A symbiotic relationship is a type of relationship between different species in which both species derive a mutual benefit. This can be seen in relationships such as mutualism, where both species benefit, commensalism, where one species benefits and the other is not affected, and parasitism, where one species benefits at the expense of the other.
It is usual for a person in love to find it difficult to see the person they love suffers. However, for some people this experience becomes so distressing that they cannot tolerate the discomfort of the other person, coming to feel responsible for it and trying to alleviate it at all costs.
These people believe that if their partner feels pain it is their responsibility or fault, so they must make all kinds of efforts so that they do not feel sad, alone, etc. However, the belief that another person’s pain is our responsibility can be problematic, leading to an unhealthy way of relating: a symbiotic relationship. In this article, we explain what a symbiotic relationship is and how to break it.
Breaking a symbiotic relationship depends on the type of relationship and the species involved. For example, in mutualism, removing one species from the environment may negatively impact both species. In parasitism, controlling the population of the parasite species or finding alternative hosts may help break the relationship. However, it is important to consider the potential consequences of breaking symbiotic relationships, as it may have unintended effects on the ecosystem as a whole.
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What is a symbiotic couple relationship?
In a romantic relationship, it is necessary to have the security that is created when both members recognize the other as an independent person with their own interests and concerns outside of the relationship. On the contrary, in a symbiotic relationship, the characteristics that make people unique are perceived as a threat, so they try to suppress themselves.
In a desire to unite with the other, symbiotic relationships create a fusion between two people who feel incomplete and cannot function without the psychological or real presence of the other. Generally, one member of the relationship assumes the leadership and protection of her partner, while the other is characterized by a fragility that prevents him from taking control of her life.
Examples of symbiotic relationships
Here are some examples of symbiotic relationships:
- A person feels guilty for his spouse’s discomfort and cannot tolerate his anger, so he constantly belittles him, ignores his partner, does not listen to him, or resorts to sarcasm. The other person responds with more anger, trying to be heard. They both share the belief that their pain is the other’s responsibility.
- A person insults and belittles the interests of his partner, making him feel that they are meaningless or ridiculous. Her partner, embarrassed, renounces her aspirations to please the other person. Both are afraid of abandonment, but while the first person expresses it through criticism, the second does so by accommodating.
Characteristics of symbiotic couple relationships
We can recognize symbiotic couple relationships through the following criteria:
- Limited ability to be aware, respectful, and appreciate the identity of the partner outside of the relationship. The aspects that differentiate the person from the relationship are perceived as a threat so that they can be questioned and rejected.
- It is assumed that the couple should behave, based on their own needs and preferences. There may be a loss of empathy and the partner is treated as if they were an object instead of an individual person. This is known as “reification.”
- One or both partners feel responsible for the other’s emotions. This frequently results in emotional overflow, with which they feed this emotion back to their partner as well. In the long run, intimacy ends up being an exhausting experience.
- The couple’s relationship is the only source of support. Family and social networks are reduced due to conflicts with the family of origin or external sources of tension.
- Better adjustment to the beginning of the relationship that is maintained under high expectations, support, and validation in the face of the progressive weakening of one of its members.
- The appearance of conflicts is a consequence of the lack of individual recognition, refusal to set aside personal projects, not receiving the expected emotional support, and/or emotional blackmail from the partner who appears to be fragile or dependent on the relationship. Find out how to get out of emotional blackmail in this article.
- Two main tendencies in which the conflict is handled. On the one hand, the total avoidance of competition, where both people do not allow themselves to have a different opinion (symbiotic dynamics). On the other hand, constant fights in which both members of the couple do not find space for their differences (symbiotic-hostile dynamics). If this is your case, you can check this article about I argue a lot with my partner over nonsense: what do I do?
- The reasons for staying in the relationship are usually fear of loneliness, the need for company, and the desire to establish a serious relationship and share a vital project.
How to break a symbiotic relationship
Sometimes people are guided by two powers that pull us in alternate directions. On the one hand, the need to have a close connection and to be loved, and on the other, the desire to maintain our individuality and autonomy. However, in a symbiotic relationship, people often find themselves between one of these two forces, feeling the need to choose between being themselves or being close to their partner.
So how do we eliminate this tendency to “objectify” our partner? To break the symbiosis in the couple it is necessary to see our partner as a person separated from the relationship. This is the way to achieve not only a deeper connection but also to have healthier relationships with others and with oneself.
According to Harvillle Hendrix, reciprocity between two people who are differentiated and separated, but connected at the same time, is the beginning of true love. This process is known as differentiation.
How to establish differentiation in a symbiotic couple relationship
As symbiosis diminishes (“you and I are one”), differentiation arises (“you and I are different and that’s okay”). Differentiation is not isolation or loneliness, but the ability to balance autonomy and proximity so that both needs are not exclusive.
When we differentiate ourselves, we learn to stay connected to our thoughts, values, and feelings, while staying close to significant people in our lives. For differentiation to occur, the following is necessary:
- Disrupt the predominant dynamic of the relationship: leave behind the fantasy of joining or merging the couple and celebrate their autonomy.
- Recognize and accept your own differences and those of your partner: consider them as strengths and not as threats. Explore the beliefs, preferences, and vulnerabilities of each member of the couple to achieve a more personal positioning.
- Learn to tolerate the initial discomfort that differences can generate and assume a clearer individual position. This is essential to be able to make decisions freely, both inside and outside the context of the relationship.
- Replace judgments with curiosity and knowledge of the partner: in this way, we discover and accept the reality of our partner. When both people really get to know each other, the space between them becomes fertile ground for experiencing a deeper connection.
- Empathy Restoration – When we expand our ability to differentiate ourselves from our partners, we break the symbiotic fusion. Empathy is the emotion that prevents us from being able to differentiate ourselves, without losing the humanity of the couple. It is not enough to understand that the couple is different, we must also have empathy for their difference.
It is important to foster empathy in a conflict situation, since without empathy the “not me” can become “not human” and “not worth worrying about”. Empathy keeps the connection alive between people whose differences might drive them apart. In this way, we ultimately turn empathy into connection. In the following article, you will find more information on how to have a healthy relationship.
This article is simply for informational purposes we do not have the ability to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.
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