'I love you, but I am really mad about this right now.' 'I really want to contribute to this project, but I have to leave by 7:00.'
These phrases are fairly common, at least in my life. And since I have become a student of holy conversation, or how to meet conflict as an opportunity for transformation, I have learned how tricky they can potentially be, and all because of one little word.
'But' may seem like an innocuous conjunction, but (emphasis intended!) it can have outsized consequences for all kinds of relationships. I have learned from various teachers of non-violent communication, as holy conversation is sometimes called, that replacing our 'buts' with 'ands' is an amazingly simple way to strengthen our relationships while negotiating our feelings and opinions. That's because 'but' tends to negate the things that came before it, while 'and' continues the thought.
So if you say, 'I love you, but...' the other person may well be expecting to hear all the ways you don't really love them. If you say, 'I love you, and...', however, they are much more likely to hear whatever you say next as positive and supportive. Think about how different 'I really want to contribute to this project, AND I have to leave by 7:00' sounds than the way it first appears above. The speaker seems much more willing to contribute than when they deflect their intention with 'but'.
And it is not completely about how the statement is heard. I have found that when I say, 'I love you, and...', I am also reminded how much the end of that sentence is directly connected to the sentiment it started with, so I am much more careful, and loving, about what I say after it. It has become a concerted practice for me to insert 'and' into as many sentences as I can, replacing the 'but' that I might be tempted to use.
It is a bit of a joke between my husband and myself, in fact. I will say, 'that shirt looks really nice on you' and he will smile and say, 'aaaaannnd...', waiting for my possible suggestion of improvement! Even then, it is helping our relationship grow closer.
I even noticed that in the Gospel story we read in church two weeks ago, Mark's account of the man who approached Jesus asking about the key to eternal life, this exact strategy is used. The man assures Jesus that he has diligently followed the Law, and then the text says, 'Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.'
If the Gospel writer had said, 'Jesus loved him but said...' it might have had a whole different meaning. Jesus' love, this implies, is not at all contingent on whether or not the man gives away his many possessions.
And that is what we all long to know, isn't it? That nothing negates Gods love for us, or ours for each other. No 'buts' about it.