The other day I was sitting at my local Starbucks and could not help but overhear a couple that was sitting near me. They seemed to be engaged in an emotional discussion and I heard the woman say to the man, “I love you, but you act like a child”. Watching the couple and listening to her say what she said got me to thinking about those four words: “I love you but”. What is it with these four words that can be so destructive to a relationship? I was curious to know what the man actually heard her say!

Honestly, even I, as a clinically trained couple’s counselor, have been guilty of using those four words: “ I love you, but!” “I love you, but clean up after yourself.” “I love you, but, you are driving me up the wall”. You get the idea. All the time, in doing so, I never even thought for a moment to stop and think what these four words actually mean. What is it that we are actually communicating to the other person when we start a sentence like that?


I can only imagine that this man in the Starbucks only heard the second part of the sentence. Basically, “ I would love you if you would do something that I want you to do.” “I would love you if you would only stop acting like a child.”  By the reaction I saw that this man give to the woman I could only assume that he was not too happy when he heard those four words. It is almost as if these four words are used to soften the blow. Throwing in an “I love you!” followed by a “but” almost seems to be communicating everything except, “I love you.” Adding the “but” rips apart the context of the sentence and the “ I love you” gets thrown down the relationship rabbit hole. “I love you,” is one of the most beautiful and meaningful things that we can say to someone. However, when used in this context it becomes one of the most trivial and meaningless.



I think that it is necessary to be able to communicate our feelings to our loved one in such a way that it can be heard that our emotional safety can be present. Just changing one word in these four words could make all of the difference in the way that it is heard. For example, “ I love you, AND you are driving me crazy.” or “ I love you AND you are acting like a child.” By just changing the “but” to an “and” it sends the message that the behaviors are no longer the exception to the love we have for that person. You can love the person and still be disturbed by their behaviors at the same time. Furthermore, the person that is hearing it this way may no longer perceive that there are stipulations to the other person loving them.


So, give it a try. The next time that you find yourself saying, “I love you, but…” to your significant other, really try to make a conscientious effort to change the “but” to an “and”. You may find that there is more emotional safety in your relationship in doing so. Furthermore, you and your partner will most likely begin to communicate better and your relationship will benefit from it.

I encourage my clients to get into the habit of practicing healthy communication skills. If you, or you and your significant, other are wanting to learn how to communicate more effectively please feel free to contact me or schedule an appointment with me today.