Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Perverse Triangles in Family Systems Theory

  • Laura M. FreyEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_339-1

Name of Concept

Perverse Triangles in Family Systems Theory


Several family therapy approaches – Bowen’s transgenerational model (Bowen 1981), structural family theory (Minuchin 1974), and strategic family therapy (Hoffman 1981) – use the term triangle to describe a pathological interaction pattern. While triangle primarily refers to a three-person subsystem within the family, Jay Haley used the term perverse triangle to represent a specific form of triangular dysfunction within a system.

Theoretical Context for Concept

A perverse triangle has its roots in family systems theory which proposes that families are interactional systems that self-correct to maintain homeostasis (Whitchurch and Constantine 1993). In other words, family members change their behavior or interact in ways that provide a sense of stability. This cyclical system utilizes members’ interactions to indicate whether things are calm and predictable (negative feedback) or dynamic and necessitating...

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  3. Hoffman, L. (1981). Foundations of family therapy: A conceptual framework for systems change. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  4. Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Whitchurch, G. G., & Constantine, L. L. (1993). Systems theory. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 325–352). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Eli Karam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA