The Price of Being Nice, the Gain of Being a Pain
5 steps moving from "nice" to authentic intimacy in your relationships.
Posted Sep 28, 2019
Most of us want to believe and feel that we are nice. But in meaningful, intimate relationships, it is sometimes more important to be a pain (by speaking your uncomfortable truths) than to be nice.
Before reviewing the price of being nice, let’s review the gains of being nice.
- You get to believe you are a good, polite person.
- Other people like you.
- You feel protected from criticism.
- You save energy.
The price of being nice
- You are going against your human nature. By trying to be nice all the time, we minimize the expression of our human emotional range. We censor our aggressive, judgmental, and shadow parts.
- You can't not communicate. Much of our communication is nonverbal. So even if you aren’t saying anything and acting super nice, your body still speaks your mind, revealing what you really think and feel.
- People will start doubting your sincerity. Over time, people sense implicitly your non-verbal communication and start doubting your honesty, listening more to your body than to your words.
- You might feel fake or hypocritical. By not speaking your mind, a dissonance between your words and your non-verbals and behavior may be created. That dissonance might slowly lead to a sense of being an imposter or fake.
- Your interactions can turn superficial. By repressing or censoring your truth in order not to offend, you might actually create Teflon Interactions—interactions that are safe, but without real exposure, disclosure or meaning.
- Lower levels of intimacy. Always being nice (and demanding niceness from others) is a very clever defense mechanism that prevents real intimacy by inhibiting going to levels that are deeper than nice.
Being a pain
In theater improvisation, we have a guideline called 'say the thing'. Audiences want improvisers/actors to verbalize what is happening onstage right now. Why? Because people go to the theater to see actors feel, do, and say what they would never dare to do in their real lives.
These are called immediacy skills. One of the best ways to increase this skill is by saying the thing. Saying the thing, especially when relating to something tenuous in the relationship, almost inevitably creates a rupture.
Ruptures are moments of disconnect, misunderstanding, and distance. Repairs are moments when these ruptures are negotiated and mended, and the alliance and rapport are restored. Both are needed for personal and relational growth. Ruptures and repairs are essential building blocks for strong relationships. The rupture and repair process actually increases the fitness and differentiation of the relationship. It is a high-risk, high-gain attitude.
“You always hurt the one you love”: Acting nice and constantly being positive, polite, and thoughtful can actually prevent the unavoidable ruptures and ensuing repairs that are needed to solidify a deep, authentic bond. Not offending each other is great, but meeting a different human being is always sloppy. Paradoxically, by being more of a pain, you can move beyond simply being nice into honestly loving.
The gains of being a pain
I define the description of being a pain as someone who is in touch with their shadow parts, dares to say the thing, who self-discloses feelings and desires, who shares needs explicitly, who has immediacy skills and who is not afraid of ruptures and repairs. Here is a partial list of the gains of being a pain:
- A rich emotional life and relationships. When you allow yourself to not always be nice, you can express the different sides of yourself and experience the full vitality of being alive.
- A deeper sense of connection in your intimate life. Because you’re creating a culture of saying the thing, your intimate relationships become more authentic and touching. Over time your partner will also be more of a pain, allowing you both to be more honest and vulnerable.
- A more exciting love life. Your relationships become more synergistic, surprising, collaborative, and fun.
- More engagement from your partner. With a high-risk, high-gain atmosphere, the standard for honest engagement rises.
- You feel more loving and loved. Emotional honesty becomes more real and believable.
So how do I go from always being nice to finding the gain from being a pain?
- Choose to believe that saying the thing, even if it isn’t always nice, can actually deepen the relationship. Choose to believe ruptures and repairs are not only inevitable, but also crucial in the crucible of intimate relationships. Realize that becoming more of a pain will require effort and stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Share with your partner this article so you both have common language.
- Start saying the thing. Start speaking your mind. Do it, of course, with respect and with the mindset of increasing intimacy and not of humiliating or hurting your partner.
- Expect your partner to react differently than usual. If this is a new form of communication in your relationship, expect some anger, insult, or self-pity. Whatever the reaction, remain kind and forgiving.
- Expect ruptures and dare to repair playfully. As the tension rises, remain playful. Hold onto yourself and dare to keep reaching out during ruptures, remaining open, loving, and curious. And keep being a pain.
You may find that your relationship is elevated to a new level of honesty and freedom.
There are obvious secondary gains and secondary losses to being nice and to being a pain. There is a price to being always nice: superficial relationships, boredom, loneliness. And there is gain in being a pain: vitality, adventure, curiosity, excitement, and deeper relationships.
Which one are you going to choose?
Hill, Clara E., Charles J. Gelso, Harold Chui, Patricia T. Spangler, Ann Hummel, Teresa Huang, John Jackson et al. "To be or not to be immediate with clients: The use and perceived effects of immediacy in psychodynamic/interpersonal psychotherapy." Psychotherapy Research 24, no. 3 (2014): 299-315.
Safran, J. D., Muran, J. C., & Eubanks-Carter, C. (2011). Repairing alliance ruptures. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 80.