Before we get it started: How often do you use the word "I" and how often the "WE"? In what context do you use the "We"?
We are all the part of different communities, connect with friends, family, colleagues. When you are dedicated to our job, instead of referring to the company as "they" , you rather choose the word: "WE". When you are emotionally involved in your family, when you feel that your friends circle is very relevant in your life: that is "We".
When we are in a relationship next to our own identity (see later as "I") and those "We"-s that we already have - ideally- we develop a new identity, that involves us and our partner. As "I" involves our own attributions and values, our own history, goals and challenges, this "WE" also has its own qualities and stories.
The "WE" identity is not something that develops after day 1 in a relationship: usually it takes time for the partners to think in plural, build up their mutual history as well as their future plans as a couple.
The partners' "WE" identity is also not a constant identity: the amount of time that you spend in the "I" and in the "WE" is changing during the relationship (not to mention the other "We"-s that we live in at work, or friends...etc.) The partners can switch between these identities approximately the same time, so they experience a lot of mutual "We" moment. There are also situations when they think in "We" and "I" not synchronously: that can lead some frustrations or tension in the relationship.
This doesn't mean that in a balanced relationship the partners have to experience "We" moments with each other all the time. It is very important to be in the "I" for both of the partners in order to relive and shape their own identities. Furthermore it is also very important to have other "We"-s in both partner's life: otherwise you can experience a mutual dependency, that you wouldn't dare to end because of the fear of being alone.
However those couples that experience frequent "We" moments simultaneously have a stronger connection and more promising future than those that struggle with finding this synchronicity.
Imagine a couple with a long distance relationship, they barely meet, and once they actually talk with each other, they both share what happened with them individually in the "I". They talk about their own challenges, work, life events.
Then imagine a couple that also have a long distance relationship, but once they talk, they are talking about the good times, when they were spending time together, or they make new plans about how they gonna see each other again: they are consciously, mutually in the "WE".
I think all of us would bet that the second couple will stay longer together than the first one.
Just as we often need to analyze the "I" in order to solve challenges, it is very beneficial to take a look at our "We" identity with our partner, even if we are satisfied with our relationship. These exercises or questions that I am offering are helping you to build a conscious "WE" in a relationship, that will contribute in a stronger connection. I recommend to do these exercises with your partner.
1, What is our "WE" identity?
The first and very important question is: how do you both see your relationship? What is "We" like? Are you an emotionally stable or a passionate, always fighting couple? Are you social together, or you barely meet anyone else except each other? Are you a couple that gives each other a lot of space, or you barely have a single moment alone? How other people may perceive your relationship?
We have plenty of personality typologies in psychology, you can choose almost any of them, and place on the scales "We" instead of "I".
Here I share the Big5 personality traits, as an example. If you find it hard to place your relationship on the factors, you can see some sample items on this Wikipedia here:
You can be creative and use the Big5 just as an inspiration: collect personality traits that matter you the most and measure your relationship from 1-5.
Extraversion - How energetic you are?
reserved 1 2 3 4 5 outgoing/energetic
(How often do you go out to party, social events? Do you like it when you as a couple are in the center of focus?)
Conscientiousness - How organized or planned are you as a couple?
disorganized/careless 1 2 3 4 5 organized/planned
(How detailed are you when you plan a trip together? Do you have a schedule for your programs together? How organized is the place you live together?)
Agreeableness - How kind-hearted are you as a couple towards others?
suspicious/antagonistic 1 2 3 4 5 compassionate
(How many times you help others together? How much empathy do you feel mutually towards others?)
Openness to experience -How adventurous are you two in the "WE"?
consistent/cautious 1 2 3 4 5 inventive/curious
(How often do you learn or experience something new together? How often do you create new things, or brainstorm together?)
Neuroticism- How stable you are emotionally as a couple?
sensitive/nervous 1 2 3 4 5 secure/confident
(How much stress do you experience together? How often do you fight or feel unsure about your relationship?
It can lead to a lot of discussion, and awareness about your relationship if you go through these questions together with your partner. You might experience the "WE" differently! It is good to find out why do you have different image about the "WE".
You can add to this exercise that each of you place the "I" on the scale as well: that is a big eye-opener about how do you effect each other's original character: what are the traits that you are on common, and what are those values that you adapt, when you step in to the "WE".
2, When are you in the "WE"?
It is also interesting to examine when are you actually in the "WE" and how often do you experience that. Are you two in the "We" when you spend quality time together, or having physical interaction? Are you in the "We" when your partner is not present?
When you talk with each other, how often do you talk about the "I" - your individual life, problems, and how often do you talk about the "WE"- the mutual interests,plans together for the future. What are the other "We"-s in both of your lives and how when do you step into those ones?
Couples that have very little amount of "WE" moments are very fragile: the partners can easily turn to two singles again. Thus if "I" started to dominate both of your lives and you are barely in the mutual "WE", you might heading to the end of the relationship.
However being too dependent on each other and being constantly in the "WE" instead of solving our individual problems can also lead to broken hearts: once (one of) the partners are seeking for self-development they might conclude that the development wouldn't be possible within the relationship.
If you feel that your sharing too less time in the "WE" with your partner, and you are willing to work on your relationship: collect those activities or situations that drive you both to a "We" moment, and do them more frequently.
If you feel that the connection between you two is strong enough, but you barely spend time with yourself: try to increase the amount of "I" moments: it can make magic with your relationship. Same goes for the situation when you both are lack of other "We"-s in your life. In this case you might stay together only because you both depend on each other. Opening up for other communities and friendships can help your relationship to find the freedom factor again.
3, What is the ideal "WE"?
A good relationship can provide a lot of "WE" moments for both of the partners as well as space for the "I"s. In this way the partners are able to develop, change when they need to and that forms the relationship as well.
The freedom of the partners offers the opportunity to change the characteristics of the relationship according to the partners' current needs. When one of you or both of you go through a transit period (couples usually do it in the same time) it is good to be aware, how will the result effect your relationship.
If you both work on your personal development, you might realize that there are some qualities of your relationship, that doesn't match with the "new you". For instance when you need to be more social, but the relationship that you have together is more reserved, it can lead to some frustration: you can only improve that skill in the "I" or in other "We"-s. The more you work on that issue the less time you will spend in the mutual "WE". Sharing your new needs with your partner can help this process: she/he might want to develop this skill with you together. This journey will form both of your identities as well as the relationship.
So when we think about the "Ideal me", we should be able to share this image with our partner. However this sharing takes a lot of courage: it can lead to a golden age of our relationship as well as the end of it.
In strong relationships the "ideal WE" is very similar for both of the partners: they face with similar life challenges, they want to develop similar skills, thus they can successfully implement changes that helps them through in their relationship as well. In this case sharing the "ideal we" just help the partners to reach their personal and mutual challenges. In fact it helps them more than if they worked on it separately. (This is what we say 1 plus 1 is more than 2.)
However being open about the "ideal We" can also catalyze a break up. This is the case when the "ideal we" is clearly different, and the partners are willing to change in not just different, but conflicting fields of life (one wants to have a more exciting, adventurous life, and the other wants to calm down and start the "family project"). I still believe that being open about the "ideal WE" is very beneficial: if the direction is the same, we can utilize our power together more efficiently. If the direction is different, we can save each other a lot of time, energy (and pain) and let each other go in time.