Skip to main content

Triangles in Bowen Family Therapy

  • 865 Accesses

Murray Bowen included the concept of the triangle in his theory, Bowen Family Systems Theory, or Bowen theory, to explain his observations of automatic interactions among three or more individuals, especially under periods of tension, stress, or anxiety – terms used interchangeably here. He saw two-person relationships as being inherently unstable when stressed and tending to involve a third person in order to manage and shift anxiety within the twosome to include a third. In his original descriptions, there are two inside positions and one outside position. The person in the outside position will tend to try to gain an inside position with one of the two insiders, pushing the other one to the outside position. When tension increases, one may seek the outside position instead as in, “You two fight it out and leave me out of it.” Bowen postulated that the triangle processes made it possible to manage more anxiety than could be managed in a two-person relationship by distributing it...

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York: Jason Aronson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lassiter, L. (2008). The regulatory function of the triangle. In P. Titelman (Ed.), Triangles: Bowen family systems theory perspectives. New York: The Haworth Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lassiter, L. Unpublished transcripts of individuals’ sessions with Murray Bowen.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laurie Lassiter .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Section Editor information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 Springer International Publishing AG

About this entry

Cite this entry

Lassiter, L. (2017). Triangles in Bowen Family Therapy. In: Lebow, J., Chambers, A., Breunlin, D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-15877-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-15877-8

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Behavioral Science and PsychologyReference Module Humanities and Social Sciences