Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Nodal Thirds

  • Edith GoldbeterEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_947

Name of Concept

Nodal third


Nodal third; Significant member; “Tiers pesant”; Weighty third


The term nodal third refers to someone whose presence (physical or evoked) is almost essential to “good” balancing of relationships within a system (Goldbeter-Merinfeld 2016, 2017). While everyone can be a third for two others, in a manner unwitting rather than consciously or even voluntarily, the nodal third unlike what could be called a light third is assigned or takes a specific and permanent feature as the third in relationships in the family. It allows families to stabilize (and rigidify) their functioning around one of their members, who acquires therefore an essential role in the conservation of the balance of the system being a regulator of affective distances and emotional balance among its members.

The departure (in any form) of a light thirdis easy to live with: the system quickly finds another partner to fulfill this function. In contrast, given the “need for...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bowen, M. (1976). Theory in the practice of psychotherapy. In P. Guerin (Ed.), Family therapy (pp. 42–90). New York: Gardner Press.Google Scholar
  2. Elkaïm, M. (1990). If you love me, don’t love me: Constructions of reality and change in family therapy. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  3. Goldbeter-Merinfeld, E. (2016). Families, therapists and nodal thirds. In M. Borcsa & P. Stratton (Eds.), Origins and originality in family therapy and systemic practice (pp. 93–113). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Goldbeter-Merinfeld, E. (2017), 3rd edition (1st ed. 1999, ESF, Paris). Le deuil impossible. Familles et tiers pesants. Bruxelles: Deboek. English version in preparation.Google Scholar
  5. Paul, N. L., & Paul, B. (1986). A marital puzzle. New York: Gardner Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Etudes de la Famille et des Systèmes Humains, Brussels and ULBBrusselsBelgium

Section editors and affiliations

  • Maria Borcsa
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Applied Sciences NordhausenNordhausenGermany