How Being Too Nice Wrecks Your Relationships
Puzzled, unhappy, and tired, Christian Nice Girls sit on the counseling couch every week with the same basic question: "What am I doing wrong? I try really hard with my friends and family, but usually I end up feeling drained and angry instead of fulfilled." It doesn't make sense, does it? These women are clearly sowing physical and emotional energy in their relationships, so it seems like they should be reaping meaningful, satisfying interactions left and right. After all, the Bible says in Galatians 6 that people will reap what they sow. And yet, one after one, CNGs say the same thing:
"I feel like my friends/family take advantage of me. As a Christian, am I supposed to turn the other cheek and let that happen?"
"My family doesn't appreciate me, and I lose my temper with them way too much. I feel like a terrible Christian when I get so angry."
"Sometimes I just want to run away from everyone."
The Bible isn't wrong—people do reap what they sow—but sometimes they misunderstand what will grow from what they sow. For example, if you want flowers flourishing in your flowerbed, don't plant weeds instead of zinnias or else you are going to be disappointed at what pops up. Likewise, if you don't' like what's sprouting up in your relationships, you need to look at what you are sowing with friends and family. You're probably planting weeds and hoping for flowers.
"But wait," you might say, "I'm not sowing weeds with my ungrateful family and friends! I'm as nice and helpful as I can be to them. I practically kill myself doing for them, and you should see how little I get in return." Yes, that's the point. Those nice behaviors, when taken to an extreme and when done out of fear of rejection, conflict, or criticism, are weeds in relationships.
Christian Nice Girls don't understand this fact. They sow false niceness in their relationships hoping that this will produce intimacy and connection. But false niceness can never and will never produce an authentic, deeply meaningful relationship, just like weeds won't magically produce zinnias.
Let's examine Christian Nice Girls' relationships and discover when they plant the undesirable weed of false niceness. Upon meeting a new person, CNGs are usually pleasant. So far, so good. Then, at some point, the other person does or says something that they don't appreciate or shouldn't agree to, and instead of speaking the truth with love and grace, CNGs act nice. Why? Because acting nice feels naturals, so natural that it's hard to detect its hidden, selfish payoff: it allows women to avoid uncomfortable but necessary conflict, and it permits them to chicken out of doing the challenging work of establishing healthy boundaries with gracious firmness.
Here are some real-world examples of planting false niceness:
Joe: "Could you lend me $300? My car is going to be repossessed unless I come up with some money. I'll pay you back next month."
CNG: (thinking) I'd have to get a cash advance on my credit card to lend him money, and I've heard he often has money problems. "I'm not sure I can swing that this month. $300 is a lot of money."
Joe: "Don't worry, I'm good for it."
And guess who is still waiting to get her money back because CNGs can be alarmingly naïve about the real motives of abusive people? This CNG planted the weed of false niceness and reaped financial hardship. She also harvested feelings of self-recrimination and even shame because, deep down, she suspects that she allowed someone to steal from her, and stealing is a sin. Oh, and she has a bumper crop of resentful, angry feelings over being used. But, because she's a CNG, she's likely to deny all these negative feelings because good Christian women don't get angry, right?
Here's an example for all the Christian Nice Daughters out there:
Mom: "I just got off the phone with your aunt. She said that you are planning a vacation to Hilton Head next summer. When were you going to tell me this?"
CNG: I'm not five years old! I don't have to report my every move to you! "Oh, I guess I forgot to mention it."
Mom: "Well, it's humiliating when other people have to inform me—your mother—about what is going on in my own daughter's life. I had to pretend like I knew all about your vacation plans. How do you think that made me feel?"
CNG: I am not to blame because you chose to deceive her, but you wouldn't talk to me for days if I said that. "I'm really sorry. Next time I'll let you know earlier."
Mom: "I hope you will. You put me in a very awkward position."
CNG: How does everything always end up being my fault? "I'm sorry that happened to you. I'll keep you better informed in the future."
Then the bewildered Christian Nice Daughter stews over this confrontation for the next week, replaying it in her mind, and thinking of all the zingers she could have thrown in Mom's face—followed by feeling guilty for wanting to zing some zingers at Mom. She sowed false niceness with Mom, and reaped false guilt and unrealistic expectations.
Now a final example:
CNG: "Do you think I should audition for the choir? Most people that I've asked tell me I should give it a try."
Friend Debbie: "You aren't thinking you're going to get any solos, are you? You don't exactly have a solo-quality voice."
CNG: (thinking) What a mean thing to say! I never said I was a great singer. "I know I'm not that good of a singer. I just thought it might be fun to sing in a choir."
Friend Debbie: "Are you sure the choir director accepts members like you—you know, people who don't know anything about music and are looking to just have fun? I bet he gets irritated with people like that who waste his time goofing off during choir practice."
CNG: (thinking) I do too know something about music. She's making me feel like an idiot! But she might get offended if I say that. "I'm not sure what the director is looking for."
Friend Debbie: "Well, maybe you should find out before you audition for the choir, Miss Beyonce."
You can probably guess who never joined the choir and who never gave her sharp-tongued friend needed feedback so Debbie can overcome her mean-girl ways and become more like Christ. This CNG planted false niceness and reaped a harvest of demeaning insinuations and sarcasm.
Looking back over these examples, can you detect the dangerous pattern in a CNG's interactions with friends and family? She doesn't speak the truth, even when she thinks it! She chooses to ignore the long-term harmful consequences of smothering the truth and instead focuses on the short-term comfort of false niceness. Everyone faces a similar fork in the road in relationships: do you choose the "act nice" route, or do you choose the path of truth and be real and risk rejection instead?
The "fake nice" road looks deceptively smooth at first and oh so "Christian." CNGs choose this way, just going along to get along, aiming to keep everyone happy in a misguided attempt to follow Christ (whose sandals never took one step on this particular path). Travelers on this misleading trail try to stay safe and warm by knitting themselves a comfy pullover of seemingly convenient half-truths. Okay, lies. But like a wool sweater worn on a sweltering August hike, these lies eventually make you itch and sweat emotionally, particularly when the "fake nice" path inevitably gets rockier as resentment and dissatisfying, even dangerous, relationships pile up.
In contrast, the road of authenticity and truth looks intimidating at first. It can seem like a steep climb to risk disappointing other people or making them mad by being honest and firm—but this straightforward route gets easier over time and leads to self-respect, righteousness, and true intimacy.
It's a fact: conflict is the price you pay for intimacy. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in. If you want to connect genuinely with other people, you have to risk conflict by being frank and firm in addition to gracious and loving. It's that "salty and sweet" combination again. And though not a popular message, risking conflict by speaking the truth in love is part of following Christ. This is what the real Jesus modeled for us. He didn't avoid necessary conflicts if those interactions could possibly lead to a more authentic, intimate relationship, and he always spoke the truth in love.
Next time: Speaking the Truth with Love and Grace
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.