I’ve always been a “but” guy and never really knew it until recently. (And yes, I meant it to be with one “t” because I’m talking about the “but” and not the “butt.” I’ve never been a “butt” guy. Even when I was young and single, I wasn’t a “butt” guy; I was more of “hot girl” guy. I didn’t like being too specific. I was still superficial, but in a general way because it made me feel better about myself… and it gave me more options… and I needed as many as I could get.) When I was a teenager, my youth pastor told me to always watch for the “but” (again, one “t”) because that was an indication that something important was about to be said. Jesus regularly said things like “You’ve heard it said, but…” and then he’d say something important. I am not Jesus. I am not as smart as Jesus or have the ability to tick people off so much they actually kill me as Jesus… although I can still make people pretty angry. When I say “but,” it’s not in the way Jesus did; I say it in a way that ruins anything good I might have just said. For instance, “That was really good, but…” or “You’re such a good person, but…” I fortunately can’t remember saying those exact statements, but I’ve definitely heard them. See? I can’t help but say but. The buts are everywhere with me, but I’m not even meaning to… ah crap, there’s another one.
Have you ever met someone with the case of the buts? Maybe you’re like me and struggle with it yourself. It’s really terrible. The worst is when you say “but” with an apology. The problem is it’s so tempting, especially as a guy: “I’m sorry you felt (thing), but (unwanted excuse).” The “but” makes the first part that was an apology be thrown out the window. “I’m sorry you felt angry at me, but it wasn’t my fault” – apology erased. “I’m sorry you’re bleeding, but I told you not to jump off a ramp with your bike” – all sense of care is nullified and the receiver is left feeling annoyed to angry. The “but” destroys any sense of kindness as it makes the apology a justification for the bahavior rather than a display of love. It makes the sentence all about us and not the other person who wants to feel affirmed and understood. Using a “but” is actually a form of defending ourselves, which I wrote about a few weeks ago (The Four Most Important Apologizing Rules) is a very damaging action to a relationship because it makes the other person feel like they don’t matter.
The other day I screwed up and my wife called me out on it. She was really hurt and she presented it in a fair way (I’ll give her credit). The problem was I really didn’t think I did anything that bad. She wanted me to be at an appointment with her the next day that I forgot about. I was still able to go, but I’d need to bring my own car in order to leave early if it went late. In my mind, I was still going to be there, so no real problem. Of course I say there wasn’t a problem because I was fine with how it worked out, but to my wife there was a problem because she was hurt. When I was in the shower, she came in the bathroom and reiterated her hurt, and then left. She handled it quite well. She spoke to me in a very concise way that helped get her point across. The only thing she didn’t do was say the proper “I feel (blank) because (blank)” like I taught in the blog I mentioned earlier (I highly recommend reading it). She didn’t follow it, however, because she didn’t read it – I know! She doesn’t read my posts! She’s missing out on my brilliance. Apparently living with me she has to listen to me enough… which I guess is fair. Even though she didn’t have the “I feel” statement, in my annoyed state – I hate being told I’m wrong, especially when I was – in my head I made one for her and then after my shower I went and I apologized… and yes, it was a real apology without a but: “I’m sorry I didn’t remember the appointment tomorrow because that would have made you feel like you weren’t a priority and that I didn’t care about you.” When I said this I heard an audible “ah” from her because in that moment I validated her feelings and helped her feel understood and loved (yea me). Now, if I just said I gave her the apology I could sound like a really great husband, but (yes, here’s the but moment) I wasn’t happy about it; I was seriously unhappy about it. I said those words while half out of the bedroom about to leave and I almost choked saying them (I’m not that good a person) and just as I got to the end of my apology where I wanted to say “but,” I quickly left the room and went down the stairs where I then said very quietly “… but you made a big deal out of nothing and you do this to me all the time!” Just like my wife went “ah” because she felt better when I apologized, after I whispered this to myself, I went “ah” because I felt better. I did not want to apologize and like a kid forcing vegetables down his throat, I did it, but then I needed a moment for me. I had to leave the room because I knew I’d explode if I didn’t finish my sentence with my “but” statement – my terrible “but” statement that would’ve been unfair for my wife to hear. Fortunately, I can be honest because she won’t read this (the one benefit of her not reading my posts).
This experience points out five very important things:
- A good apology acknowledges why the other person was hurt.
- The apologizer doesn’t want to feel like a screw up and will desperately want to say “but” in order to justify their action, but this is never wanted by the other person.
- Sometimes we just need to say something to feel better and this is often best said by ourselves. Too many fights are exacerbated by people not recognizing that the thing we really want to say can feel just as good being said alone away from the person it can hurt.
- By saying my “but” statement, I was kind to me. By not saying my “but” statement to my wife, I was kind to her. Saying it alone was incredibly difficult to do at the time, but it was worth it because by being kind to my wife, it was easier for her to be kind to me.
- By not saying the “but” statement to the person I can feel proud of myself, and later when I’m out of the moment, I can realize what I wanted to say wasn’t that important after all even though at the time it felt like the most important thing in the world.
This week may you watch out for the “but.”
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)