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“but,” the discouraging word

“I have everything I want, but I’m not happy.”

“I love you, but I am tired of living this way.”

“I’m sorry for what I said, but I didn’t mean it.”

“But” is a three-letter word that speaks volumes. It means, “Nothing I said before this word is as important as what I say after it.”

We learn to use the word “but” at an early age. Listen to any toddler, and it won’t be long before you hear them use it. “But Mom!” or “But I don’t want to!” It’s mostly used in response to something we don’t want to hear.

There’s an appropriate way to use “but” (a bit more on that later), BUT we don’t use it in the best way most of the time. In terms of parts of speech, it’s a conjunction. More importantly, it’s one used as a discouragement or dismissal of what someone else has shared. The speaker is rarely aware that’s what they’re doing. The listener, on the other hand, can feel the dismissal.

“But” can be slowly destructive to a relationship. The listener feels slighted at best and scorned at worst. Have you ever had someone interrupt you to say, “Yeah, but…”? That one word alone conveys a pretty direct message that they have already dismissed the thoughts and feelings you are still sharing.

a better alternative

Most things that precede “but” are still true. We simply diminish them by using this discouraging word. Effective communication, especially in marriage, can be narrowed down to more carefully chosen words. If you love your partner, don’t say “I love you, but…” If you care, don’t say “I care about you, but…”

Use the word “and” instead. Often, it can accomplish the exact same thing.

“I have everything I want, and I’m not happy.”

“I love you, and I am tired of living this way.”

“I’m sorry for what I said, and I didn’t mean it.”

The meaning is still the same. Both things are true, but now neither has been diminished. “I hear what you’re saying, and I want to add another thought” is a wonderful gateway into fulfilling conversation.

Put a “but reduction” plan into place. When used carefully, the word “but” will intentionally trump a negative or unhealthy thought or feeling. “The world may tell you that you’re not worth anything, but God says you are a one of a kind design, reflecting the glory of your Creator!”


Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.

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