Independently Fulfilled

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.

Being the Real You in a Relationship

Sometimes it is hard to be true, honest, and authentic in a relationship. While it is natural and normal to react differently to different people with different energy, enthusiasm, and activity levels, it is not natural to constantly be adopting a new personality whenever you are around another person. Author Colin Wright focuses on this in the context of romantic relationships, but his advice can spread across any type of relationship. He describes the importance of having space, accepting silence, and developing privacy in a relationship, and about the three he writes, “In aggregate, the three concepts that make up the Space, Silence, Privacy Policy allow people in a relationship to demonstrate trust, have lives outside the partnership, and be comfortable with their partner, without feeling the need to put on a show every moment of every day.”

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.

Silence in a Relationship

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.

Space in a Relationship

How much independence one has in a relationship is something that is rarely discussed openly and honestly within a relationship, but it is an important consideration for a healthy and successful partnership. The challenge in finding the right level of independence is that it is unlikely two people will have the same need for space and the same need for intimacy. Throughout his books, author Colin Wright provides us insight into his life, and he often refers to his need for time on his own. His reflections on his time alone give him a unique insight into the importance of space in relationships.

 

In his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, Wright creates a policy for approaching independence and writes, “Having space in a relationship means that you’re able to get time alone. It means being able to tuck away somewhere and read without being distracted by someone who is, lets be honest, quite distracting for many wonderful reasons.” There is a pressure, especially in romantic relationships, to always be near your partner, and finding time together in a world that moves fast and demands much of our time for work is quite important, but Wright thinks we should also discuss the time we need to ourselves. Failing to be honest about how much independence and time we need on our own is in some way hiding ourselves from the person we care about.

 

For Wright, it is important to find the right balance of time to ones self to be able to recharge and be content with who we are. It is hard to be a fully committed and connected individual in a relationship if one does not feel confidence and fulfillment in their own self. Allowing ourselves or our partner to have the space and time that they need will allow for that confidence and individual fulfillment that each person needs to bring to a relationship.

Wins and Losses

An idea that I have come across in my own life and in several of the books I have read focuses on winning and losing, and how building consensus and compromise is the only way to move forward and truly win.  Our society focuses on always being the champion and succeeding against all odds, and in many ways this has created a society focused on binary outcomes. We seem to approach most issues in life as zero sum contests, when in reality very little is zero sum.

 

This mindset is perhaps best embodied by our current president, who views the world as an inherently zero sum competition for wealth and success, and the issues he has grasped onto the most ardently are ones that can easily be reduced and comprehended from a win/lose perspective. Immigration means that native born citizens compete for and lose jobs, and trade deficits are a clear indication of selling less than other nations and losing out in the profit game.

 

The problem however, is that almost nothing in life, especially not trade and immigration, are actually zero sum. Author Colin Wright looks at the way we often approach arguments in relationships from the simple win/lose perspective and how that view point is harmful to not just the person viewed as the loser, but also to the winner. His shift in perspective is nuanced and requires reflection and deeper thought, but understanding and beginning to view the world of relationships as more than zero sum helps us better understand other issues in society that are tempting to view as binary and black and white.

 

In his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, Wright writes, “If ever there comes an argument where one person wins and the other loses, both people have lost. A relationship is weakened if there’s ever only one winner, because you’re a team working together to build something great. A loss for one is a loss for you both.” What this quote does is shift actors in a relationship from being independent of one another to being interconnected and dependent on each other. As one loses, there are a host of negative emotions that arise and a series of opportunities or perspectives that are squandered. The winner may feel successful, but they have done nothing but limit the growth they can experience with another person.

 

Wright’s quote aligns with the views of Bob Berg whose fictional story, The Go Giver, provides a useful allegory for understanding this concept. A main character in Berg’s story says, “Forget about fifty-fifty, son.  Fifty-fifty’s a losing proposition. The only winning proposition is one hundred percent. Make your win about the other person, go after what he wants.  Forget win-win—focus on the other person’s win.” Berge helps us understand that we can become better and find success by focusing not on what we want and winning ourselves, but instead on helping other people win. In an argument, this means not seeking out our own win at the expense of others, and not even finding a place where we both compromise and land in the middle, but rather thinking about what outcome we want, and recognizing that the best outcome is one where we both better understand the other person’s point of view, our own thoughts and ideas, and how and why we think and view the world the way we do.

 

The process involves putting one’s own satisfaction in winning an argument second, in the interest of being supportive and more understanding of the other person. Finding compromise and understanding leads both people to a point where they are not split 50-50, but instead are better able to understand and communicate with each other, and both feel as though they were respected and were able to express their ideas fairly and openly.

Discussing Differences In Action

Author Colin Wright provides some useful advice for disagreements within relationships in his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships. In a section of the book, Wright focuses on our arguments and disagreements with our partners, and how we can have more constructive discussions instead of heated arguments. His advice requires some self-awareness and self-reflection in the moment, and shifts how we approach an argument.

“In practice, this means that instead of accusing or otherwise trying to put your partner on their guard, you ask them what’s going on from their perspective. Don’t interrupt, don’t offer any defense, just allow them to speak. Ask questions when they’re done, and with as little bias in your voice as possible. Request clarifying information and encourage them to provide it by delaying judgement. Speak calmly, clearly, and without talking down to them; condescension has no place in a discussion.”

Wright’s quote has a lot of practical and useful advice that is worth remembering. Many of his points are simple, but are not easy since they push against our typical reactions in any given disagreement. To follow his advice, it is important to be aware of how you are reacting in the moment, and to shift perspective, focus, and goals so that you are not trying to win an argument, but are instead trying to better understand your partner.

By not accusing the other person of some fault, we lower their defenses and allow them to be more relaxed and cognitively engaged in our discussion, as opposed to passionately entrenched against us. By asking for their perspective without interrupting we allow them to explain their thoughts, de-escalate the tension, and learn about their experience which we cannot argue against since their perspective, different from our own, determines the reality they experience. By delaying judgement and speaking honestly and openly, without bitterness or sarcasm, we show the other person that we do care about them, and we have an opportunity to share our point of view and experiences to hopefully create a constructive dialogue.

If we do not try to win an argument, and if we do not see our interactions with others as zero sum, we can have rational discussions and invite more positive conversation into our lives and relationships. It is challenging to change course and direction during an argument, and it is tempting to react emotionally and impulsively, but slowing our brain, remembering Wright’s advice, and acting rationally can be constructive for all involved.

Aliance

Speaking more specifically about romantic relationships, Author Colin Wright in his book Some Thoughts About Relationships said, “Approaching relationships as an alliance, not just as a physical and emotional bond, gives you the excuse to put aside the irrational, vengeful, and hurtful in favor of the practical. It’s an excellent way to view someone you care about as not just a romantic partner, but a partner-in-crime. A confidante.”

 

Wright approaches this idea by detailing some of the negativity and hurt that can accompany the end or breakup of a romantic relationship, and offers this viewpoint to suggest that we can view our relationships through different lenses to have different perspectives and ideas about who and what we and our partner are. Wright’s argument is that by seeing our relationships in a new light, we can change the way we react when things are not going well. Seeking novel viewpoints and ideas can help us understand ourselves and our partner in new ways, and can help us have more positive reactions during challenging and negative times.

 

He does not argue that physical and emotional bonds are not important in relationships, but embraces those ideas and includes further connections that help to safeguard us in times of friction. If we see our partner as a true ally, then we will be less likely to cause them harm, or desire to cause them harm, during a break-up or challenging time. Thinking of our partner in new ways and thinking of our relationship to our partner in ways that help up build positive connections can give us new ways of being with them. The alliance viewpoint helps us see that we are not competing against them, but rather building who we are together and advancing for a shared cause and purpose. We can become less deceitful of the other, building trust between us both, and we can grow more fully as a couple.