What do you want? How “careful” can be a trap.

By Cathy McNally

Early this morning I heard – yet again – the passionate plea from my new partner: “I want you to be with me!” … and my patience broke. “What more do you want?!” I threw back at him in grumpy despair.

The silence between us was deafening.

In the stillness, I reached out again and asked “Really, please tell me what you want – specifically.” And as he did, kindly and clearly, a light began to dawn on the gap in our understanding.

It turns out that for him “be with” includes sharing about what is in my heart, my worries, joys, wonderings and more.  For me, “be with” has been a term long used with my late husband, friends and colleagues to be rather more still, quiet, and be in each other’s company … not necessarily speaking at all.

For those of you who know me, you will be aware that I can be a chatty soul, so this request to “be with” him was a definite project for me! I had been focusing on breathing and deeply listening. Scanning my own body and noticing sensations, feelings and emotions of possible resonance. Listening and leaving space for ‘the other,’ not rushing in with questions … even when I was interested or curious. 

Discovering how much he had been missing me while I had been working to hang in and give space was a shock. In my view, I had been working hard at offering LOTS of “be with” into our relationship. How could I not have understood the meaning of his “be with” until now?

In thinking it through, what stood out most was my awareness of my ‘careful-ness.’ This relationship is new. We are having lots of fun and adventures. Why spoil a good thing by being impatient, right? Wrong! Risking upset by showing my feelings and frustration was SO helpful. Until that happened, our misunderstanding was not clear. It did not take long to clarify our different take on the words “be with”… and we were astonished about how long we had been missing each other.

Interestingly I had a similar ‘difference’ with my late husband Ernie. It was about the word “sad.” After two years of living together—we discovered that our meanings for the word sad were ENTIRELY different. And, yet again, this only showed up when I got frustrated and blurted out “What is with the happy face and voice when you talk about being sad?!” With this out on the table we had a fascinating conversation. His feelings when he was sad were “watery, velvety, warm” and he loved to play great ‘sad’ music and fully experience all these rich feelings. For me, my ‘sad’ is “heavy, dark, barren, bleak.” I don’t enjoy it. Huge difference. Significant misunderstanding. Two years!

The thing that strikes me most is that it took the risk to share my frustration before these discoveries could happen. I needed to not be ‘careful;’ I needed to choose possible upset, or conflict and show up – speak what was true for me.

Writing this reminds me of 26 years ago when my then young son commented: “You know, Mummy, we don’t learn when we stay in our comfort zone!”

How wise!

So, my new commitment is to regularly step out of my comfort zone and risk saying the uncomfortable thing. I have every confidence I will learn lots … and feel very alive.

With loving






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