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You’ve been invited to dinner with some friends. You ask your sweetheart if they want to go. “OK. But I really wanted to stay home and watch a movie,” is the reply.

“Why don’t you want to go?” you ask.

“I said I would go,” your sweetheart says in that tone that tells you to back off.

You feel confused, hurt and rejected.

Your sweetheart said, “Yes.” But it feels like “no.” What happened?

You’ve been “yes-butted.” The word “yes” when followed by the word “but” is a contrarian’s delight. Tina Fey says this “yes-but” answer will destroy the energy in a comedy scene. It will also kill the connection in your marriage.

Why saying yes-but

kills connection

“But” sets up a contradiction, and because we are neurologically programed to focus on negative information, the negative message is what your sweetheart will hear. When you say, “I’d love to go to the beach, but I’m afraid of sharks.” Your sweetheart will hear, I don’t want to go to the beach.

When you say, “I love movies, but I hate the smell of theaters.” Your sweetheart will hear, We’re not having date night this week.

When you say, “I’d love to have sex, but I’m really tired.” Your sweetheart will hear, You think I’m ugly.

“But” cancels out anything before the word “yes.” Then it feels like we just lost whatever was offered with the “yes.”

If you’re given something and it’s taken away, it’s much more painful to lose than if you were never given it in the first place. Don’t believe me? Which upsets you more: holding airline tickets and having them ripped out of your hand, or never having plans to visit the beach?

We hate losing things or missing out. When you say, “Yes” you’ve given your sweetheart tickets to the beach. Then your “but” grabs those tickets away.

“But” makes a withdrawal in your relationship. If you keep withdrawing, soon you will find the account is empty or overdrawn. You’ll lose trust and alienate the person you love most.

This week notice each time you use the word “but” in a sentence after the word “yes.”

Just listening for that 3-letter word is going to change how often you use it. In this case, awareness is enough to make a big shift.

Want more on this topic? Next time we’ll raise your awareness: You’re saying yes-but more often than you think. Sign up for my FREE COURSE below to receive all 4 installments of “Affirm Lovingly” (and be sure to check out my other essays on Improving Your Marriage Communication).

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Rebecca S. Mullen
PO Box 346
Mesa, CO 81643