Human beings are social creatures that thrive off of developing relationships. As such, we value the people we choose to share our lives with. As relationships mature and develop, they become more intimate and complex. Circumstances may arise that cause rifts in our relationships – with friends, family and our significant others. Indeed, it is important to minimize and mitigate these as they happen. Often times, it can be as simple as watching what you say.

Words are incredibly powerful things. Think about it: what can cause someone to be happy one moment, and then miserable the next? You guessed it: words. Many relationships have ended…ended…or become irreparably damaged, because of a slip of the tongue.

So, what are these words that we shouldn’t say? Sometimes, we don’t intend to hurt someone else by our words; this is where it gets a bit tricky.

Read these statements and conclude whether they are damaging or not:

“Sorry I didn’t reply to your calls or text messages. I’ve just been really busy.”

“That sounds like so much fun! Unfortunately, I’m busy with work.”

“I’d love to try that new place with you guys, but I’m busy with the kids.”

What do you think? On the surface, there certainly doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. After all, we all have responsibilities, so it’s safe to assume that they really are busy, right?

happiest relationships

How Saying “I’m Busy” Devalues Your Relationships

Let’s discuss three reasons why the words “I’m busy” could leave you with fewer relationships…and three ways to address the issue better.

1. Everybody is busy

Here’s a newsflash that not really news at all: nearly every single person walking the earth is “busy.” If they’re not “busy,” they probably feel “busy.” To tell someone “I’m busy” is too quickly becoming a replacement phrase to avoid the discomfort of any kind.

After all, what is busy? You could be rushing around the office, grabbing at paperwork and spilling your coffee, or rushing inside the hotel where you’re staying on vacation. But when you think about it, these are not close to being one and the same.

To be truly “busy”, your schedule should be filled to the max with just enough time for family, food, and sleep. That’s busy. But most of us at least have some periods of downtime…downtime that we can (sometimes!) use to catch up with people who care about us and keep our relationships on good terms.

2. “Busy” is open to (often bad) interpretation

Most of us are caring individuals with good hearts, so we’ll grant some leeway to people that we care about. But when something becomes a bad habit, a consistent behavior that often leaves us hurt, then we are much less open to amicably agreeing with them.

More specifically, we’ll take “I’m busy” to a certain point…but when you’ve asked someone to meet for coffee and been denied for the tenth time, then you’re less likely to believe that they are indeed “busy”.

3. “I’m busy” often means “It’s not that important”

Balancing priorities is a difficult thing for many of us. We are so focused on careers, finances, and other things that it can make it extremely difficult to strike that ever-alluding “work/life” balance. The problem is that the words “I’m busy” do not elaborate on any of this, leading to others thinking that they’re just not that important.

In other words, “I’m busy” can lead to feelings of rejection – of them, their time, or their feelings. Of course, we don’t intend this often, but it’s not intention which is the problem here – it’s perception – the perception that the person is simply not important enough.

Although you may be tied up, there are ways to communicate more effectively and show the person that you do indeed care for them and their time.

That said, here are three tips on how to communicate better in relationships:

1. Elaborate

“I’m busy,” or a phrase to this effect, provides no specificity and is extremely vague. Of course, there are rare times when you simply must get off the phone ASAP (emergencies, an urgent meeting, etc.)

In non-emergency situations, a little more detail can go a long way. Let’s use an example to illustrate this:

“Gosh, I’d love to have your kids overnight, but I’m way too busy.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t have your kids overnight. Dave is already having people over for his Friday night poker with the boys.”

See the difference? The second statement provides reasoning, which is very important when telling someone “no”, whereas the first statement is simply a getaway phrase.

2. Arrange a time

If you are indeed busy or tuckered out from the demands placed on you, make an effort to arrange a different time. If you know that your kids need extra attention or you have an endless number of obligations, simply propose another time.

Here’s another area where an example is helpful:

“I’ve wanted to try that new restaurant! Unfortunately, I’m very busy.”

“Let’s try that new place! I can’t make this Friday night, but let’s do next Friday. I’m much more available then.”

Again, an immediate difference is felt, simply because of how the response is phrased. The first response demonstrates nothing except for that the “busy” person may want to try the new restaurant. The second response adds some enthusiasm and is proactively attempting to engage the other person, all while showing some initiative and flexibility.

It’s important to pause and emphasize the importance of effort in any relationship. Yes, we may be tied up, and our energy reserves diminished because of the demands placed on us. That said, we should remember that relationships are truly important; important enough to give some precious effort at times, even though it may be difficult.

3. Have that hard, honest conversation

If indeed you are putting off someone – not because of time constraints – then it’s important to have a conversation, as difficult as it may be.

For those of us who are non-confrontational (raises hand), this can be very (very) hard. But think of this: what does the other person deserve? Do they deserve having you continue to put them off, or do they deserve you to give it to them straight?

Regardless of the reason – lack of connection, lack of interest, etc. – it’s much easier, in the long run, to simply delay the inevitable. Time to say “Goodbye” and “Best wishes” instead of “I’m busy” over and over…and over.


Final Thoughts on Why Declaring You Are Busy Harms Relationships

You might be busy. Who isn’t? But declaring you are too involved with other stuff devalues the other person. It implies that your time is more valuable than theirs–whether you mean harm or not.  Let’s sum it up with this wise quote:

“Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well.” ­Robin Sharma