The Relationship Triangle

Developed by Stephen Karpman.

Also called The Drama Triangle or RED Triangle.

It is a social model for human interaction.

The triangle maps unhealthy ways of relating.

(Stephen Karpman discovered that in almost all ancient myths there was a demonstration of this destructive pattern of relating.

Victim. Rescuer. Perpetrator.


Example of how this might play out from an innocent question.

Child or spouse opens the pantry and exclaims, "Lucky Charms!?"


RED Triangle Responses

•      Victim: “Oh my gosh, I can’t do anything right.

•      Rescuer: “Let me run out and get a different cereal.

•      Perpetrator: “Buy your own dang cereal if you don’t like it.” 


Keep in mind this tool is primarily speaking to attitude and motive

The Victim role is different from a true victim, as in a rape case, and refers to an attitude of heart, or habitual way of relating to the world. []



The Victim is one who sees himself [as everything bad happens to them] Catastrophic language (“everyone,” “you,” “my mother,” “the government”) is used to describe their reality that they perceive that others are “doing things to them.”



Victim and signals

Victim emits signals, like unhealthy pheromones sent out in search of a mate, to find a Rescuer, who, it is hoped, will take care of them and save the day.



Often times couples will begin their relationship in some form of this.

They psychologically cut a deal:

•      The rescuer says that I will agree to be big, strong, good and nice;

•      the victim says I will agree to be overwhelmed & unable to manage.

Everyone is happy. The rescuer feels needed, important and in charge.

The victim has someone to take care of him. []


Then the Rescuer get tired

And it works fine, except every once in a while one of two things happens: Sometimes the rescuer gets tired of doing it all.

He feels like he is shouldering all the responsibilities and that the other is not pulling his weight, not giving anything back, not appreciating what the rescuer is doing.


The rescuer gets fed up, angry, resentful. Bam!

He shifts over to the persecutor role.

He suddenly blows up - usually about something minor - laundry, who didn't take out the trash - or acts out - go out a spends a lot of money, goes on a drinking binge, has an affair. He feels he deserves it, look, after all, he says to himself, at what I've been putting up with.

The message underneath the behavior and anger that usually does not come out very clearly is:

•      "Why don't you grow up! Why don't you take some responsibility!

•      Why do I have to do everything around here!

•      Why don't you appreciate what I am doing for you! This is unfair!"

The feeling of unfair is a strong one.


Trading positions

At that point the victim gets scared and moves up to the rescuer position, tries to make up and calm the waters. "I'm sorry," he says.

"I didn't realize. I really do appreciate what you do. I'll do better."

Then the persecutor feels bad about whatever he did or said and goes down to the victim position and gets depressed.

Then they both stabilize and go back to their original positions.


Victim gets tired

The other thing that happens sometimes is the victim gets tired of being the victim. He gets tired of the other one always running the show, always telling him what to do.

He gets tired of being looked down on because the rescuer is basically saying, "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't make it."

Everyone once in a while the victim gets fed up and Bam, moves to the persecutor role. Like the rescuer, the victim in this role blows up and gets angry usually about something small, or acts out.


Trading positions

The message underneath that doesn't get said is

•      Why don't you get off my back!

•      Leave me alone, stop controlling my life!

•      Back off, I can do things myself!

The rescuer hears this and moves to the victim position. He says to himself, "Poor me, every time I try to help, look what I get."

The persecutor then feels bad about whatever he did or said and goes to the rescuer position and says something like,

"I was stressed out, off my meds, tired from the kids. I'm sorry."

And then they make up and go back to where they originally were.



Attachment - Matthew 10:37-39

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.


We cannot become complete in ourselves through incomplete people,

and we cannot give what we do not possess.

[Adam Where Are You, F.L. Rodriguez] 


We are not meant to love the created over the Creator.


The red triangle is all about avoiding responsibility.

It is a way of manipulating.


1. Keeps responsibility out of grasp

Manipulation means never take ownership, always blame.

2. There is a lack of internal conflict/resolution within the individual.

Instead it’s all about creating conflict & stirring it up in others.

3. Players lack empathy, are self-absorbed in their own role of the moment.

4. Patterns prevent any real problem solving because the drama rules.

5. The RED Triangle fills emptiness, because two people can jump around in all three roles to fuel the drama of manipulation.


Good guy/Bad guy split thinking is integral to drama & manipulation.

Drama obscures the real issues.

People are seduced by the false excitement the drama offers.

Manipulators love drama and see it as a source of power.

Manipulation is the core of the game.

It creates confusion not solutions.   []


Inner dialogue

•      The inside rescuer is self-protection,

•      The inside persecutor is self-sabotage

•      The inside victim is self-suffering acting the martyr



Peter as Rescuer

Matthew 16:21-23 NIV

Adam and Eve

Adam: "Uh, it was my wife’s fault."

Eve: "Uh it was the serpent's fault."

(We are just victims)


Biblical Instruction regarding perpetrating and anger:

Proverbs 19:19, NIV & MSG

 “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again… Let angry people endure the backlash of their own anger; if you try to make it better, you’ll only make it worse”


GREEN Triangle





How do we preserve and protect our true self from being lost in the unconsciousness of the well-intentioned loving partner.

[Thomas Moore]


Jesus using boundaries and went another direction.

Mark 1:35-38 NIV

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’”


We are not obliged to solve everyone’s problems.

Gratitude and Celebration push us toward the green triangle and healthy ways of relating. Practicing gratitude increases grace.

The greater the grace, the greater the love.