Being Nice Can Hurt Your Relationships

by Melissa Karnaze

People assume that being nice goes along with being happy and having healthy relationships.

But “nice” has come to be associated with dysfunctional people-pleasing.

Pleasing others (often at the expense of yourself) as your top priority is the opposite of being nice.

Firstly, it’s mean to you.

Secondly, it can interfere with your happiness and ability to maintain healthy relationships by:

  • Hiding your true thoughts and feelings (so only the “nice” ones show)
  • Causing you to to dissociate from your true thoughts and feelings, such that you can’t be “present” in any of your relationships
  • Promoting the unhealthy suppression of negative emotion
  • Setting you up to get hurt, used, violated, and discarded
  • Tempting you to unconsciously manipulate others by “being nice” to get your needs met
  • Potentially backfiring on those you’re being “nice” to (or rather, those you’re trying to please) — through (passive) aggression
  • Eroding honesty, which isn’t good for any relationship
  • Blocking emotional intimacy, which can thwart a potentially healthy relationship

Here’s an open-ended story to illustrate how being nice can hurt your relationships. It’s about two women, Janice and Lovette, who work at the same office.

Meet Janice

Janice is usually cheerful at work. She tells people what she thinks they “might like to” or “need to” hear. She says yes to nearly all requests (because she has a hard time saying no) and her colleagues take her helpfulness for granted. As such, she often stays late at the office, and doesn’t get home until after dinner. Her husband is excited to see her in the evenings during the week, but they rarely get to spend uninterrupted quality time together.

When at home, Janice often answers her cell and responds to emails promptly. She likes to let people know that she’s “always there for them.” And she makes it her job to lend an ear when a friend, family member, or colleague is having a rough day. Sometimes people vent to her without first asking if it’d be alright, but Janice doesn’t mind — she just listens with a smile and nodding head.

Janice’s husband adores her, even though he can get irritated when she’s constantly running off to attend to someone else. At least when she’s around though, she’s pleasant. That’s because Janice doesn’t whine, complain, or really talk to her husband about problems. Instead, she either glosses over them, or keeps them to herself. After all, she tells herself, that’s the nice thing to do.

One day, a young man named Mark is hired at work. He’s good-looking and charming. He also hits on all the ladies. Even though he knows that Janice is married, he asks her out to dinner within his first week. “It’s just to get to know you better,” he insists, “not an official date.” And, “we could even discuss business,” as he still feels “a bit out of place in the new position and could definitely use some encouragement and advice.”

What will happen? Will Janice recognize Mark’s advance? Will she say yes, or no? And if she does go out to dinner with Mark, will she tell her husband? Given how pushy Mark is, do you think Janice will engage with Mark’s flirtations (at first, or even over time)? Given the presence of Mark in her life, how will Janice’s “niceness” impact her marriage?

Meet Lovette

Lovette works next to Janice, but she has a different work ethic. When her boss increases her work load, she lets him know how that will impact her performance and adherence to deadlines. Colleagues rarely ask her favors, because she usually declines unless it’s a mutual favor or for someone she’s close to. Lovette often speaks her mind, even if it isn’t nice.

Unlike Janice, Lovette doesn’t stay at the office late. She leaves at 5pm sharp each day, so that she can make her husband dinner. By 7pm, her computer is off, and she doesn’t return phone calls or emails unless it’s an emergency previously scheduled. This makes it hard for her family, friends, and colleagues to get a hold of her, but they’ve learned to contact her before dinner.

Lovette spends a lot of time with her husband during the week (and on weekends). As she and her husband open up to each other a lot, they occasionally disagree about things, but usually resolve their conflicts within a few days. Lovette isn’t afraid to get in touch with her anger, and she rarely suppresses it for the sake of keeping the peace.

Mark’s new desk is right by Lovette’s. Mark asks Lovette out to dinner within his first week as well, with a cover story similar to the one he used with Janice.

What will happen? Will Lovette recognize Mark’s advances? Will she say yes, or no? And if she does go out to dinner with Mark, will she tell her husband? Given how pushy Mark is, do you think Lovette will engage with Mark’s flirtations? Will the presence of Mark in Lovette’s life have any impact her marriage?

What do you think?

What does it mean to be nice? Is it possible to be nice to everyone?

How can you be nice without compromising your relationships? Or at least without compromising your close relationships?

Share your thoughts below.

About the Author: Melissa Karnaze is not here to be nice, but honest about what it takes to be effective in life. Her free 10-part e-class, Your Life Is Your Construct, will show you how to be more emotionally honest about your life and your relationships. Learn more about it and sign up here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John May 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Excellent article. A lot of people need to learn this. I wonder if you can write an article on the opposite personality – those who are so self-focused and critical they don’t realise when they are hurting others.

Melissa Karnaze May 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

That’s a great suggestion John, I’ll definitely consider it!

Glagin June 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Your latest article reminds me of something I read recently from The New York Times. Oh, and, keep up the good blogging!

Deen June 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

This is really a good article! They should come together and discuss lovette’s/Janice’s work ethics. So that they can all hear each other. There are good qualities on both girls. Maybe Mark can learn from these ladies.

Melissa Karnaze June 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hi John, in writing a follow-up to this article I interpreted “self-focused and critical” as “self-critical.” However, in re-reading your comment here, it’s unclear to me if that’s what you were getting at.

Were you instead referring to instances where people are critical of others? If so, could you clarify what you mean by their being “self-focused” when critical of others?

Robin August 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Lovette would never be promoted.
Janice might be, as long as she wasn’t a secretary.

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