Field Notes


February 29, 2024 - 0 Comments

Field Note

March 1, 2024

War & Relationship


“Well, what makes you go to war?” asked Pierre.

“What makes me?

I don’t know.

I have to.”

―Leon Tolstoy in ‘‘War and Peace’’.


“War is what happens when language fails.”
― Margaret Atwood


There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn’t.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, that’s right, get in it,
why don’t you come on back to the war, it’s just beginning.

―From There Is a War by Leonard Cohen


Audio of Field Note


Dr. Arnold Mindell (, whose work I have referenced previously in my Field Notes, suggested that World War III was already in process: “The war between the sexes!” While Mindell had in mind two sexes, Male and Female, I will, in keeping with today’s cultural context, extend the plurality to more than the two binary categories: to all gender categories. (However, in this Field Note, I won’t address couples’ relationship that goes beyond two-person couples.) Back to Mindell’s point: Many of us already know from personal experience and from observation of our friends and colleagues, why Mindell would pair war and couples’ relational ruptures. When conflict happens, it can get intense, possibly ugly, individually and relationally detrimental, and very challenging and even harmful to others who are within close proximity. So, what can we say about conflict in relationship?


Conflict in couples’ relationships is practically inevitable, although the degree and complexity certainly differs with context, environment, and each couple. Conflict signals disagreement, not seeing “eye-to-eye,” intolerance for differences, and active involvement in the othering of each other. When faced with differences and disagreement (D&D), partners who end up moving into an active process of conflict are unable to tolerate such D&D’s and, furthermore, do not see ways to work through them respectfully, constructively, and amicably. What then is the implication of these ‘blind spots?’


In saying the above, I am suggesting that partners who know that D&D make up our everyday relationships, including—and especially—couples’, and that D&D that can be knowledgeably and skillfully handled and would—hopefully—be less likely to end up in a dead-end, intense, and unmitigated conflict. Such couples would anticipate the challenges they would face at the outset and, in doing so, they would want to learn and seek ways to handle D&D. However as we all know these patterns within ourselves and within the relational context are firmly entrenched and repetitive.


Lacking such anticipation, willingness to learn, and the requisite awareness to begin with, couples in conflict are liable to have the idea that their experience of conflict in relationship makes their relationship unusual and unusually bad. Accompanying such idea might be a whole host of further thoughts like performing a lobotomy of either self or partner, separation, or even divorce.


I suggest to you that acknowledging that a form of war, however strong, limited, or mild, and along with coming to a more or less full realization of these factors can be the beginning of wisdom in couples’ relationships. Moreover, squarely acknowledging that both parties play a part in this war would enhance the possibility of taking another decisively important step along this path of wisdom.


If you find yourself in a ‘moment’ of relational conflict, it is almost certainly the case you have played a part either actively, passively, or some of both. People tend to use the lines that many children and politicians use, while pointing their finger at the other person: “You started it” or “You are to blame.” Blaming easily translates into, “It’s not my fault.” Saying that the other person started it or is to blame typically translates into “I am the victim here!” It may be true that you didn’t start this round of conflict, but to believe that you are the victim implies that you did not have any choice in how you reacted to your partner’s sour or sore behaviour. Indeed, it is also true that, at that moment of your inflamed reaction that matched your partner’s ill-behaviour, you didn’t feel that you had any choice but to react the way you did. For, if you did have choice, you could and would have responded differently. To know that there is room for taking responsibility for one’s reactivity and that one could have responded differently, is a significant step on the path of relational wisdom.


So many of us do not take these further steps, and we end up cementing the logic of “I am the victim” into adopting a victimhood identity. It is one thing to be a victim and another, to wear the self-identity of ‘victim,’ whereby one believes that they are persecuted. You may rightly be a victim of a contingent circumstance (like walking down the street, and bird poop falls on you), but to cement your victim position into victim identity seriously limits your option to recover, learn, and grow from contingently victimizing situations. In your relationship, if you are ensconced in victimhood, your relationship will suffer from this identity structure. I will add a caveat here, namely that people in such situations as being incarcerated in death camps, being subject to torture, being held hostage, and so on might very fairly be described as victimized.


A majorly helpful way to look at the victim-persecutor relationship in torturous relational moments and dynamics is to work on seeing the whole, and asking, not only, “What is my part in this?” but also, “What is my partner reacting to?” Conflict in a relationship means that both parties are reacting. This further means that they have not learned the ways to contain and work with their reactivity: that is, they have not learned to take responsibility for themselves, let alone for each other.



Going further, seeing the whole means that the initiation of any war-like moment invariably started long before the identified incident. Here are some possibilities for your reflection:

You and your partner are the current endpoint of the entire history of human existence, and for that matter of the existence of the cosmos, which for humans on earth is filled with the use of war as a resolution method for differences and disagreements. You and your partner live within a binarism driven culture that solves many serious problems with justice that is built to be black and white: for example, you are either in the ‘right’ or in the ‘wrong.’ Here are some more examples of binary thinking; good vs bad, moral vs immoral, correct vs incorrect, hard vs soft, hot vs cold, win vs lose, love vs hate, friend vs enemy, winner vs loser, victim vs persecutor, and so on.  Indeed, the list could go on indefinitely: as a mode of thinking and seeing, binarism is deeply imbedded in our culture and consciousness.


When we think and see in binaries, we tend to immediately and unconsciously pit one side of the binary against the other. This can happen even within oneself: pitting one part of yourself against another part. Polarization takes place and contributes to a felt sense of isolation, despair, fear and loneliness. The problem here is not that people believe in the views and values that come in binaries, but the fact that these views and values are polarized, pitting one side of believers and valuers against the other side. Thus polarized, participants walk into the battle zone, as if there is no other way, and no return from here.

Let’s pause for a moment and recall a conflict with another person. Aside from the detail, look for the pattern and systemic interconnection between the people, the habitual repetition of this pattern in your life, and perhaps look carefully for and at the interconnection between the very powerful cultural, historical, prevailing religious contexts, and your personal history. These types of influences, particularly those that are big, unquestionable, and so prevailing that they are as out of sight as the very air we breathe. Binarism is certainly a culturally embedded paradigm. ‘Seeing’ and recognizing these influences and beginning to make sense of them in terms of your development and how you have come to be as you are, is a most significant endeavour in the service of your growth, individually and relationally.


Perhaps not surprisingly, it is most challenging to change the way we think and see, especially in our relational context. To change means to give up, in a non-trivial way, one’s sense of identity. If my partner with whom I am in conflict is “right,” then I am “wrong,” which then likely challenges my own sense of self, self-worth, and even existence. This is why relationship conflict is a war: a battle between the egoic structures that have formed from earliest days and continued to form and reify even up to the present. I must defend myself in a conflict since, if I lose, then I am done, lost, gone! Consequently, it seems I must not give up myself, which means that as each moment of rupture arises I must give up and simultaneously hold tightly to my felt sense of who I am.


I certainly cannot say that after all these years and decades of self-work and professional practice, I have become completely fluid with the arising of this complex of experiences within and that I am now at a place of welcoming these experiences as if an old and challenging friend has arrived and is merely showing up for a visit. I can say that I am a little more liberated now than I used to be and that I have certainly learned a lot about not always being subject to a knee-jerk of reactivity to further inflame the situation for both me and my life-partner. And on those occasions, when I am not successful in calming my reactivity, I still have the possibility of succeeding in not digging the hole deeper and deeper.

Seeing our own relational experiences as micro-recreations of huge forces that have predominated the history of human existence since the earliest times is a humbling experience that readily offers access to humility, patience, and perseverance. I am personally more and more welcoming the potential that relational conflicts offer me to develop a wider consciousness and an increasing expanse of peace. For, such consciousness has potential to change not only how the world is seen but how we are with our personal world and even the greater world.


My great appreciation once again to Heesoon for her input and support with this Field Note.


Shalom to you all,



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