When we think about relationships, thinking about ourselves is easy. What do I want, what kind of person will make me happy, why is my partner acting this way toward me? We spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves and about what we want, but all this thought rarely leads us to actually reflect and get to know ourselves better. We spend a lot of time with our impulses, desires, and the things that satisfy us, but we don’t often take the time to truly know ourselves. Author Colin Wright believes that we must focus beyond our desires and what makes us happy to understand who we are deep down in order to become better people for the world and better people in relationships. At the end of his book Some Thoughts About Relationships he writes,
“Your most intimate relationship is, and should always be, with yourself. Acknowledge and maintain that foundation, then reach out into the world and help others do the same. Ensure that your sense of “me” is mighty so that your sense of “we” can follow suit.”
Inward reflection helps us understand our impulses, emotions, reactions, and expectations. When these remain hidden from us, we act in ways that are guided by thoughts that we do not always understand, and our life is likely to be out of alignment as we strive forward based on ideas and pressures that impact our lives without our knowing. Getting to know these parts of ourselves helps us make better decisions and act more rationally in any situation.
Knowing who we are also means reflecting on the parts of ourselves that we try to hide from the world so that we understand not just the positive side of who we are, but also the negative side. The end of Some Thoughts About Relationships aligns with previous work from Wright. In Considerations he wrote, “Reach deep and acknowledge the dark parts of who you are, then sand smooth or sharpen those aspects of yourself, just as you would with any bad habit or misfit trait. It seldom serves us to conceal any part of ourselves, especially from ourselves.” The better we become at working through the negative parts of ourselves, the better we can empathize with others and connect with people facing the same challenges. In this way, our obstacles help us grow and help us aid others in their growth. A strong relationship with ourselves helps us better know humanity, and helps us connect with others on a more personal and meaningful level.
Self-reflection is a central theme in all of Colin Wright’s writing, and his book Some Thoughts About Relationships provides us with real life examples of how self-awareness and reflection can help us in our day to day lives. In his book, Wright describes how our relationships can be strengthened when we focus on the context around our relationships and can identify our ideas, expectations, and reactions surrounding our current relationships. Focusing on past relationships without considering context can take us away from our current relationship, and trying to live in a relationship while constantly thinking about what we will want from our relationship in the future risks damaging our current interactions with our partner. Focusing too much on either past or future relationships makes it difficult for us to engage in a meaningful way with the people in our lives right now.
In his book, he writes, “The ‘you’ of this moment should judge relationships based on who you are now and what you want today, not standards made up by someone else, standards developed by you at a very different time in your life, or standards that you think may apply to you at some point in the future. Allow your happiness to be now-centric and enjoy it.”
Wright is not encouraging us to live a wild lifestyle based purely on hedonistic desires, but rather encourages us to be present in our relationships and to be aware of what we and our partner want, expect, and enjoy. His quote is powerful because it addresses many of the hang-ups that people face in relationships when they are not honest with themselves or their partner.
Seeking a relationship to mirror that of your parents or to avoid the troubles of your parents can put a lot of pressure on you to build a relationship that fits a preconceived notion of what a happiness is, how you should act, and how your partner should act. Approaching a relationship in this way is an act of giving up control of your own relationship and self, and places unrealistic burdens and demands on both you and your partner as you try to live an idealized life meant to impress others rather than bring about growth and fulfillment for you and your significant other.
Similarly, focusing on past relationships or future expectations can be dangerous as it may lead you to try to change yourself or your partner to fit environments in which you do not actually live. Asking your partner to fit into a mold built by past relationships may be unrealistic since your relationship with your current partner is between you and them, and not you and your past self or a past individual. Asking your partner to fit your future expectations is equally challenging since you can never truly predict what you will want and need in your future life. Living outside the present forces you and your partner to constantly live in a balance where fictional ideas of relationships impact who you at the expense of what you actually feel, want, and experience.
Author Colin Wright has an interesting perspective of the efforts we make to try to change other people in his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships. For Wright, trying to change the person in our relationships is a very selfish act, limiting the growth of the other person and of ourselves, and preventing both of us from expanding who we are. He writes, “Finding someone you intend to change means you’ve decided that who they are, what they want, and how they live is inferior to who you are, what you want, and how you live.” By trying to change another person you are forcing them into a mold that you have preselected. You are not working with them to soften your own rough edges, and you are not allowing each other to grow according to independent desires, interests, and shared commitments and connections .
This selfish type of relationship is never going to be based on reality as you force another person to be an incomplete version of what you think a successful partner looks like. The other person won’t be able to fully express themselves, and you will only know a false version of them. There are parts of ourselves that we know well, parts of ourselves we don’t know well, parts of others we know well, and parts of others that we don’t know well. Assuming that you can change another person into what you want assumes that you fully understand yourself and the other person, something undoubtedly impossible.
Wright continues, “approaching relationships this way means you’re partnering with someone who you consider to be a block of raw material that you can chisel into whatever shape you prefer. You want to whittle away who they are so that they become the person you want them to be, or whom you feel you should want them to be. This typically results in negative complexes and disappointment on both ends.”
When you set out to change the other person in a relationship you are setting out to force them to be an incomplete version of themselves. Because we can never fully understand even ourselves, we can never predict and prescribe who another person should be. Development as an individual, both within and outside relationships, is filled with value judgements about relationships, about other people, about ourselves, and who we think we want to be and be with. Allowing both ourselves and the other person in our relationship to be complete human beings allows for growth, both personal and as a pair, and working together to understand this growth is the only way you can help develop another person.
One of the things we often do in life is take shortcuts to understand the world, our place in the world, and how everything relates. These heuristics allow us to develop mental models of how we think things should interact, helping us build narratives of meaning, moral frameworks, and pathways toward success. The problem thought, if we let these heuristics run amuck without constraining them through self-awareness, is that we begin to cast people, situations, and reality into buckets defined by things we have experienced in the past or seen on TV. In his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, author Colin Wright encourages us to go beyond archetypes in our relationships to understand others as full people and not as character types from TV shows or stories.
In his book he writes, “Don’t try to force a person to be someone they’re not. … Let’s start with self-archetyping. We’re given examples of people to emulate from a young age, an this generally means being presented with role models who represent a certain ideal to our parents, educators, older siblings, or someone else with influence over our growth. The result is that we grow up with a notion about the “correct” way to act, and this carries over into how we behave in the context of a relationship.”
In this passage, Wright is encouraging us to understand our selves and not force ourselves to be a character that we believe others want us to be. He is also encouraging us to allow other people to be original versions of themselves, rather than trying to force people into boxes that describe them based on other people that we know. This means that you don’t try to assign roles to yourself and your friends to see who matches who from shows like Friends or the Big Bang Theory, and it means you approach each person as if they are themselves, and not as if they are like a character from a movie or even a person from your past.
What we can do when we avoid archetypes is avoid conflicts that arise from hidden expectations of what we want ourselves or another person to be. We can be honest and open about our roles in our relationship, and build a constructive partnership or friendship based on who we truly are as people. Archetypes and shortcuts help us learn lessons about the world and build models, but they are necessarily constrained versions of reality that limit our lives when we enact them in the real world. Avoiding archetypes means that you can be the person that makes you happy, that lives life in your regular resonance, not in the image of someone else. You can allow your spouse to be the spouse that fits with their lifestyle, and makes you happy, rather than the idealized spouse from story or fiction. Driving beyond these narratives of people and roles allows us to interact with people in the world in a much more authentic manner, thought it requires that we take more time to understand those around us.
Some Thoughts About Relationships is a set of reflections from Colin Wright about how we interact with other people. Wright focuses on stoic philosophy and principles based on self-reflection, awareness, and rational consideration of the world. He merges these ideas with our relationships with other people, both romantic and collegial, and helps us understand some of the feelings, frustrations, and tendencies we experience in relationships. His views of the importance of self-reflection and awareness are evident in his belief that to have a strong relationship with another, you must know yourself and be confident in who you are as a person outside of relationships. He writes, “If you want to find fulfillment with another person, and ideal first step is to become personally, independently fulfilled.”
When I talk to my friends about relationships I often return to this idea. Being a complete person on your own is important to finding someone that you can spend time with. Believing that you are not complete on your own leaves you in a place where your own happiness is dependent on another person, and in effect what that means is that you are giving up control of your mind, the one thing we may actually have some degree of control over.
By reflecting on ourselves and learning to be happy with who we are, even if we are already in a relationship, we can strengthen ourselves to be able to better interact with those around us. Once we live in alignment with our goals and ideals, we can better build relationships into our lives.
It is a heavy burden to ask another person to be themselves and to be part of who we are, completing some part of ourselves. If we cannot define who we are on our own, then we will never be satisfied with the definitions we receive from another person. It is simply too much to ask another person to be the thing that makes us a whole person, especially if we expect them to be a whole person as well.
I like Wright’s quote because it speaks about the importance of being oneself in a relationship. He shows that the base of an authentic relationship is a mixture of togetherness, trust, and independence, which allow each person to be unique and individual. When we can live authentically in a relationship, we can put our true selves forward and trust that we will be accepted.
If we fail to build the foundation Wright describes, then it is like we are never truly in a relationship at all. If our relationship is based on expected actions and behaviors, rather than trust and respect, then we will have to always live up to a standard and expectation that may be separate from who we truly are. In a romantic relationship this could mean hiding our true feelings and always going along with the other person’s ideas, and in a business relationship this could be holding back true feelings to simply agree with anything a partner does. In both situations, rather than being open and honest, we are denying part of ourselves in an act meant to please someone else.
I can remember when I first started dating in high school, and how challenging it was for me to go on drives with my girlfriend at the time, because I was afraid of silence while in the car with her. I never truly understood why I would become so anxious during those moments, everything was fine and we were driving some place interesting, but the fact that there was no communication was somehow a challenge for me. Author Colin Wright explains the apprehension I was feeling and the importance of silence within relationships in his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships. Wright explains that silence when you are together with your significant other is not a bad thing, and he has a somewhat romantic vision of silence. He writes, “Many people find silence difficult because they assume that if they can’t keep their partner entertained or engaged at all times, something is wrong. This couldn’t be further from the truth, so long as both people understand that silence is a means of being alone together, not a communication break down.”
My high school self was a perfect example of Wright’s description of someone who found silence in a relationship difficult. I was not confident in myself, and I was afraid that I had to be constantly entertaining to impress and excite the girl I was with. Ultimately this probably led to me being more of a clown than necessary, where I could have been myself, could have been confident in the relationship, and could have been more relaxed and at ease. Reading Wright’s thoughts, and looking back at those relationships, I am able to take away lessons surrounding the importance of being able to be together and be silent, enjoying the company of the other.
Wright imagines an elderly couple, both silently engaged in their own activities, like a craft or reading. They can be happy and content together, even if they don’t expect to be constantly entertaining each other. Being present with another means that we recognize when they are around us and what they are doing, even while we are engrossed in our own activities. You may not be sharing the same interest at the same time, but it is important to be able to share the same space and moment in time without always needing to be engaged in conversation or communication. Sometimes those moments communicate more than what we express with words.