Watch Your Words: "Yes…but"–BLOG

“I love this spaghetti, but the pasta is a bit mushy.”

You were trying to give a compliment…saying something nice. You were trying to connect through kind words. Unfortunately, with your phrasing, all your partner heard was “…the pasta is a bit mushy.” For all your good intentions, he/she is angry and hurt and threatening to have you do all the cooking!

Couples often get into conflicts due to word-choice. The “Yes… but” is a common source of disconnection.  

How does it work?

You say something neutral or positive; you are trying to be kind, to connect. Then, in the same breath/phrase you tack on a short “but….” and a mild critique or negative statement.

You are trying to be honest and be balanced in your feedback. Unfortunately, your partner will generally lose sight of the first part of the phrase and focus on the negative aspect almost entirely.

There are some psychological reasons we focus on the negative. (I will explain this in a later post). Your partner isn’t necessarily being ‘negative’ nor needing to see a therapist due to low self esteem. Your partner is just being human.

It IS possible that both statements are true, though. Possibly the spaghetti is good and the pasta is mushy.

So the question is, can you give the constructive (or honest) feedback without negating the first part?


This article and activity below are designed to give you tools and strategies to make your relationships and connections better. If you would like individualized work on your relationship, please contact me. I want you to succeed!

Activity: Watch Your Words: “Yes…but”
  • Pick one of the patterns from below that you want to practice this week; inform your parter you are trying to do things differently.
  • Give your partner permission to help you in this activity, as you will not realize you have said “but“; your partner can notice it and give you an opportunity to express yourself differently.

These are some options to “Yes…but”:

  1. Sandwich the feedback.  Say something positive, then the critique, followed by another positive.
    “I love this spaghetti.  The pasta is a bit mushy but the spices really made the sauce.
  2. Soften the negative words so they are not AS critical.
    “I love this spaghetti.  The pasta is a little soft, but it’s delicious.”
  3. Say the same phrase but substitute a pause where you would say, “but…”
    “I love this spaghetti; the pasta is a BIT mushy” (I would soften my voice here).
  4. Give the feedback from a kind place and soften the message a bit.
    “Thank you for making this spaghetti; I love it.  I tend to cook my pasta a little shorter time; we just do it differently.” 
  5. Think about if you really need to give the critique.  Just because you thought it, you don’t have to say it.
    “I love this spaghetti.

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