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Sure You've Never Had a Threesome? Think Again.

So the next time your fingers itch with the need to text someone your latest complaint, try sticking with the twosome first. Say what you mean, listen with open ears, and maybe you'll have a better and braver story to tell your friend over coffee.
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businesswoman being gossiped...
businesswoman being gossiped...

People say the worst things come in threes, and relationships are no exceptions. If you're skeptical, think of the last time you grabbed a quick happy hour with a friend. How long did it take you before the conversation turned to that snarky coworker you don't like? Or the communication problems you have with your partner? Or perhaps the sobering reality that you still haven't forgiven Ben Affleck? Though we don't like to admit it, two people talking about another is a kind of verbal threesome.

In the therapy world, we don't exactly call it a threesome. This habit to gossip or complaining to a willing ear is known as an emotional triangle. You see, by nature, twosomes are unstable. Because at some point, conflict is inevitable. So what do we do when things get rough? We bond via our shared dislike of a friend's racist Facebook posts, or we pull in a listening ear when we didn't bag that promotion at work. Pretty harmless, right?

The trouble is that if we engage in emotional threesomes too often, we forget how to have difficult conversations. We forget how to say what we think and feel to the person who needs to hear it the most. We abandon the power of the twosome, and we get lost in a maze of triangles. If you're not convinced, let's take a look at a couple common threesomes you see every day.

The Office

Office drama is ripe for triangles. If you don't believe me, what do you do the second your boss institutes a bonkers plan that doubles your workload, or when a hateful coworker sends you a AGGRESSIVE ALL CAPS EMAIL? You turn to your work husband or your cube buddy, and you bitch, right? Sure, sometimes it's fun to grab the popcorn and lean back when there's drama or gossip. But most of the time, a workplace full of triangles generates a lot of anxiety and stress. You start jumping to conclusions, you fear the chopping block, and you start updating your resume on your lunch break.

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Let me fill you in on a little family therapy secret that works in the office. The more one-to-one contact you have with people, the healthier a workplace can be. So take the time to introduce yourself to the scary admin. Ask people's names again if you forget. The more people feel that you'll talk to them rather than about them, the less defensive they'll be when you approach them with a problem.

So the next time you feel the temptation to kick off a threesome at work, consider how you can talk honestly with the person who makes you all ragey. Sure, maybe you can't share every thought you have with your boss about her outdated wardrobe, but you can express some of your concerns about her latest proposal. Suggest creative alternatives, and speak up when you don't understand something.

Your Friends

Be honest. When you catch a coffee date friend, how long does it take you to start running down the list of people you don't like? Classmates you only see on Facebook? Things your partner did to piss you off this week? How you still don't understand why Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi had that feud on The Good Wife set? Venting or gossiping with your friend isn't a sin, but the best friendships are built on vulnerability. I heard a therapist say once that if you can't go five minutes without talking about a third person, it's not much of a friendship. And yes, Kardashians count as third people.

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If you're not talking solely about other people's drama, what else can you chat about in a friendship? As corny as it sounds, how about your hopes and dreams or your fears and anxieties? Your favorite moment of the week? The book you can't put down? Be united as insightful women, not as means girls.

Your Family

A family get together often has more triangle than that old SNL sketch with Kristin Wiig. But you don't have to be Triangle Sally at your next family reunion. Your mother may want to give you an earful about how your brother won't settle down, or you might feel tempted to roll your eyes and tell someone about your in-laws' sudden zeal for Donald Trump. But when you complain to a third, the person you're griping about will feel threatened. You'll create more distance between you. And suddenly, nobody remembers how to talk to each other anymore. They just sit and stew.

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If you need a strategy for cutting back on threesomes in your family, try this. The next time someone comes up to you with a complaint about Uncle Mike's infant girlfriend, say, "That sounds like you two need to sit down and have a conversation." Or, "I really hope you both can work it out." You can acknowledge the comment without becoming an accomplice to the crime. And if you're the one who's tempted to pick up the phone and whine about your dad, why not go straight to him? If you can communicate one-to-one with your family, you can do it with anybody. It's a skill that translates into all areas of life, and it will make you a calmer, more mindful person.

Your Love Life

Watch a movie or a television show, and take note of how much of the dialogue involves women complaining about their partners. We are spoon-fed the idea that friendships are built on this kind of information exchange, and that your romantic partners should expect and accept that our friends know all the gory and sexy details about your love life. But if you start to engage in an emotional threesome every time romance gets rough, your partner will feel like they're on the outside. And guess what will happen? They'll start doing the same thing. Before long, your emotional threesome has become an emotional fourteensome.

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It's inevitable that we're going to share thoughts and feelings with our friends. But you have to create some space for thinking before you whip out your phone and text your BFF the misogynist comment your boyfriend just made. You have to consider how this conversation might be just for your twosome, and how you can prevent resentment and silence from growing between the two of you.

When life happens, threesomes happen. Humans will continue to create relationship triangles as long as there are smartphones, alcohol, and drama at the office. But women are less anxious creatures when we stop and consider what could happen if we didn't run away from an important conversation. If we stood up to people who hurt us, and if we listen to those who might have a different point of view. So the next time your fingers itch with the need to text someone your latest complaint, try sticking with the twosome first. Say what you mean, listen with open ears, and maybe you'll have a better and braver story to tell your friend over coffee.