Symbiosis in Relationships

The psychology of relationships: symbiosis

Applying the concept of symbiosis

If you’ve read the chapter on symbiosis in relationships, you might have decided whether this is a pattern which exists in your relationship or not.

Also, think about which role you would normally take, person A, who uses his or her adult and parent ego states, who is in charge and who becomes the “responsible one”, or person B, who mostly accesses his or her child ego state in the relationship and who gets to be looked after at the price of being controlled.

Of course, you may not take the same roles in your life outside your relationship. Person B might be the boss at work and person A might find it easy to discuss his or her feelings and needs with his/her friends. What’s relevant here is what happens in your intimate relationship.

Symbiosis means that there is a loss of flexibility and difference between two people. You can get it back by trying out new ways of relating.

Person A needs to look after themselves more, but also give up control over person B and let him or her make their own decisions (even if you think they aren’t very good ones – people need to learn from their own mistakes.

And who knows, your partner might just surprise you by how grown up and independent he or she can be). Person B needs to take back his or her power and be responsible for their own life.

Some people may be heavily invested in maintaining the symbiosis, in which case they will resist change.

However, if you change they will have to adapt! In the end you can only change yourself and you may have to take the risk of putting your relationship on the line to make sure you get to do what you need to do for yourself.

Quite often though, the second person in relationships will adapt once you make it clear that you will change no matter what.

In terms of your sex life, getting out of a symbiotic pattern can only be a good thing. Sex thrives on difference, on change and flexibility, and freedom from responsibilities.

Getting out of a symbiotic pattern may mean that you feel free to experience sex for your own pleasure, rather than feeling obliged to make it right for the other person.

Symbiosis and sex really don’t go together at all.

The child-parent set-up of symbiosis means that neither one of you is in an adult place in the relationship and having sex with someone you are emotionally looking after or who you want to be looked after by will be rather strange.

This set up doesn’t allow for the passion of sex to emerge.

If sex works at all you will more than likely be locked into the roles you normally take on in the relationship, with one person now doing the sexual “looking after” and the other person being the passive receiver. I am sure an inflexible pattern like this will get boring very quickly!

So, what to do about it? It probably won’t be enough to challenge the roles you have with each other sexually: you’ll also need to start looking at the whole set-up of your relationship.

This may sound very scary, and yes, your relationship may not survive the upheaval, but on the other hand, you only have this life to live – and right now! You might as well go for making the best of it!

Each time you challenge the roles you are both in, you are allowing for more flexibility and new possibilities between the two of you.

Keep pushing to experience and strengthen the part of you that’s not expressed in the relationship (your own needs if you tend to be person A, and your own power and competence if you are person B).

At some point things will become more equal and open between the two of you, and this will generate much more sexual energy and excitement.

Symbiosis is a big killer of sexual passion, as David Schnarch reveals in his book Passionate Marriage. (See passionate marriage.)

He says that the best way to enjoy a great sexual relationship is to be disconnected from your partner rather than symbiotically tied to him or her.