It’s only three letters but it packs a punch.
When we give our spouse a compliment or thank them and place the word “but” afterwards, chances are we diminish or downplay the positive words we just spoke. The same happens when they thank us and connect it with a complaint or concern.
Let’s take a look at some hypothetical statements a husband might make to his wife (the stepmom of his kids):
“Thanks for handling the homework issue with Sally but I didn’t like the tone you used with her.”
“Thanks for having dinner ready when I got home but Jenny (the stepdaughter) said she doesn’t feel like chicken tonight. Can you make her something else?
“I see you are really putting effort into connecting with my daughter but I don’t like the way you are bringing things to me regarding her.”
“I understand it was hurtful when my son lied to you but why can’t you just be the adult and let it go?”
“I appreciate you picking up the kids from their mom’s house but my the ex called and she doesn’t want you honking when you are in the driveway.”
Do you see the two separate thoughts separated by “but”?
What do you remember more––the sentiment before or after “but”?
The word “but” is a conjunction. It’s designed to transition to a contrast. Think about those sentences above. What would happen if we took out the “but……”?
“Thanks for handling the homework issue with Sally.”
“Thanks for having dinner ready when I got home.”
“I see you are really putting effort into connecting with my daughter.”
“I understand it was hurtful when my son lied to you.”
“I appreciate you picking up the kids.”
Can you see, feel, and hear the difference?
This last set of sentences stop after the positive. They stay focused on the good that has been observed. They are not tainted with any negativity. You feel good when you read them and/or hear them. You feel valued.
Because the word “but” contrasts, we tend to only hear the last part and it diminishes the compliment. When that happens, the speaker feels like their compliment was overlooked and that their spouse is ungrateful––leaving the speaking spouse feeling frustrated. Yet the spouse who received the contrasting compliment doesn’t truly hear the positive words because the negative feels so much louder. They feel their good deeds have been diminished and don’t often believe that the positive portion is authentic because it was minimized with the negative.
I shared some examples of what might be said to you. However, you may be guilty of using the same big “but” with your spouse. I know, I have been in the past. I’ve found that when my husband is giving me a compliment and it has a “but” in it, I mostly hear what I think he thinks I’m doing wrong. I recognize that is my choice of how I interpret his words. Ironically, when I use “but” with him, he too focuses on the later half of my sentences. So we both do it. We both don’t like it when the other one does it. I’ve gotten much better at taking that word captive and when he uses it I’m much better about not assuming the worse (prayer has helped with that).
I’m asking you to take the “Big But” challenge. For the next week, try not to use the word “but” if you are contrasting a positive with a negative. Instead, speak the positive. Stop. Pause. Wait a few hours. If you still feel you need to address something with your spouse, approach and ask if its a good time. Chances are after you thank your spouse and/or say something nice––your heart will be filled with gratitude and you’ll loose your desire to bring up what would have come after “but.”
Note, this challenge does not include you correcting your spouse if he uses the word “but”. I believe by you engaging in being mindful about the word you’ll model it for your husband and family.
This may be hard. Not buts about it. You can do it!
Are you a big user of the word “but”? Can you relate to the notion that connecting a positive with a negative often diminishes the positive portion? How does this type of language impact your marriage? Will you take the challenge?
Wrote this in response to the #LiveFree community prompt: “When your but gets in the way…” viaSuzanne Eller’s website. Check out other great posts on this topic?