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Symbiosis: Relationship Advice from the Clownfish and the Sea Anemone

My wife and I dated for five years before we were married in 2013. That means we’ve been in a committed relationship for over 8 years, but if I were honest with myself, I can’t say that I’ve been committed to that relationship the entire time. I don’t mean I was out cheating on her, I simply mean that my version of  “commitment” was incomplete.  

To be in a committed relationship means to always put your partner above yourself. It means to love no matter what and always give your partner what they need. If each partner is concentrating on making sure the other person’s needs are being met, then everyone wins! This is similar to something in biology called a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.

Symbiosis is the interaction between two organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

There are healthy symbiotic relationships and there are unhealthy ones. Think of the relationship between a tapeworm and its host, or fleas and a dog. These are examples of parasitic symbiotic relationships. One organism benefits and the other is harmed.

A mutualistic symbiotic relationship is where both organisms in the relationship are benefiting.

This is the ideal relationship.

The clownfish and the sea anemone have this type of relationship. The clownfish helps the anemone by attracting food, keeping it clean, and providing nutrients, and the anemone helps the clownfish by providing food and protection from predators. They help each other fulfill their needs.

In human relationships, when your partner is taking care of watching out for your needs, and you for theirs, you’re able to give each other love and emotional connection.

Some people may be able to meet many of their own needs without the help of a partner but true love still has to come from somebody else and everyone needs love.

Even if you can meet most of your needs on your own, your partner may need help fulfilling theirs. But, if you are busy focusing on your own needs, then theirs may not be met. This is when you can start taking bets on when, not if, your relationship will fall apart.

The next time your relationship hits a pothole, think of symbiosis. Aim to meet your partner’s needs and they are likely to meet yours, unless your partner is a jerk. Then maybe get a clownfish.

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