There are few verbal habits that can have such a negative effect on our relationships, yet we all do this all the time. It’s not a dirty word, it’s not violent, and most of us can’t imagine half our sentences without it. The price? Increased conflict, a decline in trust, and hurt. What is that lingual agent of chaos? Well, it’s “but.” Yes, the word “but.”
This tiny, one-syllable word has the power to negate perfectly good apologies, seal ears, and create a zero-sum game situation among loving couples. And the crazy thing is, it’s not even needed in most sentences.
Well, it takes practice. First, you have to slow down the pace of your reaction just to notice when it’s coming. Start by simply noticing your rate of “but”s. After a while, you might be able to notice them as they come and change course before uttering the word altogether.
So what can you use instead? The magic word is “And.” Yes, it turns out that most “buts” are better off replaced by “ands.” Instead of sending the message that you’re contradicting or dismissing the value of what you just heard, you are acknowledging its importance and adding your own perspective. This is healthy on a micro level and also reflects a deeper attitude shift in your relationship. You have the chance to convey that you and your partner both have valuable perspectives. Theirs and yours, not yours instead of theirs. Almost any “but” can be switched with an “and” or something similar like “I would also like to add that” or “at the same time”. Even simply adding a comma without any word between the two parts of the sentence can work.
Your partner suggests going back to school for another degree?” Instead of “Yes, but that would cost so much money and finances are tight right now,” try “Yes, I see how that would further your career and add to your future earning potential. And I have concerns about balancing our budget while you’re in school.”
Can’t find a way to substitute the “but”? Try rephrasing. Sometimes we’re so used to this construct we build our sentences around it for no reason.
The point is to avoid the “either you’re wrong, or I am” mentality to allow a space where our needs don’t come at the expense of one another’s. If I can express care for your hurt feelings AND stand by my actions, show a true will to accommodate your needs, AND remember my own needs - we can collaborate instead of fight each other for resources.
No buts were used for the creation of this text. It took a minute to figure out, AND it was worth it 🙂