Triage: Seeing trouble in Relationships Around You

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I am beginning to use the word Triage to apply to the question, “How much should I get involved? How much energy is it wise to expend on this person or this couple?”  Perhaps this is cuz I am getting older and don’t have time and energy for everyone.

The back story is that I went to the VA Hospital a couple of weeks ago because my knee seemed to “fall apart.” The waiting room had a reception desk and doors to several Triage Rooms.

I am sure you can look it up, but my impression is that Triage is the term for a relatively quick decision process at a field hospital near a battlefield. Incoming patients are split into three (Triage) groups:a) those that are gonna die, b) those that need immediate care, and c) those that can wait for a while. Those of you who have been to such a facility probably can give more accurate details.

I have been using this idea for what to do when I see someone having trouble in relationship. In every situation, I do not want to relieve them of their responsibilities. But what do I think is my responsibility?

So I think of Relationship Triage: Three Groups of People

  1. Do I smile and walk on?
  2. Do I step in and offer my best?  Do I give them my all?
  3. Do I interact lite, and see where it goes?

Group 1 seems to me to be any person or couple who is not fairly explicitly asking for help.  These people display relationship difficulties that I can see. (They are also not breaking a law.  I once saw a couple, alongside a well trafficked road, slapping and pushing each other.  I put these in Group 3, even though they had not asked for any interference at all. I interfered.)

I see these people on the beach in Mexico, in stores and restaurants, at church, in my extended family, my neighbors.  Heck, this is almost everyone.

Group 2 seems to me the people I give “my all” to.  I will fully engage with them.  I take considerable risks to connect, challenge, and share with these people.

These are my wife, my clients, students, someone who calls or walks in the our office, and a collection of others.  The most distinctive characteristic of this group is that they are more or less fully engaged in the process of learning how to do better in their lives.  They are looking at problems (the treasures in life), seeking new ways of handling life’s challenges.  They are very open.

Group 3 seems to me people who state a need for help, but who do not seem yet to be engaged in their own learning.  I do chat dialogically with them, but will keep to safe and casual topics or I will simply listen and pull them into sharing what is on their minds.  I generally will not take strong intimate risks with them.  And I may not take much time with them.  And while I am doing this lite interaction, I will keep an eye out for signs that might lead me to reclassify them in Group 1 or 2.

These are professional associates or people who hear I am a relationship specialist and ask me a question.  These are people who email me or meet me online for chats at Marriage Advocates.  These are people who write to my blog.

Part of the reason I am sharing this is because I have in my past spent a lot of energy on Group 1 people.  Waste of time and effort.

Also Group 3 people often ask for help, I may put a lot of energy into them and they don’t use it at all.  They stay stuck.  They seem to want me to “fix it.”  I can get hurt this way.  I’ve built some protective walls for myself.  “All people are chronically disobedient! Learn to Live with it.” or “My clients never do what I tell them.  They always do what they choose.”  I think the idea of Triage is just another protective boundary skill.



Triage: Seeing trouble in Relationships Around You — 1 Comment

  1. Hi Al,
    Just commenting on another of your articles. I like to think that I am a group B person – even though my partner left (as I have elucidated to in various other of your essays) and the whole thing has been so totally devastating, I have learnt so much and am still engaged in the process of openess. I desperately (yup) tried to get my partner to seek help with my together – but he always refused – but I pushed on with my own learning and seeking to make myself a better person. i have found this site invaluable, and if I could have I would have sought help in person (I'm in Australia) as I have not come across any relationship experts who share your views here Al. As much as I did not want the outcome that has happened in my marriage – I have learnt to accept that it is something I have no control over. 'You can lead a horse to water' and so on.

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