What is a love triangle?

Has your partner run off with your best mate, have you cheated with your partner’s best mate, or do you have the hots for your friend's lover? If you’re involved in a complicated love story involving close friends, read our advice on how to do the right thing to make that triangle a line again.

A group of young men are laughing. They are in a love triangle. This is a wide-angle image.

Love triangles

What is a love triangle? Well, when three people are all involved in an overlapping monogamous relationship, you’ve got a love triangle on your hands. We should mention that this is different to polyamory, which you can find out more about here. Here are some of the most common types of love triangle:

My partner left me for one of my close friends 

This is one of the most painful love triangles because you’re not just losing your partner, but potentially your mate as well. However, if both of them have known you for a while you would hope it was serious emotions and not just a lust-filled fling that pushed them together.

Either way, only you can decide how you’ll deal with them, whether that means cutting them off completely or trying to keep things civil. The decision will depend on a whole range of things. For example, how long they let it go on before telling you, how they feel about each other, whether they are sorry, and how you feel about it all. One good marker to consider is the state of your friendship and relationship before this mess. Was it already losing steam? 

One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be easy no matter what the outcome is. Be prepared to go through any number of emotions from anger, to hurt and misery, or maybe even relief. Make sure to talk things through with a trusted friend, rather than bottling them up. Think it over and then finally talk it through with your mate and ex, in a calm and collected manner of course. If you need some help with that, read this article!

If they cheated, but want to stay with you

It’s up to you to decide whether you want to finish the relationship or not. Even if you think there’s a chance that you can forgive them, it’s important to find why they were unfaithful in the first place. You’ll both have to be prepared to make some changes if things are going to work out. For more help, read our advice on what to do if you’ve been cheated on here.

You’ll also have to talk to your partner to make sure they didn’t expose you to sexually transmitted infections. If you don’t believe them, get yourself a check-up anyway. Better safe than sorry.

I can’t get over the fact they cheated on me

Sometimes even true love can’t survive love triangles, and that’s okay. The Relate network of relationship counsellors helps single people who find it hard to come to terms with being cheated on. They also counsel couples, whether they’re a married couple, new couple or anything in between, that want to patch things up after an affair. Check them out here. You can also read our tips on moving on from a cheating partner for some extra advice.

Falling in love with your friend’s partner

If you look up ‘What is a love triangle?’ on Google, this situation would probably be the first thing to pop up. It’s a bit of a sticky one honestly– the best thing is to steer clear. However, if you really believe you are meant to be together, and think they do too, maybe try to have an open and honest conversation with all parties involved. Decide whether this is romantic love or just infatuation before you do though. Remember, you’re going to be risking a lot by going through with this convo. Whatever the case may be, no physical action should be taken while they are still together. If they do break up, be considerate and give it some time before jumping into bed with each other.

There’s an unwritten rule in friendships that you shouldn’t get involved with anyone your friend’s seeing / has seen in the past. But there are some circumstances where it may be OK, never 1000% commendable, but still OK. For example, if they had just started seeing them, weren’t that bothered and you were up front about your interest, or they gave you the all clear. Yet even then, leaving it a while before making a move would probably be best.

A romantic interest in your partner’s best mate

If you were to go for their best friend, then you could possibly ruin both your relationship with your partner, and the friendship between them and their mate. Think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed. Having said that, if you really love them and know the feeling is mutual, take some time before making a move. Break up with your current partner and take some time alone to process your emotions and/ or feelings.

If, after all that time, you still really believe it’s a love story for the ages, then proceed with caution. Their mate may not want to get involved with you, as it could ruin their friendship. However if you’re sure the feelings are mutual, talk to their friend – don’t act on it, just talk. Agree to wait a while before seeing if it will go anywhere; if you do start seeing each other don’t rub it in your ex’s face.

Are you caught up in a love triangle? Share your stories on our discussion boards.

Next Steps

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cheating| crush

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 20-Nov-2021