3 Tiny, Little Words That Will RUIN Your Relationship

The are three, tiny but strong words that can kill any relationship. Be sure you know these words. Otherwise, they can sneak in and contaminate even the most potent love

1. But. The word but, at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence, deletes whatever came before. It's works like an eraser, a backspace delete key or a subtraction sign. Whatever came before gets erased, deleted and taken away. But is what people say when they are defensive. "I'd be glad to try, but…" The but deleted the information that came before it. We enjoy talking to people who listen to learn and add to what they say. But substitutes your own thoughts for others'. Therefore, train yourself to replace but with and or and, at the same time.

2. Not. The word not, even when it's hiddlen in contraction form (isn't, won't, haven't, etc), is a downer. The more nots you use, the more negative you sound. Notice the different feeling created by "I'm not going with you" versus "I'm staying home today." Which would you prefer to hear? Flip the sentence so that instead of saying what isn't you are saying what is. Flip don't likes to would like to's. Fortunately, with nots you get a second chance. If you hear yourself having said a not, especially in a statement of preferences like a don’t like or don’t want, just add the positive. 

3. You. You as the first word in a sentence is never a good idea. Any and all comments to a spouse or partner saying what I think you think, feel or could do will sound bossy or invasive. Therapists have a name for sentences that begin with the word you, or that begin "I think that you."  They call these space-invaders you-statements. I also refer to you-statements as "crossovers". That's because in these sentences, the speaker crosses the boundary between self and other.

Invading someone else's territory is provocative and it feels threatening. That's why you statements create negative energy and push people away. Instead, use I statements which are sentences that start with the word I. Sharing insights by starting sentences with I enhances feelings of closeness and intimacy between people. Ready to practice removing these needlessly provocative three-letter words?  If so, make a list of emotionally sensitive issues and then try discussing them, one by one, using your freshly cleaned-up speech. Learning how to communicate collaboratively enables folks to turn potentially sensitive conversations into delightfully productive, intimate talks. Try it!


Susan Heitler PhD is a clinicial psychologist in Denver who specializes in helping couples build lasting, loving relationships. 

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