Is Your Marriage a Symbiotic Blob?

If you’ve never let go of the “honeymoon phase,” it may be. A surprising new book explains how to move from blobdom to autonomy and mutual respect.

Boulder, CO (January 2004)—Ah, the bliss of falling in love! Nothing compares to the early days of being with your beloved. You seem to be able to read each other’s mind; you never tire of each other’s company; you even find his or her flaws and idiosyncrasies utterly adorable. When you’re in the throes of this emotional high, it’s hard to imagine it ever coming to an end. And when it does—and it always does—you’re confused and sad. You want nothing more than to recapture that feeling . . . but according to Morrie and Arleah Shechtman, authors of the new book Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage (2004; Bull Press; ISBN: 0-923521-81-X), it’s best to come back down to earth.

According to the Shechtmans—psychotherapists who hold intensive retreats for couples committed to creating healthier marriages—this blissful state of new love is a re-creation of the symbiotic relationship we had as infants with our primary caregiver, usually our mother. When the honeymoon ends, couples often attempt to keep up some sort of reciprocal relationship wherein one partner takes responsibility for the happiness of the other. Complication and drama become a substitute for intimacy and the relationship transforms into a symbiotic blob in which closeness exists only when someone is in crisis. Is your marriage a symbiotic blob? Here are some of the telltale signs:

  1. Your partner asks, “What do you feel like doing tonight?” You reply, “I don’t know. What do you feel like doing?” Or vice versa. Each of you is so concerned with pleasing the other that you can’t seem to come up with any desires of your own. Until you hear what your partner wants, you truly don’t know what you want.
  2. You can’t make even minor decisions without consulting your partner—or your partner can’t make a decision without consulting you. Either one person makes all the decisions or else each defers to the other to such an extent that no decisions get made at all.
  3. You do all of your socializing as a couple. If you meet someone you like and your partner doesn’t like her, then you don’t pursue the friendship.
  4. One of you consistently tries to control the other. The controlling partner ridicules the other’s personal tastes and interests, and the submissive partner gives up liking whatever the controlling partner disdains. The controlling partner constantly offers unsolicited advice about matters that any grown-up can figure out for himself.
  5. One or both of you is given to irrational bouts of jealousy. You feel threatened if your partner develops a crush on a movie star, or your partner feels threatened if you become friends with a member of the opposite sex. The possibility that your partner could feel even a casual attraction to someone else strikes you as utterly catastrophic.
  6. If your partner is angry or disappointed with you, you can’t feel better until your partner feels better. If your partner seems unhappy in general, you assume it’s your fault.
  7. You are deeply dissatisfied with some important aspect of your life—what you do for a living, where you live, dreams and aspirations you’ve allowed to fall by the wayside, etc.—and blame this circumstance on your marriage. You believe your partner’s happiness depends on the sacrifice of what you yourself desire.
  8. You feel that the independent actions of your partner reflect on you. If your partner wears a striped shirt with plaid pants or tells a joke that falls flat, then you feel personally embarrassed. If your partner offends someone you know, then you feel responsible for setting things right.
  9. Even now that you are grown, you feel afraid of disappointing one or both of your parents. You allow yourself to be controlled by the displeasure of family members. Adults who have not declared independence from their families of origin tend to form symbiotic relationships with their spouses.

The Shechtmans maintain that you can keep your marriage from becoming a symbiotic blob if you accept that, eventually, the honeymoon is going to end. Don’t just accept it, they maintain; actually take the time to grieve the loss of the symbiosis you experienced during the nascent stages of your relationship. The high-maintenance honeymoon phase can lay the foundation of closeness that makes for a satisfying low-maintenance relationship later if you can manage to pry yourselves apart long enough to regain autonomy and develop mutual respect.

About the Authors:

Morrie Shechtman is a personal and corporate consultant with thirty years of experience. Morrie’s academic background includes an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization in psychotherapy. He also has his A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. He has taught at distinguished universities throughout the United States, has worked as a therapist and counselor, and now also runs a successful management consulting company, Fifth Wave Leadership.

Morrie’s first book, Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today’s High Risk Business World (1994), is widely used as a reference in corporate America. It is utilized as a textbook by a number of universities and is used by many government agencies in management development training.

Morrie’s second book, Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier is available on this website at www/morrieshechtman.com/store

Arleah Shechtman is a psychotherapist with twenty-five years of experience counseling individuals in committed relationships. Arleah’s academic background includes an associate’s degree in business mid-management, an undergraduate degree in organizational development, and an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization. She also has her A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. Her continuing education has focused on work with adolescents, work with small groups, and work with people experiencing grief and loss.

About the Book:

Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage on this website at www.morrieshechtman.com/store

For a review copy of the book or an interview with the authors, please contact Morrie Shechtman, at (406) 260-7631

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