You, I and We

Stephen Covey (in: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) suggests that we move from dependence to independence to interdependence in what he calls the “Maturity Continuum”. This process can be described as moving from focus on “you”, to focus on “I”, to focus on “we”.

When we feel dependent, we focus on you, who we want to take care of us, who we want to make it better, who we blame for the results.

As we take more responsibility for ourselves, we become independent, feeling that: “I can do it”, “I can choose”, “I am self-reliant”.

We reach the level of interdependence when we grow an awareness of the “we”, where everyone participates in ways that are concerned with the development and the well-being of all people involved. In an emotionally committed relationship, it translates into both partners taking care of the relationship, in particularly sharing responsibilities for difficult times. “We are in this “pain” together and what are we doing about it?” Both making time for the “we”, initiating talks, being, doing, and creating together, builds togetherness. Each person is responsible for their own behaviour and words, but also responsible to each other and the relationship. Our own feelings of anger, guilt, shame and sadness impact on our partner and the relationship.

These 3 steps can also be seen to represent stages in our development. The child is dependent on adults, on the “you”, their care-giver. In adolescents the focus becomes more and more the “I”. Teenagers can be very self-centred. Adulthood moves us closer to the awareness of the “we”.

It is interesting to note that we can only move to interdependence when we have developed a sense of independence. Therefore all 3, “you”, “I”, and “we” are important and relate to each other.


How is this for you? If you want to find out, just take a piece of paper and draw a quick sketch of “you”, “I” and “we” in your life. What symbols do you use for them as you do it spontaneously? How do they relate to each other?

It could be interesting to do this with your partner and share your pictures with each other.


When we say “you”, “I” or “we”, we can mean different aspects.

Sometimes “we” can stand for two people enmeshed – too close to stand on their own feet. Those people are fused, there is no place for “I” and “you”, there is only a “we”, that feels very restricted and restrictive. Both lean heavily on each other, feel trapped and drained. There is little room for honesty, yet a lot of fear. This is different to the “we” of interdependence as described above.

“I” can be self-centred and stand for self-righteousness, egotism, and self-absorption. This is quite different from the relational “I” that is centred on the self, inclusive and aware of others.

Focusing on the “you” can be expressed in being overly dependent on the other’s approval and validation, or acting in irresponsible ways with the expectation of being bailed out, or blaming you for all that I am or do. On the other hand, I can also focus on “you” with an interest in you, your thinking feeling and well-being.

When we separate “you”, “I” and “we” from each other, they become all encompassing dependence, egotism and fusion. In their connection and relationship with each other, we experience a true openness for the “you” being possible by having a strong sense of our “I”. The “we” then includes and makes space for I and you.

As Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem (in: We need to talk) point out: “Mutual power lies in moving the other person and being moved by the other person.”

Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 6/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #118, June 2000

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