Ditch These 3 Words for Better Relationships. ~ Jeremi McManus

Via Jeremi McManus
on Aug 8, 2013
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photo via Flkr Commons. Chuckumentary
photo via Flkr Commons. Chuckumentary

Choose Your Words Wisely.

Last week I rambled over to Hilton Head Island for a week with my family.

Sun. Beaches. Ice cream. Nothing to do.

You know, the good stuff.

The part I haven’t mentioned yet is that the 22 of us that comprise the maternal side of my family spent that entire week in one house. I know, crazy right!?

But as I reflect back on lots of little moments that we had together, I was reminded of three little words that can really have a big impact on how the receiver of said word feels. And in turn, how the interaction and ultimately the relationship goes. It may come as some surprise to you right in this moment that none of these words have four letters or are part of the seven words you can’t say on TV.

1. Should

There are few words that will trigger inadequacy and a sense of “not-good-enoughness” quicker than this one.

Visualize someone in your life that you look up to. Got it? Now that person says to you, “You really should have become a ____.”

How are you feeling right now? If you’re anything like me, you might be feeling like you got it wrong. Like the career that you are so passionate about and giving every part of yourself to just isn’t good enough.

A very similar experience happens with really tiny things as well. Consider coming home to your partner or roommate after a tiring grocery expedition and hearing, “You should have gotten carrots instead.”

See what I mean? It barely matters one iota that you picked up acai berries instead of carrots—not to mention everything else that was on the list—because the moment you got “shoulded,” you feel like you really screwed up.

Don’t should on anyone, especially yourself. ~ Jan Addington-Strong

2. Why

“Why are you reading this article right now?”

Feel that little internal reaction? To this day, I immediately feel a sense of defensiveness when “why?” is directed toward me. I leap into an attempt to explain myself in order to cover over that feeling of having gotten it wrong. Yet again. “Why” is certainly one of my least favorite words.

For many of us, the distaste for “why” started in  our early years and the context in which we would hear that word. Typically it surfaced when an authority figure was reprimanding us. “Why didn’t you finish your homework?” or “Why did you spill your milk?” And along with the comment was often a tone of derision or criticism that just increased the feelings it provoked.

3. But

On my more difficult days it seems that the only thing I’m trying to do is get people to like me.

Need examples? I’ve got plenty.

Persistent checking of whether anyone has commented on my latest Facebook post. Scouring the internet for the latest pair of cool kicks. Hitting the hot new brunch spot so I can drop it into conversation at that evening’s get-together.

“Like me, like me, like me,” it all clamors.

I’m discovering that underneath this superficial desire to be liked is the fundamental desire to be connected to other people. To bond. James Bond. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) I want to love and be loved. And one of the greatest interrupters of this desire to connect is “but.”

Imagine for a moment that you love Daft Punk and to build a new connection with this guy you just met you share, “I’m a big fan of Daft Punk. You like their stuff?” He responds, “Yeah, but they’re such sellouts with this new “Get Lucky” song.”

How you feeling right now?

If you’re anything like me you might start thinking, Well this conversation sure isn’t getting off the ground, and then launch into a defense of what an amazing band Daft Punk is. The mini-relationship with your new friend is not off to a great start.

On the other hand, imagine the same guy responded to your question about Daft Punk with, “Yeah, I’m particularly a fan of their early stuff. “One More Time” just never seems to get old.”

How did that go?

Not bad, right? You might light up a little, and tell him what a good time you had the last time you were out dancing and that song came on. Notice how the two of you are doing this time around. Same guy, same opinions about Daft Punk. It’s just that instead of hitting you with a “Yeah, but…,” he said “Yes, and…”.

I mean, if the relationship can’t survive the long term, why on earth would it be worth my time and energy for the short term? ~ Nicholas Sparks

That’s it. Three little words. Try them. One week. Or even just for a day. Notice all the times that someone uses one of those three words and how you feel. And what happens next.

Great job getting to the end of this article, but you really could have spent your time getting some work done! Why are you spending all this time perusing online? Don’t you have things to do? Shouldn’t you be doing something else right now?

How’s our relationship doing now?



10 Ways to Communicate Our Truths in a Loving Way.


5 Things Done Differently in Healthy Relationships. 



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Ed: B. Bemel


About Jeremi McManus

Jeremi is a yoga teacher and licensed psychotherapist who is endlessly curious about where these two paths cross… particularly when this crossing leads to greater flexibility and self-compassion. One of his passions is increased understanding of the bond we create with self and others through yoga and the therapeutic approach known (not surprisingly) as Attachment Theory. “I found both yoga and attachment focused therapy even though I didn’t realize I was looking, and I suspect that the path will probably continue to unfold in much the same way. Something I desire for myself is to continue to let go of trying to control that journey and instead become more present for its meanderings.” Jeremi grew up in North Carolina and Bangladesh, and is delighted to now call San Francisco home. More at www.sfrelationshipcoaching.com.


15 Responses to “Ditch These 3 Words for Better Relationships. ~ Jeremi McManus”

  1. Sandy says:

    Ah yes! I was in a long-term relationship where, when I would try to explain why I was upset/hurt/concerned/what have you, the response would always be: "but Sandy…" which made me feel guilty for saying anything in the first place. I ended up second guessing my intuition and instincts, second guessing my feelings. Ugh! What a horrible place to be, when all I wanted to do was be honest, not put someone on the defensive!

  2. Ian Blei says:

    Jeremi, you know how I've campaigned against "should" for years ("who's owning this edict??") and the "but" which undoes everything that preceded it, and yet… I'm not certain that we all have the defensive twinge in reaction to "why?" I personally get pretty turned on by "why?" It makes me look deeper, makes me dig past the b.s. explanations on the surface. I even wrote a post called "nine whys to the truth," about repeating it over and over like a child until the truth comes out: Constructive Deconstruction: http://optimized-results.com/Blog/?p=9

  3. Jeremi McManus says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Sandy, I certainly agree!

  4. Jeremi McManus says:

    Great thoughts Ian, and sounds like we are totally on the same page on the but's and should's! I think there is opportunity for many of us for the word why to become pretty full of potential like you shared. Often it takes us some time to move through our old "stuff" around this word which is the reason it can get in the way of relationships.

  5. Melissa says:

    What words to you suggest we use instead of these words? I understand that "should" could probably be omitted altogether, but if I'm looking for someone's reasoning, what is a better way to phrase a "why" question?

    (BTW – I had to stop myself from using the word "should" a couple of times while formulating my question!)

  6. Great question Melissa. I must admit it can take some verbal gymnastics to avoid these three words, ‘why’ particularly. My favorites are probably, ‘Oh? tell me more’ and ‘What informs that?’ I’d be curious to hear if you come up with any more!

  7. Jeremy Meyers says:

    I, too, am fan of 'why', when it is a question implying "tell me more, i am truly interested". However, I believe the author may have been talking about when 'why' is used as a demand to justify someone else's actions. 'why are you reading that magazine right now' probably doesnt mean 'is there an article in there that i might find interesting?' it means 'i want you to be doing something other than what you are doing'.

    Actually, it seems like theres another 'should' hidden in there, and what the person is really saying is 'why are you reading that magazine, when you should be cleaning the house', or whatever.

  8. Clara says:

    Also, I think that if we change our intention, our words would come easier. From your article I get that the intention is to make connections with others. If we scramble for words to replace the 3 culprits, then we basically become polite but underneath we are still in an argumentative mode. If we approach the other person with the desire to connect and keep this desire/intention in mind throughout the conversation, my guess is the appropriate words would come. I, too, used the 3 ones too often and I complained that I couldn't connect. Thanks for the article Jeremi, I think something clicked this time for me:)

  9. Jeremi McManus says:

    Well stated Jeremy, and I hadn't thought about the way "should" can get tucked into "why"… thanks for opening up the dialogue on this!

  10. Jeremi McManus says:

    Love it Clara, thanks for sharing!

  11. Lulu says:

    I had an ex who was a therapist and would never say the word "why" stating reasons very similar to those outlined in the blog. In those situations when he wanted me to elaborate on something, he would often invite me to "share more" or ask "how come". Very much enjoyed the article, Jeremi. Thank you so much!

  12. John says:

    But why, should I listen to you?

  13. Kristen says:

    Thank you so much for this article! Mindfulness in communication and the words we choose to communicate with is so important. This definitely has inspired me to pay attention to my own use of these 3 words.

  14. TheTMP says:

    Just added the words to my ever-growing list of words/phrases/actions not advised for welcoming and honest conversation. Thank you!

  15. Kathy Kate says:

    Very enjoyable read.
    I’ve always known about SHOULD towards others but didn’t realize how frequently I SHOULD UPON MYSELF.

    Loved the James Bond.