(And this is likely not the kind of love triangle you’re imagining!)
Trying to sift through and identify what we need and want can be extremely challenging. This task can be made all the more fraught when we consider talking — actually communicating — about these needs and wants with another person. Have you ever thought, “I don’t know what I want, but this is not it!” Or been frustrated because you don’t know how to talk about what you want?
Yeah? Me too. Often.
So I have a suggestion: make your very own love triangle!
Hear me out.
Over the last three years, I have facilitated dozens of workshops with local high school and middle school classes, as well as University of Guelph students. These workshops have focused on sexual health education and being able to identify and communicate our wants and our needs. Which brings me to the love triangle activity. I’ve facilitated this activity informally with friends too, because I think it is simple and very useful. I consistently get positive feedback from people who take this skill into their personal lives and find it valuable.
To be clear, I did not come up with this activity, and I don’t know where it originates, so I can’t truly give credit where credit is due. My exposure to it came from participation in the Guelph faction of a volunteer program called Project Serve Reading Week.
Here it is in six easy steps. You’ll need paper and a pen.
STEP 1 – Let’s triangulate
Use the triangle in this article.
Step 2 – Focus
Before you fill the pyramid, you need to decide what your focus is going to be. What relationship do you want to work on with this activity? In my experience, the activity benefits from choosing something specific, which could be a romantic or sexual relationship, a particular friendship, your relationship with a sibling or parent, some other important connection in your life with another person, or even your relationship with yourself! You can also zero in on a specific aspect of a given relationship, such as sex or communication.
If you have a good imagination (and are optimistic), you could consider focusing on a type of relationship that you want to have, but which is not a present reality. Pick something and go for it.
Step 3 – What do you need?
Time to dig in and answer some or all of the following questions:
- What would I call the foundation of this relationship?
- What would I consider a deal-breaker?
- For me, what is non-negotiable about this relationship?
- How do I need to be treated to feel proud of this relationship?
I don’t want to influence you, but some common needs I’ve observed in this activity include trust, respect, consent, friendship, honestly, affection, and time together. Think only about yourself when you answer these questions. Try to settle on at least three needs that you can write into the three base sections.
Step 4 – What you want
To identify your wants, try to fill in the blanks below:
- If [blank] was never present in this relationship, I would be upset.
- I would ask for [blank] in this relationship, but be willing to negotiate.
- I might miss [blank] in this relationship if it wasn’t present.
- I’m uncertain about whether this relationship can succeed without [blank].
Choose at least two wants that you can write in the two middle sections of your love triangle. Note that some of the examples of needs I mentioned above might feel like wants to you. And that’s okay! Common choices I have observed are humour, physical touch, and similar interests. The more specific you can be, the better.
Step 5 – Bonus round!
The top of the pyramid is your bonus section. To identify a bonus, consider the questions below:
- What would be a wonderful treat in this relationship?
- What would be the best surprise in this relationship?
- What is my favourite luxury?
- What have I been curious to try recently?
- What would I not ask for, but be thrilled to experience, in this relationship?
A memorable response I got to this bonus section during a workshop was from a young student who chose “a moonlit picnic.” Get creative, get silly, get kinky, and dream big! A bonus is the cherry on top of the relationship you are focused on for your love triangle. Write your chosen bonus into the top section (the only section still empty).
Step 6 – Tips to share your feelings
I truly encourage you to consider sharing the love triangle you made. If you were focusing on a particular relationship between you and someone else, can you find the courage to show them what you wrote down? Having this visual reference can be wildly helpful for you and the person you speak with.
Maybe the relationship you thought of includes multiple people and you could share it with each of them. Discussions about feelings are confusing, so why not use visual aids? Perhaps you prefer to keep it private for now, and store it in your journal or put it on your bedroom wall for personal reference.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to share your love triangle, here are some things to consider:
Acknowledge that the needs you wrote down are needs for YOU, your needs are not equivalent to your rights. You are not entitled to a need like “sex,” but you can demand a need like “respect.”
Consider asking the people with whom you share important relationships to make their own love triangles, and then do a “pair and share” session where you discuss the similarities and differences. This could be a rad way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
If you observe a significant divide between your love triangle and the reality of the relationship you were focused on, allow yourself to explore that discomfort and possible disappointment. Consider if sharing this love triangle with someone else could be a useful way for you to move forward. Can the love triangle give you some direction on how to improve things? Is it time to let this relationship go?
If you do this activity more than once for a given relationship, notice how your choice of needs, wants, and bonuses may change and understand that this is consistent with the dynamic nature of relationships.
If you make it through all six steps — or even just the first five — congratulations! Creating a love triangle can be demanding emotional work and you endured.
Image by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion