Since Arian and Mark have put time and effort into actively changing their relational patterns, their connection has increased. They both feel more satisfied and saver with each other. And promptly come across another pitfall. In this blog they learn about symbiosis and differentiation.

But life is not smooth sailing when you run businesses and raise children. So Arian begins to notice how Mark’s stress at work is taking a toll on his mood. His temper has shortened and one evening he comes home, having forgotten their planned ‘date’. Instead, Mark is full of worry about an order for a client that has not arrived from the factory on time. When Arian points out how disappointed she is about the missed time together, Mark blows up.

Compromise versus Sacrifice: understanding symbiosis

Arian feels her fears rising and tries to stay calm. She lets Mark go to the office and busies herself with making dinner and helping the kids with their homework. Later, she talks to Mark about the impact his choices have on the family. Mark is still angry. He cannot keep the sarcastic tone out of his voice when talking to Arian. He suggests that she could spend less time in her business if she wants things to be different. Arian is hurt but feels the need to find a way of settling Mark down. They talk about this option, and since it makes sense financially and time-wise, Arian accepts the plan. After all the children will soon be old enough to be more independent for longer times and things will change. 

Yet, when she goes to bed, she feels deflated and a bit sad.

In their next counselling session, they discover a few things they were not aware of. On the surface, the changes Arian and Mark are planning to make seem logical. Yet, they don’t create the balance they are really after. Arian is doing less of what she likes to keep the household together. And Mark does more of what stresses him to keep the money coming in. In the long run, they create more dissatisfaction on both sides. 

So, they look at the motivation behind this arrangement. They discover that the ‘old pattern’ of fear of loss drives another kind of experience the counsellor calls ‘symbiosis’. Rather than being able to let each other go through their trials and tribulations, they create a sense of ‘one-ness’ that makes them feel save in the short term. But in realty stifles each partner’s capacity for individual expression, creativity and contribution in the long run. 

Partners who live a relationship that is dictated by symbiosis define their own well-being and worth through the well-being of their partner.

The inner dialogue is something like this. ‘I am happy when you are happy’ Or ‘Your being unhappy somehow means I have done something wrong.’ And, on the other side: ‘Your behaviour makes me unhappy, therefor you need to change so I can be okay again.’ 

couple in differentiation

Naturally, to some degree, this kind of ‘looking out for each other’ is necessary in all relationships. If we would all just do how we please without considering the impact on our partners, we would not have relationships at all. Yet, when the caring ftakes on proportions that stifle the individual’s sense of self or force the partner to do things so the other is happy, we are entering dangerous territory. It can give birth to the less healthy behaviours that dominate so many relationships. Resentment and guilt compete with each other and give rise to manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviour, withdrawal and distrust. 

Arian predominantly agrees because she wants to keep the peace with Mark. Him being okay reflects on her having done the right things to ‘keep him in her life.’ This, in turn fosters Mark’s idea that somehow he is helpless and Arian can sort out the problem by changing her life. Effectively he learns nothing about the choices he makes at work or how to deal with stress in a better way. In other words, he remains non-responsible for the situation. Arian rescues him and for the moment the balance is re-established. Naturally, her resentment toward him will surface and she will find ways of regaining ground in a more covert way. This is typical for symbiotic relationships. In differentiation, the dynamic changes shape completely.

Partners who can let the other one disagree or do things differently and still feel loved, live in differentiation

Find out next week how Arian and Mark work on changing this pattern and move from symbiosis to differentiation. 

If you need help with building strong and healthy connections, book a free 45-minute check-in-session with Mattie now.