Conflict of Interest in Partnership: More Wood for the Fire

Conflict of Interest in Partnership:
More Wood for the Fire

The spring-into-summer time period is about the transition between Wood and Fire, and the relationship between Wood and Fire. It’s a close relationship, because in this system, the Liver and the Heart Mediator are considered to be the two ends of a single meridian, called the jueyin. It is considered to be the meridian of blood and tenderness and close feelings, positive or negative. Sometimes I call it the Divorce Meridian. It’s the moment when you discover that your partner is not always your partner (Heart Mediator); they’re also your enemy, or at least your competitor (Liver). It’s the discovery of “Oh, wait a minute beloved, sometimes we have very different aims. Are you my partner, or in fact are we at cross-purposes?” It is the place where either divorce happens, or a very radical reassessment of partnership happens, such that it can include both the Heart Mediator and the Liver Meridian within it.

It’s a good jueyin exercise just to hold the question in our close committed relationships, “Are you my partner, or are you my enemy?” The healthy and realistic answer to that question is, “Yes, both. We are at odds, and we are partners.” To be vibrantly awake in relationship, we need to be true to both ends of the jueyin meridian, and not ignore one for the other. We must see the partner and the enemy. Of course, when I say enemy, I just mean someone who has an opposite agenda. This is not an evil being; it’s more like an opponent. It’s someone with whom a “win” is going to be different for you or for me; your idea of a win is not necessarily my idea of a win.

Often we have a desire not to acknowledge these natural conflicts of interest in our various partnerships. When there is no room for conflict of interest to be recognized and acknowledged within partnership, it may be considered betrayal or disloyalty to have a different idea of a win. This leads many of us to squelch the vitality of our own hopes, visions and initiatives (Liver) within partnership, because we have a belief that to be a good guy, we have to ignore all that. If there is anything we want that would not be a win for our partner, we may think we are not supposed to want that. We may think we have to sacrifice that for the partnership; otherwise it would be considered disloyalty. We may think, “If I’m committed to a partnership, I must sacrifice everything that is part of my agenda, but not your agenda.” Within that (false) sense of obligation, the Liver Meridian starts curling under into self-suppression.

For our own health and for the health of the partnership, we need to dispense with the pernicious fiction that within partnership, we are not allowed to have a separate point of view. Hey, we are partners and that’s a commitment, but we still get to have a Liver and see things differently than our partner does, and that is not betrayal of the partnership.

To turn it around, there are also many people whose idea of partnership is that only they are allowed to have an agenda or viewpoint that does not serve the partnership. Their stance is: “If we’re going to have a partnership, you’re not allowed to have a Liver Meridian. If I find out that you do, that’s called betrayal.” In this case, the partnership actually becomes a covert tool of domination.

For a partnership to be healthy, we’ve got to keep our eye on the Wood that is feeding this Fire. Every team is made up of individuals with their own agendas, and those don’t all disappear when we become a team. I actually like the word “enemy” to describe this, because it’s shocking enough to get my attention when I say it about anybody truly intimate and dear to me. “I’m keeping my eye on the way in which my lover is my enemy” is a shocking enough statement to allow me to give him some freedom, and to not be hurt or betrayed by the fact that sometimes he wants things that don’t feel like a win to me. It makes enough room for there to be, within the dance, moments when we rear our heads as pure individuals with our own agenda. Surprise, Lover!

As long as there is friendly respect for the enemy within our lover, it becomes something that we can name and dance with. If we cannot name the two ends of the jueyin meridian and give both the Liver and the Heart Mediator space in the dance, then it does feel very painful. It can feel like a knife right into the Heart Mediator, right into the most tender part of our being: “What, you do not only love what is good for both of us? What, you weren’t even thinking of me at the time?”

I am still ‘me’ within ‘we,’ as the Wood is still there within the Fire. When there’s no more Wood (no more disagreement, no more conflict, no more difference of viewpoint), soon there’s no more Fire, either. It can’t be eradicated; Fire needs Wood. There are no partnerships without committed yet distinct individuals in them. Over and over again in partnerships, the attempt to deny that there is Wood in the Fire leads to tremendous hurt feelings, disappointment, betrayals, misunderstandings, confusions and covert domination games. The moment you think conflicting viewpoint is over, the moment you think you’ve got a partnership that is one hundred percent all-for-one and one-for-all, you’ve got a temporary happy lie.

When we rescue conflict of interest from the shadow so that it is not a horrible terrible thing, it means that we have a vital and vibrant source of renewal of creativity within the partnership. We can come right out and ask, “So, what are the ways in which you think this partnership may be actually be to the detriment of your aims, agendas or desires?” When it is no longer unspoken, when we put it right out on the table, then it removes the need for covert action. It creates the possibility that neither party has to undertake sacrifice. We just need to be honest about what’s going on.

 “Okay, my partner is also my enemy—shall we dance?” Clear-sightedly – no dodge, we’re looking straight at it. No romance, no illusions. When I say no romance, I don’t mean no roses and magical times; I mean no rosy glasses. No betrayal. No, it’s more Wood for the Fire.

To learn more, join Thea at her upcoming Summer Fire Retreat Live Webinar.

To join the discussion, find us on my Perennial Medicine discussion listserv (all are welcome).

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