My father-in-law spent over thirty five years as a circuit court judge. He noticed that some clients paid teams of lawyers only to be poorly represented. He noted in these cases that, “the lawyers are so busy arguing with each other that nobody’s arguing the case.” There was an absence of cohesiveness and the ego driven fighting rendered the team ineffective.
I’ve noticed a similar dynamic in relationships, one I call the “me” couple vs. the “we” couple. The me couple operates as two distinct people who happen to be in a relationship. This can be true of a couple who got together last week or one who’s been together for fifty years. It’s the attitude. The “me” couple are not really partners. They may love each other; they may be happy enough. But they don’t operate as effectively in love or work as the “we” couple. The “we” couples are unquestionably a team. You see it in their body language and especially in their speech. And when they have successes or problems they view it as something happening to both of them.
A University of California study showed that couples who use pronouns like “we,” “our” and “us” showed less stress and were more positive toward each other. Those found to be less satisfied in their marriages used pronouns like “me,” “I” and “you.” Happy couples often speak in a “we.” As in, “we had a nice time at the party” and ” we had a major plumbing problem at the house last week.” The idea is that unconsciously they’ve formed a sense of being a part of a team and life is happening to both of them. These couples will fight, they may even not fight nicely. They have no fewer problems than anyone else but the way they cope is better. Rather than waste energy blaming each other they see a problem as something they both need to solve. So they divide tasks, brainstorm, resolve and move forward. LIfe is better when the blame is minimized and the challenge (whatever it may be) is addressed by both people.
The “we” couples take themselves less seriously. They don’t imagine they can be perfect and are unsurprised when things don’t go swimmingly. Rather than a “here we go again, the universe hates me,” when the car is stolen, a “we” couple will quickly bemoan the fact that this happened to “us” and move on. Of course cars get stolen, it happens every day. He files the police report, she arranges a rental. They get to work on time and the flow of life continues. “Me” couples blame each other (I told you we shouldn’t have parked here. Why did you open an account in a bank here? It’s a crummy neighborhood). They storm off, they don’t resolve the issue quickly, they don’t get to work and they have more problems as the newest spiral downward commences.
Becoming a “we” couple can be as simple as starting to use the word more. Think of things that brought you together and keep you together. Is it being parents, charitable work, common hobbies, a love for sports or the environment… these things may be simple or profound. The next time your’e together talk about the “we” things in conversation. Reminisce about them. When problems come up, resist the urge to blame, take a deep breath and try to move immediately to problem solving. This movement and restraint is the work of change. It’s worthwhile to make the effort.
Also, be kind to each other and think of your significant other as a partner. Ask for their opinion and their input so that decisions begin to be made together in an atmosphere that doesn’t blame and judge. Judgement causes the team to argue and worse, the partners stop even suggesting ideas for fear that anything they say can and will be used against them. Build an atmosphere of cooperation by understanding each other and inviting your partner’s thoughts.
Finally, avoid “me” couples for a while. Be aware that other people’s expressions and attitudes can influence even the best relationships. For a while, insulate yourselves while you’re building up your “we” approach. It’s a quick turn around and a minimum of effort to put in for very worthwhile benefits. Research cited: http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/01/27/couple_we_ness/
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M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”