tree roots intertwined with moss and grass growing around, showing the benefits of differing relationships - as shown in nature

The Benefits of Different Types of Relationships

2020 has got me thinking about relationships: how they come in all different shapes and sizes, how they can make you feel, and how they can be pretty fragile if they depend on your external circumstances. Regardless of what form it takes, there are benefits to different types of relationships. That, I know for sure. Simultaneously, I often think of how plants create a whole array of relationships differently from humans, relationships that carry out other functions. I also know that for sure! ☺️

Being consciously aware of the various types of relationships you have helps you better value their purpose, even if their purpose seems negative at first. It also leads you to more easily build mutually-beneficial relationships as much as possible, while strategically creating other types of relationships temporarily, as needed.

Different Relationships that Exist In Certain Environments, But Not in Others

Have you ever had a relationship with a coworker that’s incredibly close when you’re in the same environment on a daily basis? You share every intimate detail of your life in the safety of the work environment or you bond over a shared annoyance at work, but once you leave that environment, you struggle to find things to talk about? 

Or you might get along fabulously with a mutual friend’s friend at a dinner party. But if you were to grab a coffee without your mutual friend present, you’d find you just aren’t each other’s cup of tea? 

Sometimes the different types of relationships in our lives exist completely separately from each other. The idea of your high school friends joining you for drinks with the friends you made in your motherhood group or your partner meeting friends from art class just seems like bizarre mergings!  

Those Relationships Exist in Nature Too

Interestingly, many relationships in nature only exist for a specific time frame. They come about to achieve a common goal usually. As such, human relationships are kind of the same, only that we drag them out for sentimental value or fear of rejection. If you take a step back to look at them objectively, you’ll realize that in many cases the relationship should have only lasted until you both received what you needed from the union. Parting ways doesn’t have to be a bad thing! 

In the natural world of humans, even short term relationships can have important benefits. We look to relationships to: 

  • Help ourselves and others on their path. 
  • Bring teams together to accomplish goals.
  • Establish close connections that nourish growth.
  • Create systems that support positive change.
  • Inspire others.

Studying the different types of relationships that exist in the natural world makes you think about your relationships differently. The focus is more on function and goals, which gives space for new values to emerge. Values that live in the short-term, yet whose impact are felt in the long term. This shifts your perspective so you see benefits you may not have considered before.

Consider the Benefit of That Particular Relationship

Every relationship you have will in some way impact you, so having different types can greatly benefit you if you consider their use and behave consciously within them.  

Kin are an incredible source of inspiration in how to approach relationships with logic, connection, and with the intent of giving and receiving for the overall benefit of the ecosystem. An example that I love of this is how plants create a droplet filled with nutrients to increase the abundance of beneficial insects—parasitic wasps and predators—that protect plants from pests. How’s that for an example of how plants create abundant, thriving ecosystems?! 

The most common symbiotic relationships found within the plant kingdom include:

  • Mutualism – mutually beneficial
  • Competition – mutual harm
  • Commensalism – one benefits, the other is neutral
  • Parasitism – one benefits, the other is harmed
  • Predation – where one feeds on the other
  • Coexistence – where two species exist in harmony with each other in the same environment, but don’t require the same resources from that environment, so they can let each other do their thing without competition, neither harming nor benefiting each other.

The plant kingdom doesn’t just teach logical models of relationship development. By their very nature, these unions push humans to a new level emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Those who evolve, thrive. Those who don’t, become fossils. 

A Beneficial Relationship You Didn’t Know You Had

You have a relationship with plants, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. Food, clothing, shelter, medicine… human health, and wellness is completely dependent on the plant kingdom. Luckily, plants don’t mind being a provider of so many things to the human world because they recognize the importance of relationships. By acknowledging and accepting different types of relationships and adapting to and working with any environmental situation, they are eventually about to flourish and thrive no matter where they are. 

If you’ve been a part of this community for a while, you will have heard me talk all the time about mutually-beneficial relationships. These are by far the most sought-after relationships since they are win-win for all parties involved. For example, did you know that cacti in the desert have a special relationship with the ant colonies that live under them? In the hottest months, ants get sugary water from the tubercle structure of the cactus—a necessity if they are to survive. In return, these ant allies will defend the cactus tooth and nail from encroaching insects and animals. Plus, their underground colonies aerate the sand underneath and provide nourishment for the cacti with their waste and the dead bodies of fallen ants.

While human emotion can result in relationships being a source of only take or only give, plants and nature are about creating mutualisms as much as possible in the long term to ensure survival and evolution. They do recognize though that, where mutually beneficial relationships are not possible, every type of relationship, in some way benefits the greater community

Reshape Your Thinking Around Those Different Relationships

We as humans have labeled some relationship types as negative and to be avoided. But if we model plant logic, they don’t have to be! Plants understand that the secret to long-term growth is in effectively managing all varieties of relationships. 

I invite you to consider your perception on some of the types of relationships. If you think of one as negative, how would a plant use it for a long-term positive gain? Could you mirror ki’s use in the human world? 

Let’s look at a couple of relationships where this might be the case! Take Parasitism… just the word sounds icky, doesn’t it?! 

We’ve all heard that a parasite is a symbiotic relationship between species where one organism—the parasite—lives on or inside another organism—the hos—-causing it some harm.

You’d think this means that all parasitic relationships are bad and should be eliminated. But that is just not the case.

You would be surprised that…

Long-term co-evolution between parasite and host can sometimes lead to a relatively stable relationship that moves into commensalism (where one benefits and the other is neutral) and even mutualism (where both benefit). Remember, the parasite wants the host to thrive, otherwise ki dies alongside the host. This is an important fact that many people forget about these relationships. The parasite does not willingly suck the host dry, even though it can keep the host from growing without limits, as would happen without the parasite.

Parasites serve an important role in an ecosystem. Kin help control dominant species, allowing for diversity, and transfer genetic material between species, serving a role in evolution. In general, kin’s presence—in moderation— is a positive indication of ecosystem health.

So think about your business or your personal life: where do you see parasitic relationships that are positive for the overall community for in the very long-term?

I’ll give you a hint: if you have children or have ever birthed a business, you’ve probably willingly created parasitic relationships where you’ve given up more time, sleep, money than you had. 😉

Predation: Another Relationship That Surprises 

Similar to parasitism, though it carries a different nuance, predation is when one organism feeds off of the other, usually animals eating animals. This includes Herbivory, which is an animal eating all or part of a plant.

When you think about it, predation is a benefit for one species, a definite harm for another. It may seem like predation is always bad because only one organism survives the encounter. However, without predation, other species would overtake the roost and become too numerous. This creates problems with resources becoming scarce or ecosystems going out of balance. 

For an example of how the lack of predation creates problems, look at the elimination of wolves in the United States. In Utah where Pando lives—one of the largest and oldest clonal colonies of trees: 80,000-year-old quaking aspen—without the wolves, deer numbers have surged. This increase means that they nibble on all the young shoots of Pando. So after 80,000 years, a system that renewed kiself continuously is dying because ki has no way of growing new trees.

Without predation, there is no balance. Predatory (or herbivory) animals never kill every member of the prey species unless the symbiotic relationship is out of balance. So while it is true that some animals or plants die with predation, the overall health of the ecosystem increases. 

Predatory relationships show us perfectly how nature has a very different perspective on life and death than humans. Nature is much more readily accepting of the cycles of life and the impact of them! Life and death cycles is an important topic that we explore in Module 2 of ReConnect with the Plant Kingdom. You can check that out here: if you’re interested in learning more about Kin’s thoughts on it! 

The Benefits of Differing Relationships & The Perks of Reconsideration

Isn’t it wonderful how a different perspective can bring you a new feeling of optimism about something? And since relationships make our worlds go around, it’s important to pause and consciously think about changing your relationship perspectives to get the most benefit out of them. 

How do you think considering the different types of relationships in a new light can change how you approach the relationships in your life?

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2 Responses


    This is really illuminating because I reflected on the scope and meaning of my relationships in an expanded sense. Some time ago I created, in a course called Self Expression and Leadership (SELP), a graphic of all the communities that I related to in one way or another; I divided them up into 12 different communities such as work community, creative community, elder community, spiritual community, and so forth. In addition to that I was in a wonderful intimate relationship with a like-minded partner.

    Given the different types of relationships in this article, I think my relationships have ranged to different types, from mutualism, to coexistence, to parasitic. I’ve never looked at my range of relationships through this frame of reference, and I’d like to do that. Another relationship that seems pertinent to me is where I’ve not had a mutual relationship between my body and mind. .Thus, I think, internally I’ve created an imbalance. This imbalance always seems to heal and rebalance when out in nature.

    1. I love that you bring up the relationship between your body and mind! For many, this is an overlooked relationship. I look forward to hearing more about how these reflections change future relationships.

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