Question: I dread going anywhere with my parents because of their constant bickering. Recently, while we were all in the car together, they started arguing over which way was the quickest to where we were going. Fine. Not a big deal. But it goes on and on, escalating to the point that my mother is complaining to my father that he never listens to her and my father is shouting that she suffocates him. When this happens, inevitably, one or the other starts appealing to me. "Can you believe your father/your mother is being so unreasonable?" I try to answer in a way that validates both their points of view, but the truth is, I think they're both lunatics. This isn't new — it's been going on since I was a kid. Am I forever psychologically scarred, and can I make them stop?
Answer:As is oft noted by people with lunatic parents, you can choose your friends but not your family. And as such, the automobile is the perfect symbol and epitome of this social predicament — inside of the car, you literally cannot escape. And meanwhile, you're travelling upwards of 100 kilometres per hour, your life back in the hands of your creators.
I've consulted what you might call a family mechanic to figure out what to do about this bickering-on-overdrive problem of yours. Michael Ungar is a professor at Dalhousie University's school of social work, and an author and therapist who's worked with families for over twenty years. One of the first things he points out is that when your parents try to drag you into their argument, they are perpetrating something he calls "triangulation."
Your parents and you form a triangle — ideally, it is an upside-down triangle where they are equals at the top and you are below. "If son and mom align against dad," says Dr. Ungar, "then you flip and you get the son at level of the dad and you have the dad dropped down to the level where the son was. This is what's called an inversion of hierarchies."