Thomas Fiffer reveals 3 ways being nice is the worst thing you can do to your partner.
Being nice is perhaps the #1 virtue instilled in us during early childhood by our well-meaning parents and teachers and indoctrinated peers. It’s the core of learned conduct, established through positive and negative reinforcement, and the words, “Be nice,” offered with an encouraging smile and the stern warning of a wagging finger, precede nearly every social encounter. Playing with a new friend? “Be nice.” Petting a neighbor’s dog? “Be nice.” Participating in a group activity? “Be nice.”
In these situations, being nice means don’t say or do anything mean, insulting, or violent (or anything that will embarrass and shame your parents), but as we grow up, it morphs into the valued character trait of being agreeable and accommodating, willing to compromise, and able to put someone else’s interests ahead of your own. We’re constantly admonished to be respectful to others, but we’re rarely urged to assert our own rights, especially if they conflict with the desires of others, unless of course those desires are hurtful to us. Stand up for your rights and preferences if they’re being trampled, but back off and give way when someone simply wants something different or sees things differently.
As an aside, I’ve never been a fan of bad boys (or bad girls), but they do one thing the nice folks frequently avoid. They’re honest (except of course when they’re lying and cheating) about what they like and don’t like, want and don’t want. They’re not afraid to say no, start a fight, finish a fight, or walk away with their dignity intact. I’m not holding them up as exemplary behavior models, but in this one area of assertiveness, I think they’ve got it right.
Here are three ways doing things to be nice actually devalues your partner and destroys the trust in your relationship.
1. Faking agreement … to be nice. Harmony is a beautiful thing. There’s almost no better feeling than being at peace with your partner with no signs of future conflict looming or lingering business remaining unresolved. But putting agreement ahead of honesty causes you to be untrue to yourself and denies your partner the opportunity to get to know the real you. It also gives your partner a free pass on the difficult issues—work, money, kids, life goals—that every couple needs to work through. You can’t grow as partners if you don’t learn who your partner is and to work stuff out together and develop healthy conflict-resolution skills. And if you can’t grow together, you’ll eventually grow apart, which means faking agreement plants the seeds for a breakup. In addition, your constantly giving in creates huge wells of resentment inside you that can eventually overflow in cruel words or actions that you didn’t even know you were capable of. Frequently, faking agreement is a precursor for abuse.
2. Faking enjoyment … to be nice. “Was it good for you?” “Uh huh.” “Really?” “Yeah, it was great.” Pretending you enjoyed the food, the movie, the sex makes life so much easier, doesn’t it? You never have to do that unpleasant thing called complaining, or risk hurting your partner’s feelings. But what about your feelings? Doesn’t your enjoyment matter? And what if your partner truly wants to please you, and you’re denying him or her that chance? What you enjoy is not more important than what your partner enjoys, but it is equally important. Often we avoid expressing our own unhappiness, because it opens the door for our partners to express their own grievances. In this way, we effectively shut down meaningful relationship dialogue. Trust me, you can be unhappy with something, even your partner’s conduct, and still love your partner just as much. And you can stand to hear what your partner doesn’t like, too. Sacrificing your enjoyment leaves you feeling empty and disappointed, and eventually your unmet needs can lead to you to seek enjoyment in unhealthy ways outside of the relationship. Faking enjoyment also causes the relationship to atrophy, the way astronauts lose bone mass in space without the effect of gravity. If you never express your honest displeasure, you never strengthen your relationship by learning how to accept and embrace each other’s differences.
3. Faking engagement … to be nice. This is by far the worst of the three behaviors—pretending you’re present and engaged while you’re distracted, because you don’t want to disappoint your partner by saying, “I’m doing something else right now,” or “I can’t listen to you or take care of that until later.” We all experience competing demands for our attention, especially when kids are involved. When your partner asks for your attention, he or she doesn’t want half of it—or less—while you’re distracted by a child, a show, your anxiety, or your phone. In truth, pretending to pay attention when you’re not isn’t nice at all; it’s actually one of the rudest things you can do to someone you love. It dismisses your partner’s needs by saying they’re only worthy of a portion of your focus, and more distressingly, it also lowers the bar for your partner to do the same to you, eroding the standard of attentive communication necessary for a functional intimate relationship. It may sound harsh to say, “I can’t help you right now,” but that truth, spoken with a promise to be 100% present when you can be available, is one of the kindest and most respectful things you can do.
The next time you’re doing one of these things to be nice to your partner, stop and think about how you’re actually hurting your partner and your relationship.