Exploring Triangulation in Infancy: Two Contrasted Cases


  • This research was supported by the Swiss National Scientific Research Foundation Grant No. 32-52508.97.
    The authors wish to express their gratitude to Gabriela Quoëx for reviewing and editing the English version of this article and to Roland Fivaz for his skillful drawings. The authors appreciate the thoughtful comments made by the anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to E. Fivaz-Depeursinge, Centre d'Etude de la Famille, Site de Cery, 1008 Prilly-Lausanne, Switzerland. Tel:+41-21-643-6401; Fax:+41-21-643-65-93. E-mail: Elisabeth.Fivaz@chuv.ch


Two contrasted father-mother-infant interactions are observed longitudinally during trilogue play. They illustrate the contribution of recent research to the exploration of triangulation in infancy: namely, the infant's capacity to handle triangular interactions and share her affects with her two parents, and the way that this capacity is recruited in functional versus problematic alliances. It is likely that an infant under stress when interacting with one parent will protest at that parent and also at the other. Such is the case when, for example, the father acts intrusively while playing with his baby. The infant is then driven to avert and turns to the mother. The regulation of this dyadic intrusion-avoidance pattern at family level depends on the family alliance. When coparenting is supportive, the mother validates the infant's bid for help without interfering with the father. Thus, the problematic pattern is contained in the dyad, and the infant's triangular capacities remain in the service of her own developmental goals. But when coparenting is hostile-competitive, the mother ignores the infant's bid or engages with her in a way that interferes with her play with her father. In this case, the infant's triangular capacities are used to relieve the tension between the parents. The importance of tracing family process back to infancy for family therapy is discussed.