Depressive Dyadic and Triadic Relationships


  • David Rubinstein,

    1. David Rubenstein, MD, is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Division of Psychiatric Family Practice, Department of Psychiatry, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa.
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  • Joan F. Timmins

    1. Joan F. Timmins, BA, is a staff member in the same department. Address: Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19129.
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  • A version of this paper was presented at the VI World Congress of Psychiatry, August 28—September 3, 1977, Hawaii. This paper is the product of a collaborative effort. The first person pronoun refers to Dr. Rubinstein's clinical experiences as a therapist. The concepts, theoretical framework, and clinical presentations are a result of many hours of shared discussions.


This paper describes some of the characteristics of relationship patterns established by partners with one depressed member. Depressive dyadic and triadic relationships are characterized by repetitive and patterned verbal and non-verbal behavior which is designated as “microcycling”. A distinction is made between the psychotic and neurotic types. The personality characteristics of the “caretakers” are described. The psychodynamics of depressive dyadic relationships involves reaction formation against hidden mutual hostilities and a struggle for power. The triadic relationship secures a third party involvement to maintain a balance in the dyadic pair. Depressive dyadic and triadic relationships inhibit personal growth and fixate the individual at an early stage of psychosexual development. Treatment approaches include therapy of the partners' relationship and of the individual's pathological dynamics.