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5 Reasons Why "Too Nice" Doesn't Work

My boyfriend is too nice, and I can't stand it.

Dear Dr. G.,

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for six months. I really like him most of the time, but I have a big problem with him that really frustrates me. I feel guilty saying this. He is just too nice. He always agrees with me. I guess he doesn't want to upset me.

I would like to hear his opinion, even if he disagrees with me. His parents are very critical people, and I notice that he always agrees with them as well, even when they are critical of him. When I ask him which restaurant he wants to go to or which movie he wants to see, he always says that it is up to me. I hate this. I wish that he would have an opinion of his own.

My friends say they are jealous, and that they wish that their boyfriends or girlfriends would be more like this. Is there something wrong with me? Should I just shut up and be more appreciative? I just don't know what to do or how to deal with this. I've broken up with him twice because of frustration.

Don't get me wrong. He is so right for me in so many ways. I just don't like this too-nice thing. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a relationship with myself. Please help me.

A Confused Girlfriend

Dear Confused Girlfriend,

I am so delighted that you wrote to me about this concept of "too nice." Individuals of all ages talk to me and ask me about this all the time. Many people struggle with confusing feelings toward those who are too nice to them. Nice is one thing, while too nice is yet another.

Regarding your boyfriend, who agrees with you all the time, I believe that you nailed it. His parents are critical, so he's agreeable so that he doesn't get criticized even more. He has likely been in the habit of being agreeable for many years. He may not realize that you find this trait undesirable.

Have you ever spoken to him about it? You say that you like him most of the time, and that he is right for you in so many ways. I suggest that you explain to him that you would love his input and want to hear his opinions. I suspect that he will be very surprised.

Explain that you like him very much, but you feel that the relationship might be even better if he gives his opinion and input. And then be receptive when he starts weighing in. Be sure that you are encouraging and not dismissive of his input. Be patient with him. Keep in mind that habits take time to change. Be sure to monitor your own feelings over time. If a significant amount of time passes, and you continue to feel that you are in a relationship with yourself, then you may need to evaluate whether or not this relationship is working for you.

Now, regarding the concept of "too nice" in general, let me explain why it is problematic, confusing, and nuanced. Being nice generally implies being kind and respectful. Being too nice definitely comes with negative connotations. Too nice doesn't work for most of us for a number of reasons. Consider the following:

1. Sometimes too nice translates into boring in relationships. After all, most of us need a bit of tension and pushback in relationships. We need stimulation and conversation. Of course, we need just the right amount of tension and pushback for the relationship to feel good. Too much tension is also problematic.

2. Too nice may also translate to uninvolved and even dismissive. If a partner doesn't weigh in, then it may appear that s/he is disinterested or even apathetic. And we all want a partner who appears interested, right?

3. It may be emotionally exhausting to be with someone who leaves all of the decisions up to you. This translates into a lot of responsibility that you had hoped to share with a partner. This may be why those who are with partners who are too agreeable may feel like they are in a solo relationship.

4. Sometimes too nice doesn't feel genuine. When we are around those who are just too agreeable, we may become suspicious of their motives. We wonder what their agenda is, and if they are really sincere.

5. Too nice may feel smothering and emotionally engulfing. It puts a lot of responsibility on one member of the couple. Most people find smothering quite aversive.

Keep in mind that healthy individuals want to be around nice and nurturing people. It is when nice is excessive that it becomes problematic. Niceness, like every other personality characteristic, needs to come in just the right dose, yes?

Good luck, and please get back to me as you address this issue. Please don't feel guilty about pointing this out as a problem. A good relationship is characterized by a little of this and a bit of that, but certainly not by too much sugar or too much salt. Relationships, like recipes, need just the right amounts of ingredients that we can adjust and readjust.

Dr. G.

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