I’ve been a wife for less than two years, but so far, I can confidently say that I’m pretty good at it. I only sometimes ask my husband to watch reality television with me, and I’m only occasionally defensive. I’ve learned to cook pork chops because he likes them (even though I don’t). I don’t complain nearly as much as I used to about my handsome husband’s snoring, and with his help, I’ve figured out how to be a better communicator so that we almost always resolve issues without arguing. At the year and a half mark, though, I decided it was time to take a step back and start thinking more specifically about what I could do on a day-to-day basis to make things even better between bae and me. I felt good about my listening, my cooking, my ability to compromise, and my openness with showing affection. There was just one little word that I felt had become problematic: but.
In the middle of a calm, but tense argument — “I love you, but I really need you to be a little more considerate of my feelings in this situation.”
In response to a scheduling snafu — “I know you really want to go to that dinner, but you already said that we could go home to visit my family that weekend.”
Making plans for a Wednesday night — “It would be really fun to go out with friends tonight, but I’m just really tired and I don’t think I would be in the best mood if we go.”
I wondered how it might change things between my husband and me if I started swapping in “and” where I would normally say “but.” It seems like an almost insignificant tweak, but (I never said I would stop writing it!) the more I thought about it, the more I realized that simply by using the word “but” in a conversation with hubs, I was putting us at odds, drawing an invisible line between us and our individual wants or needs. Those three little letters are powerful enough to create a situation of mutual exclusivity — what works for me or what works for you, what you’re doing right or what you’re doing wrong. They leave little room for gray areas, and since the vast majority of a relationship’s machinations take place well outside the black and white, I wanted to see what happened when I eliminated “but” from my marriage vocabulary.
I noticed a difference immediately, particularly in those moments when my husband and I weren’t totally on the same page. My new goal forced me to choose my words more intentionally, to be more thoughtful about the way I thought through sentences before they left my mouth in the midst of a tough conversation. This fact in itself would have been enough to convince me that eliminating “but” from discussions with my S.O. was worthwhile, but my husband’s reaction to me in high-tension moments also shifted, further validating my decision.
Almost as soon as I started using “and” instead of “but,” I found that my already calm hubs stayed cool in moments that before may have put him on the defensive. “You know I love you, but I need you to be a better listener” became “You know I love you and I just need you to listen to me a little better,” and the tone of the conversation changed entirely. Where there had once been an endless competition to be right, there was now open, rational, and (at times) apologetic discourse. My husband — who hadn’t known about my quest to drop “but” — noted that our communication had improved even further.
While I’m always hesitant to dig too far for an explanation into something that’s working so nicely, I was curious about how such a small verbal adjustment could be making such a big difference in an already healthy marriage, so I reached out to relationship coach Adam Maynard for an expert opinion. According to Maynard, using the word “but” indicates that whatever you’re about to say is more important than the other person’s position. The word “and,” on the other hand, gives both positions equal footing… which you can do even if you feel confident that you’re in the right. It’s a respect thing!
“[This change] shifts a competitive mindset where lending validity to the other person’s position can only come at the expense of your own to a collaborative one that knows it’s only by truly valuing where one another stand on a particular issue that you’ll be able to find a compromise that helps you both feel better about it,” Maynard says. “This approach benefits the relationship because it establishes the mutual respect and trust in one another that lends itself to good faith problem solving.”
Maynard’s explanation is certainly true based on my own experience, but regardless of the reasoning, I plan to do my best to stick to this but/and swap moving forward. And no matter how perfect your communication already seems to be, I would totally recommend trying it!
Are there words you try to avoid using with your significant other? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)