Kindness Vs. Niceness: What's The Difference In A Relationship?

We've all heard the saying "Nice guys finish last." Yet most people are taught to be nice as children, especially girls, who are often told — both directly and indirectly — that niceness is what makes them valuable. "Women have been socialized into understanding that what is most important is that they be perceived as likable and agreeable," Caitlyn Collins, a professor of sociology and expert on gender inequality, told USA Today. "And this, of course, has disastrous consequences for women," she added.

In many (but not all) cases, being nice may work just fine when interacting with a stranger, a work colleague, or your second cousin whom you hardly ever see. But niceties and politeness can sometimes do more harm than good, especially in close relationships.

To avoid being too nice, without turning into a bully, kindness is the way to go. Here's how kindness differs from niceness and ways to bring more of it into your relationship.

Niceness is rooted in people-pleasing

Niceness may seem like a positive trait in relationships. After all, who wouldn't want a partner who's accommodating and easy to get along with? However, the motives behind niceness aren't always so, err, nice. Niceness, compared to genuine kindness, is often a lubricant that prevents friction between partners. When you're being "nice," you might bottle up your feelings, say "yes" when you want to say "no," and apologize to avoid arguments, even when you did nothing wrong.

These are all signs of being a people-pleaser, according to WebMD. The problem with being too nice and pleasing is that it's often a way of controlling what others think of you. You may conceal the "not nice" parts of yourself to appear agreeable, preventing other people from getting to know the real you. And at its worst, niceness can be manipulative, even if that manipulation is disguised in a pleasant, smiley package.

Being too nice can also be detrimental to romantic relationships. "When you're a people-pleaser, you're not typically exposing any of the intimate things about who you are that allows you to feel known by a person," Akua K. Boateng, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist, told The Washington Post. "You're just so fixated on them and what they want that you lose yourself." After continuously sacrificing yourself, you may start to experience resentment toward your partner, a feeling that can destroy a relationship over time.

To be kind, focus on being respectful and assertive

Kindness is the key to curbing your people-pleasing tendencies in relationships. Unlike niceness, kindness isn't motivated by a desire to be liked — it's motivated by genuine care and compassion for the other person. Dr. Matt Beard, a philosopher and ethicist, wrote for ABC Everyday, "Kindness can be the engine of respect — showing people they're respected and helping them to respect themselves. But it can only do that if it starts by recognising that the person we're being kind to is our equal. They aren't to be used, manipulated or invalidated. They're to be heard, understood, challenged and valued."

Part of treating loved ones as equals also means extending kindness to ourselves. When you play nice, you might bury your true feelings and needs to keep the other person around. But when you're kind, you practice assertiveness, the balanced midpoint between passivity and aggression. Setting boundaries, sharing your feelings and opinions, and asking for what you want are all examples of being assertive.

According to Mayo Clinic, assertiveness can boost self-esteem, improve communication, create mutually beneficial solutions, and deepen relationships. Moreover, being kind and assertive — rather than nice and pleasing — increases authenticity between you and your partner. Allowing the other person to see who you really are, without controlling the narrative to make yourself appear more likable, is the only way to create a genuine, loving relationship.