Self-actualization. Independence. Personal happiness. Autonomy. Just a few of the words often tossed around in today's popular culture. Here in the modernized western world, we live in a society that values and celebrates individualism and personal freedom. Have it your way. Do what makes you happy. Be independent and stand on your own two feet.
Nothing wrong with that to a point. Its pretty difficult to enter into relationships with other people when you have no idea who you really are. Family therapy pioneer Murray Bowen called it differentiation or a solid sense of self. To be truly able to be part of a "we," it is essential to be an "I." Having a solid sense of self means being clear about personal values, boundaries, preferences, and passions. Someone who is a solid self is defined by many things, including career, hobbies, beliefs, and various relationships. Their sense of identity doesn't just come from who they're romantically involved with or whether they're single or part of a couple.
When two people with solid grasps on who they truly are get together, the relationship includes an authentic person involved with another authentic person where each has distinct interests, opinions, and individual goals. Healthy relationships involve two people who are already whole and complete, but who are open to sharing their lives with a special someone who can help them be better and stronger than they would be on their own. They don't need to be "saved" or "rescued" or feel incomplete as a person, though they may feel that life would be fuller and richer if shared with a partner.
At the same time, though, there can't be so much "I" that there is no room for a "we." I see far too many couples where each person is way too focussed on selfish interests. They spend large amounts of money without talking the purchase over with their spouse, even if they know bills need to be paid or that they're supposed to be saving towards an important family purchase or vacation. They quit jobs, decide to start their own businesses, or take positions in other states without letting their spouse know they've even been thinking about a career change. They make last-minute plans and don't call to let their partner know what they're doing or call with an excuse for why they can't pick up the kids from ball practice.
People who are much more focussed on being an "I" than a "we" decide about important issues that impact the couple without taking their partner's preferences or opinions into consideration. I don't just mean they don't give their partner's view adequate weight or thought. I mean, they don't even ask or care. They make decisions based on what they personally want and demand that their individual rights be given top priority. They are lacking in ability to feel empathy or to understand where their partner is coming from if they hold a different viewpoint. They keep track of who does more and don't know much about being a team, compromising, or sacrificing. They act like children, throwing fits when they don't get what they want and unwilling to do anything that isn't convenient or fun.
What I often want to say to these people is, "No one said you had to get married and/or have kids. Get over yourself!" Close relationships are about considering another person's interests, feelings, and needs. Becoming part of a couple means it is not just about "me first" anymore. This goes double and triple when couples choose to have children. Kids have no say about who their parents are and count on the adults in their lives to make sure they have what they need emotionally and physically. Marriage and family means being concerned about, and responsive to, the needs and feelings of those we're close to. Far too many people seem to want the best of both worlds. They want to do what they want when they want how they want with whoever they want, but they also want the middle-class life with spouse and kids and white picket fence. In my experience, you can't have it both ways.
So, the key is balance. Happy couples understand that its not about "I" vs "we" as an either/or. Its a both... and... where the "I" and the "we" are important. There is a "you," a "me," and an "us." The "us" is a whole bigger than the sum of its parts, but it is each person being who they are that makes the unique relationship that is "us."