I love you, but.

The idea of “I love you, but” was one of the first concepts I learned in my Marital and Relationship courses. I remember being blown away by how a simple change in the language I used could make such a big difference in how I communicated. The idea of “I love you, but” is that you are qualifying your love with the “but” statement, but love should come free, endless, and open. You should not tell your partner that your love for them comes with an appendix.

The difference can be seen here:

1. I love you but I can’t tolerate it when you don’t look at me when I’m talking to you.

2. I find it really difficult when we don’t make eye contact, I love you and I would feel like we were really connecting if we made that change.

You can even have a conversation about making change within your relationship without including “I love you” in the statement at all.

3. I’ve been having a really hard time talking with you lately because I feel like we’re having problems giving one another our full attention. Have you noticed this too?

One could argue that adding the but adds extra oomph, a little extra something that encourages their partner to make a change. I would argue that saying but introduces blame into the conversation. It’s as though Partner A knows that Partner B is aggravated by that behavior but does it anyways out of spite or lack of caring. If you’re really interested in seeing a positive change in your relationship, try to remove blame from the vocabulary, and work on finding a solution together as a partnership.

I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes people do things without understanding how their partner is going to perceive that action. If you love your partner, don’t qualify that love with a but statement. Instead, try to separate the love you feel for them and the behaviors that you want to change in order to continue having a peaceful relationship.

If you have something you want to talk to your partner about, try writing down various ways of phrasing that statement to them.

Good things to remember are:

1. Does this statement sound blaming?

2. Is my partner going to be reactive to this statement? When should I bring it up?

3. Is this a behavior that I do as well? How can I make change? How can we make change together?

4. Does this statement interpret their behaviors as meaning? Might their behaviors not have the meaning I have interpreted into it?

5. What would I like to see change? What are reasonable steps to make that change happen?

This post was inspired by One Word That Should Never Follow I Love You in the New York Times this month.

Do you think about the words you use and the phrasing you use with your partner? Has this helped prevent arguments or conflict in your relationship?

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  1. This just says it all so simply- it’s not what we say but how. I like looking at graphic design for this, in one of Chip Kidd’s books he shows the word “love” in a bunch of different fonts and it really does change your perception of the meaning.

    AHHHH!!! I love this post so hard!!!

    1. What a cool idea! Art is a great example. How even just the colors we are wearing or the environment we’re in can influence the tone of a conversation we’re going to have.

  2. I also don’t like “I love you anyway,” for much the same reason.

    If you love me, that means you love all of me, including the parts that aren’t as likeable. This doesn’t mean you never call me out on my behavior, or never encourage me to grow, but it does mean that you love me as I am right now, without needing to qualify or except parts of that.

  3. I am so glad to read this entry! Not too long ago, I wrote about a similar subject on my blog in relation to religious discussion.


    I focused on the phrase “regardless of” in my entry and didn’t provide nearly as much of a how-to as you have here. Nonetheless, it was nice to read a similar evocation of thought. You certainly handled this topic with much better style than me, and I loved reading this entry. You have definitely helped strengthen my argument. Thanks for posting.

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