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Jealousy and the Go-Between: Friends and Lovers

Image of purple and white flowers. Raleigh Psychotherapy, Katherine Broadway, Counseling, Jealousy

I am so frustrated! My best friend and my girlfriend are in competition for my attention and are jealous of one another. I am disappointing one of them all the time. This is so painful!”

Have you found yourself in this situation? When you are in a new relationship or friendship, you can’t seem to find a way to balance your time and feel caught between two people you love. There seems to an uncalled for jealousy between them.


One of the causes may be the role you played in your family. Growing up, the family is the first social unit in which we learn we learn how to function. Each person will play different roles at different times, depending on what is happening at the time, but each person also has a primary role.

We take what we learn from our families about relationships and apply this knowledge to our lives. Some of the knowledge is modified, but usually our behavior and beliefs are determined by these early life lessons.


The role we are going to talk about in this article is the “go-between”. The term was coined by Samuel Slipp, MD. The person in this role is drawn into conflict to help diffuse the tension in the family. It creates a triangle between the parents and the child. There is jealousy between family members.

Every family has conflict, and there is always a need for this role. In “good enough” families, it plays a minor part. For example, Dad comes home after a shopping trip and does not want Mom to know he bought something, so he hands his daughter the bag and tells her to hide it.

With higher conflict and dysfunctional families, this role becomes essential for the equilibrium of the group. When there is violence, the child comes in to break up the fighting and lowers the intensity of the situation.

With higher conflict and dysfunctional families, this role becomes essential for the equilibrium of the group. When there is violence, the child comes in to break up the fighting and lowers the intensity of the situation.

The go-between can play an important role in a divorce. He or she carries messages between the households. This can range from parents who do not speak to one another and use the children to continue the fight, to simply sending simple messages. Regardless of the intensity, the child still learns to be the go-between.


The go-between develops a feeling of being special and connected to the parents. Unfortunately, the go-between develops a sense of identity from being needed. They learn that being loved entails being caught between people they love and being surrounded by jealousy.

Their needs are at best secondary and do not get met. This stifles personal growth and identity. Autonomy – knowing one's true self – is never achieved.

Having this role growing up leads to creating relationships and friendships where there is a triangle. As a go-between, you find that you are trying to be the bridge between these important people. You want to please each one and make peace between them. It is painful and stressful, but on some level, it feels familiar and right.

You also feel misunderstood and confused. What you want is for your friends to get along and like one another. The problem is that the more you try to get people to like and understand one another, the more jealous each person becomes.


The first step is to quit trying to get these people to make peace. It is important for you to accept that you cannot resolve this situation for them. They must talk with one another to resolve their own relationship.

Then, acknowledge your role in the situation. You are in the middle of a triangle which never resolves a problem. Instead, it keeps it going in a predictable pattern where you move from one role to another depending on where you are in the drama.

We have talked at length about relationship triangles in this blog. My articles on “The Karpman Triangle” and “What To Do About the Drama Triangle” are good resources to help you see how you are fueling the fire.

Do you identify with the concept of a go-between? Is a role learned decade ago creating problems in your life now? When behavior patterns are ingrained from childhood it often takes professional help to change them. I have worked with this dynamic for 25 years and seen many people change. Call me at (919) 881-2001, if you'd like me to help you start that process.

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