How often have we heard the words: “I love you, but…”? It often ends with something along the lines of “you drive me crazy”, or “you can’t do this”, “that’s the worst idea you’ve ever had”, or “you need to stop.” It’s always negative, and it’s always directed right at us.

This is why there is nothing more demoralizing than hearing, “I love you, but…”. We always hear whatever follows that “but” as a cancellation of the “I love you” portion of the sentence. It’s as if whatever the person is complaining about is separate from their love for us, or is a threat to it. It is a way of using one’s love as leverage against a significant other’s behavior. The worst part is that we use it every day.

Focus Becomes Direction

Using “but” is a decision so small that it could be written off as inconsequential. It’s hard to wrap our minds around at first. The interesting thing, however, is that life’s designed on small things generating massive outcomes.

Ponder it for a moment. When we start thinking about something that we would like to do, the idea often sticks with us. It may bounce around in our heads for a few days, but eventually it will bounce right out of our mouths. The more that we talk to people about an idea, the more attached to it we become. Ultimately, we implement whatever idea we originally had into reality. Our thoughts become our words, which in turn become our actions.

Another way of looking at this is through some advice I received recently. One of my neighbors loves to go mountain biking. One of the hazards of the extreme sport is colliding with obstacles and flipping over the handlebars. While it’s usually easy to avoid them, certain things are not always visible. Sharp turns around blind bends can reveal surprise boulders or felled trees in the road. There’s only a few seconds to try not to hit them. My neighbor told me that when this happens, there’s a trick to avoid the collision. It’s simple, really: don’t focus on the obstacle.

If the biker focuses on the rock or tree, they are guaranteed to hit it. The reason is because we instinctually move towards where we’re looking. Our focus becomes our direction – it’s impossible to arrive anywhere other than where we’re concentrating. The same holds true for our words.

A Crucial Connector

When we say “I love you, but…”, we are focusing on the person’s offending behavior, not on our love for them. Over time, that focus is going to cause us to hit a wall where we cannot see past their faults. Relationships between friends, family members, and lovers fall apart as all they focus on is how the other drives them crazy. They may even begin to wonder what they saw in their beloved in the first place. There is a way to fix this issue, however: just shift the focus back to love.

The first step is to change “but” to “and”.

“I love you, and…”.

This one little conjunction switch does two major things.

First, it shifts the focus back to love. The word “and” doesn’t have the same colloquial association as “but”, so it doesn’t immediately invalidate whatever comes before it.

Second, “and” embraces the person’s behavior within the sphere of our love. This removes the feeling that our love is threatened by their behavior, or that we’re holding our love as leverage. Instead, it sends the message of: “I love you, even the part of you that acts like this. It’s the behavior that we need to discuss, not you.”

“I Love You And…!

“And” is a simple, three-letter word that is needed more now than ever before. Our world runs rampant with comparison and judgment, often resulting in bitter, pained feelings. Scrolling through social media alone is enough to make us feel as though we don’t measure up – we don’t need to hear it confirmed from those whom we love.

By changing complaints to productive communication, we are able to help strengthen ties rather than wear them down. We can have deeper, more supportive relationships from the power of inclusion: “I love you, and…”

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