Are You an I-Person or a We-Person in Relationships?

Recently I asked a question on Facebook about how much freedom one needed in a relationship. Not surprisingly, the viewpoints were as varied as the individuals responding. Some reported needing little to no personal freedom, while others felt that trust should be the foundation to support any of their autonomous choices. The word trust was used again and again. But what exactly is trust between two adults in a loving, committed relationship? What does it look like and how much does it weigh when measuring the solidity of a union?

I once heard a motivational speaker say that getting married was the equivalent of handing a loaded gun to your new spouse, asking them to place it on your temple, and hoping they will never pull the trigger. Although not exactly motivational for me, I completely understood what he was saying. Commingling your destiny in holy matrimony is much more than a piece of paper. It is a public commitment to love another person more than you love yourself, and society still places a respected distinction upon the institution. Marriage is the pinnacle of romantic relationships. You will never be more emotionally vulnerable with a partner than you will inside of marriage, and you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever wanted to know — both good and bad. 

Marriages fail for lots of different reasons, and those same reasons apply to the demise of dating relationships. There are some people, regardless of being married or in a committed relationship, who are always going to be “I” people. Those persons approach nearly every choice with the primary attitude of “I” — what do I need, what do I want, what do I deserve. And we all do that at times, none of us are absolutely selfless. Those with I-Person temperaments do it almost exclusively.  

Before I venture further, I want to state that I don’t think less of those who are an I-Person. They are who they are. They have gotten vilified, because they have frustrated the hell out of We personalities, and as a culture, we’ve been conditioned to consider self centeredness as an undesirable trait. An I-Person, however, can be a lot of fun since they live in the moment for themselves and aren’t bogged down by thinking about how their choices are going to impact others. I-Persons can also be terrific employees for the same reason — they can be focused on achieving monetary goals or recognition and don’t seem to care about missing special dates and family obligations. They don’t have the emotional struggle with split loyalty, since they are typically only loyal to their own pursuits.

An I-Person will not be big on commitment or marriage, because he or she has learned that any serious commitment comes along with expectations from their partner, and they don’t like to have their freedoms curtailed in any form or fashion. In many ways, society has fed into the mindset that a couple need to be independent of one another and wholly autonomous in their decision making. It’s not uncommon to see married couples with separate bank accounts who split the bills 50/50 like roommates and who know nothing of the financial goings-on of their spouse. And in this era of email, texts, and the internet, how many couples share passcodes with one another? The world screams, “Don’t lose yourself!” in relationships and that mindset certainly supports the thinking of the I-Person. 

The We-Person engages in relationships with unit thinking. Choices made by them are typically vetted after considering how it will affect the relationship as a whole, the “unit.” They don’t have the same high need for personal freedoms, because they no longer see themselves as an individual, therefore they aren’t as fixated on their individual needs, wants, and rights. They think that what benefits the couple also benefits them as individuals, so there aren’t many power struggles to be had. They understand the one-flesh mentality at a core level and feel empowered by it instead of limited. These are the people who have a strong desire for a soulmate or marriage or a profound intimacy. 

Whether you’re an I-Person or a We-Person doesn't really matter. The important thing is knowing which one you are and which one your partner is. If you choose the opposite as your love interest, it will be painful. The We-Person will always want more than the I-Person is capable of giving and vice versa. 

I opened this narrative with questions concerning trust. What is trust, what does it look like, and what is its value to a relationship? 

The faith we put into our romantic partners is reflective of the cumulative sum of our past relationships with a weighted emphasis on the history we have with our current partner. You may have a history of cheating exes, but if your current partner has repeatedly demonstrated over years nothing but transparency, and has given you not a moment of doubt, your past won’t have such an impact. Current history means everything. Additionally, each person will have different boundaries. For instance, some couples don’t mind if one or the other goes to singles bars and drinks alone, while that type of behavior for another couple would be egregious enough to end the relationship. So, the concept of trust is highly subjective for each couple.

What I have noticed is the general way in which an I-Person will view trust versus a We-Person. First, an I-Person will typically expect to be given absolute trust. They don’t want to be questioned or to feel as if they must explain themselves. As part of their personal freedom, they don’t want to feel beholden to anyone. 

Conversely, a We-Person sees trust as an earned privilege and are more than happy to go out of their way to be transparent and to dispel any doubt held by their partner. They see doubt or secrets as a barrier to the one-flesh mentality and therefore attempt to get rid of it before it places a strain on the relationship.   

But the defining characteristic concerning how an I-Person handles trust in a relationship as opposed to a We-Person is that the I-Person will define the boundaries — they tell you what you should trust. For example, an I-Person will go wherever they want and do whatever they want with little to no regard for how their actions could impact the relationship. They will always place their personal freedoms above the stability of the couple. A We-Person is more focused on nurturing and building up the relationship and will place their personal wants below that of the couple unit.

When you see longterm, happy marriages, you can be guaranteed those are We-Persons. The “We” mentality thrives in a marriage. That type of personality is built for combining two different agendas into one that ultimately serves the couple better than each could have achieved separately. Sacrificing personal wants for the enrichment of the couple comes more naturally to a We-Person.

When I hear someone talk about their “freedom” and how they don’t want to answer to anyone, I know that is an I-Person. They are going to be better served by dating other “I” personalities who won’t push for a more substantial and intimate union. 

Trust for a couple is subjective, yes, but as a We-Person I would have a difficult time putting my faith in any man who was reckless or thoughtless when it came to my boundaries, needs, and wishes. My version of love is sacrificial, a giving of one’s self to augment the relationship. I don’t want a partner who dictates what I should trust or distrust, rather I want a man who is going to care enough to know where my emotional landmines are, then avoid trotting over them. And I would do likewise for him. Trust for me is best defined by more giving than taking. A person needs to give more sensitive consideration to their partner's needs than their own individual wants. If that happens, that's a person worthy of trust.  

It has been nearly 20 years since I heard the loaded gun analogy concerning marriage, but I’ve never forgotten. When we open ourselves up to loving another wholeheartedly, especially in marriage, it has the potential to destroy us under the worst of circumstances. If someone ever hands you that figurative gun with all their childish hope and naiveté, may you have the tenderness and compassion to never pull the trigger.