Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 16, 2011

There Is No “I” In “Team”


Self-actualization.  Independence.  Personal happiness.   Autonomy. Just a few of the words  often  tossed around in  today’s popular culture.  Here in  the modernized western  world, we live in a  society that values and celebrates individualism and  personal freedom.  Have it your way.  Do what makes you happy.  Be independent and stand on your own two feet.          


Nothing wrong with that to a point. Its pretty difficult to enter into relationships with other people   when you have no idea who you  really are.  Family  therapy pioneer Murray Bowen called it  differentiation or a solid sense of self.  To be truly able to  be part of a “we,” it is essential to  be an “I.” Having a solid sense of self means being clear about   personal values, boundaries, preferences, and  passions. Someone who is a solid self is defined by  many things, including  career, hobbies, beliefs,  and  various relationships.  Their sense of identity doesn’t just come from  who they’re romantically involved with or whether they’re single or  part of a couple.    


When two people with  solid grasps on who they truly are get together, the relationship includes an authentic   person involved with another authentic person where each has  distinct interests, opinions,  and individual goals. Healthy relationships  involve two  people who are  already whole and complete, but who are open to sharing their lives with  a special someone who can help them be  better and stronger than they would be on their own. They don’t need to be “saved” or “rescued” or  feel incomplete as a person, though they  may feel that life would be fuller and richer if shared with   a partner.


At the same time, though, there can’t be so much “I” that there is no room for a “we.” I  see far too many couples where each person is way too focussed on selfish interests.  They spend  large amounts of money without  talking the purchase over with their spouse, even if they know bills need to be paid or that they’re supposed to be saving towards an  important family purchase or  vacation.  They quit jobs, decide to  start their own businesses, or take positions in  other states  without  letting their spouse know they’ve even been thinking about a career change. They make last-minute plans and don’t call to  let their partner know what they’re doing or  call with an excuse for why they can’t pick up the kids from ball practice. 


People who are  much more focussed on being an “I” than a “we”   decide about important issues that impact the couple without taking their partner’s  preferences or opinions into consideration. I don’t just mean they don’t  give their partner’s view adequate weight or thought. I mean, they don’t even ask or care.  They make decisions based on what they personally want and demand that their individual  rights be  given  top priority. They   are lacking in ability to  feel empathy or to  understand where their partner is coming from if they hold a different viewpoint. They keep track of who does more and   don’t know much about  being a team, compromising,  or sacrificing. They act like children, throwing fits when they don’t get what they want and  unwilling to do anything that isn’t  convenient or fun.          


What I often want to say to these people is, “No one said you had to get married and/or have kids. Get over yourself!” Close relationships are about  considering another  person’s interests, feelings, and needs.  Becoming part of a couple means it is not just about “me first” anymore.  This goes double and triple when  couples choose to have children. Kids have no say about who their parents are and count on the adults in their lives to  make sure they have what they need  emotionally and physically.   Marriage and family means  being concerned about, and responsive to, the    needs and feelings of those we’re close to.  Far too many people seem to want the best of both worlds.  They want to   do  what they want when they want how they want with whoever they want, but they also want the middle-class life with spouse and kids and white picket fence. In my experience,  you  can’t have it both ways.     


So, the key is balance.  Happy couples understand that its not about “I” vs “we” as an either/or. Its a both… and… where the “I” and the “we” are important. There is a “you,” a “me,” and an “us.”  The “us” is a whole bigger than the sum of its parts, but   it is each person being who they are that makes the unique  relationship that is “us.”


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