
Here is what to watch out for.
1) Whether or not that separated man talks well of his established partner. No blame, no attacks on character, and no created rationale for why he had to leave or how bad she was for leaving him.
2) His indecisive state of whether or not he’s doing the right thing.
3) Any promises that do not materialize in the time committed.
4) Hostility, judgment, or invalidation of “women.” You will be next.
5) How, and in what way, he has tried to make that prior relationship work. Did they go to couple’s therapy?
6) How clear he is on why the prior relationship didn’t work, his part in it, and how much he wants to, or feels obligated to, stay connected to her.
The last, and perhaps most important, caveat
Women who are trusted by, and trust, other women, do not create triangles where they are in competition, clandestine or out, with other women for the same man. Remember the demise of floppy triangles. If you are going to create a relationship with a separated man, insist that his separated spouse know about it, that she is emotionally done with the relationship, and that she would want to know you were the relationship with her ex to actually end. That is especially true if children are involved and you will eventually become a co-Madre. If you have children of your own, that man must know you are a package, not just an available woman. If he is a father, pay attention to how he feels about his children, especially if you have your own.
Only enter these triangles if you are fine whether or not this relationship works out or doesn’t. Be a friend to both he and his ex in terms of your support for what is right, over what you may legitimately want and need. If you can remain that neutral supportive person, despite your love for him, you will have the best chance of a successful outcome.