- A horizontal relationship is one in which two or more parties have equal power and responsibility.
- A vertical relationship is one in which one party has more power and control over the other party.
- The partnership is more fluid when both parties feel equally invested.
“Love is a positive, symbiotic, reciprocal flow between two or more entities.” –Inga Muscio
What would a symbiotic human relationship look like? How can we achieve this level of intelligent connection? Is it even possible? Nature creates symbiotic relationships at every level between dissimilar species. For example, the symbiotic relationship of the clownfish that supports the sea anemone with its waste and the sea anemone in return supports the clownfish with security and protection from predators. Could humans, a purported superior species, emulate and achieve a similar natural symbiosis in their relationships?
Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships
A possible starting point to a human symbiotic relationship would be the horizontal relationship. A horizontal relationship is one in which two or more parties have equal power and responsibility. This is not unlike the clownfish and the sea anemone.
When partners are in a horizontal relationship, they are considered equal in knowledge and wisdom, or at least relatively so. Equality promotes the opportunity for a more balanced contribution to the relationship. Shared responsibility allows for a greater diversity of skills in the relationship.
Even though rooted in equality, horizontal relationships can still go wrong. If the relationship is not properly maintained by its members, it can lead to bitter rivalry and competition instead of cooperation.
When partners are in a vertical relationship, one person has greater standing, whether due to power and authority or knowledge and wisdom. The vertical nature of these relationships also puts more pressure on one partner due to the increased responsibility of being in charge. Conversely, the partner without the power feels pressure to comply. These relationships are by nature hierarchical and need to be benevolent in order to function properly.
No matter the amount of freedom given, it is still clear where the greater standing lies in these relationships. Any equal partnership can become unequal as well, whenever one of its members gains power over the other.
One person being over-responsible while the other is less responsible may also add tension to the relationship. With its hierarchical nature and the inherent difference in power and authority between members, vertical relationships can easily get out of hand.
A Joint Venture
The horizontal relationship paves the way for a more cooperative connection. With more shared responsibility and equality, couples can begin to view their relationship more as a joint venture. The partnership is more fluid when both parties feel equally invested.
There is no need to lead or to follow. The relationship has the potential to evolve naturally through the contributions and input of both partners. Trust in each other’s skills and shared responsibilities are essential to any joint venture, whether it is a business partnership or a personal relationship.
The Deconditioning Process
Remember that we are conditioned from birth. To reach symbiosis in a relationship will require deconditioning. We need to decondition our subjectivity about relationships and discover facts, regardless of our feelings.
Discovering and denying one’s personal bias—our subjectivity—is another factor in limiting our conditioned, knee-jerk responses. This includes all the stereotypical conditioning of our youth, including our biased experiences with our families of origin. The symbiotic relationship has no need for judgment. There is a need for symbiotic relationships to be more objective than subjective. There is a need to pursue the facts of the relationship interaction rather than just each other’s emotional reactions.
Acceptance is the starting point even in a healthy debate. Your ability to decondition preconceived ideas and thoughts about how a relationship should look will allow new conditions to permeate and delineate your connection. You will begin to realize that symbiosis in a relationship is achievable.
“A World is not an ideology nor a scientific institution, nor is it a system of ideologies; rather, it is a structure of unconscious relations and symbiotic processes.” –William Irwin Thompson
Symbiosis at Work
The symbiotic relationship resolves several common relationship issues. The need for control in the relationship ceases when the value of shared responsibility resonates. The need for control will at times lead to aggression and even violence. Symbiosis, which decreases the need for control, lessens the potential for domestic violence.
Compatibility and affection can also be enhanced when symbiosis is achieved. Most studies reveal that the disconnection from intimacy in relationships is about distancing and being overprotective. Through acceptance and nonjudgment, couples can feel less inhibited in their intimate relationship. The fear of rejection has been minimized.
Circular arguments may also be curtailed to a large degree due to the recognition of the equality of beliefs established through enacting a horizontal relationship. There will be no need to be one-up on your partner when the vertical relationship is suppressed. Your point may not be my point but we can accept each other through our mutual respect for one another. “Being right” has been replaced with “getting it right." No one has to be wrong.
Creating a symbiotic relationship involves thinking and acting horizontally, not vertically; both parties having a mutual realization that you are now in a joint venture; working together on the deconditioning of your bias and subjectivity about relationships; and moving in the direction of all healthy relationships through acceptance and nonjudgment.
Agunbiade, W. N. (2017). The Horizontal Relationship: Maintaining healthiness and balance in all relationships with the right attitude and participation. Kindle Edition, 198 pages, December 18, 2017.