The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind in Your Marriage

Young couple outdoors. There's a difference between being nice and being kind.

Would you really want to be married to someone who’s “nice?” I don’t think you would. It’s easy to confuse niceness with kindness. But there’s a big difference between being nice and being kind. Being nice may actually be hurting your relationship, and it needs to change.

Was Jesus nice? What about the early followers of Jesus; were they nice?

The answer is No. Jesus was resilient, gentle, kind, loving, firm, even fierce. But not nice. The same could be said of His early followers.

Contrast that with what you see in the average western Christian church on Sunday morning. Watch how people behave more than what is said. How would you describe what is expected of you as a Christian? “Nice” would often be near the top of the list.

Being nice has often been embedded in the understanding of Christian submission in marriage, with very damaging consequences.

Think back to your young self. When you imagined falling in love and getting married one day, was “nice” something you wanted in your potential spouse? You probably thought of characteristics such as loving, caring, generous, romantic, beautiful, strong, happy, funny, or kind. But not nice.

If you’ve fallen into being simply nice, it’s time for something different.

Why not Nice?

Synonyms for nice include proper, decent, polite, or respectable. While you might prefer a spouse who’s polite over one who’s cantankerous or socially awkward, there’s nothing passionate or appealing about someone who’s simply decent. Too much niceness precludes real intimacy.

The idea of being nice has different flavors depending on your context and background, so let me describe what I’m talking about. As I’m using the word, nice describes someone who doesn’t display strong emotions, says yes all the time, and conforms to what those around expect them to be. They’re tame, flavorless, pleasant, perhaps superficially pretty, often shallow, without strong personal desires.

Being nice may work great at a dinner among extended family members or when dealing with an unhappy customer. But it doesn’t work in marriage. Nice is not likely to:

  • Exert emotional or physical energy to play with abandon
  • Speak truth about issues that are harming the relationship
  • Create safety for you to show your true and deeper self
  • Fight for you and for the relationship when it’s threatened
  • Let you see desire, hurt, passion, or love in their deeper heart

So what’s the alternative?

Kindness over Niceness

Look at the example of Jesus. This is worth a whole study in itself. But consider that the Jesus we know from the gospels was both tough and tender, fierce and gentle, strong and loving. His love was not weak. He never fought for His own “rights,” but was also unflinchingly solid in His sense of who He was and what His mission was about.

The alternative to nice is not mean. You certainly don’t want to be married to someone who’s prickly, irritable, easily triggered, or unpredictable. A home where either of you is walking on eggshells is not a healthy marriage.

Perhaps the healthiest alternative to niceness would be kindness. That is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s a characteristic of God: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Some translations use the word goodness. That fits too.

If you are kind, your spouse can count on you to tell the truth before a problem becomes bigger, but to do so at a time and in a way that invites solutions rather than adds shame. They can count on you to be for the relationship. They can trust you to not cause them harm even if something may hurt. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).

And if your spouse is kind, you sense the invitation to come closer. You don’t have to hide the parts of you that seem less presentable. Intimacy becomes possible, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually too.

Cultivate Kindness

So what if there’s not a lot of kindness in your marriage? Or perhaps there’s only niceness.

First, remember that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, as we’ve mentioned already (Galatians 5:22-23). That means you can’t just put in kindness the way you might put on politeness. Becoming kind means allowing God to deal with the stuff in your own soul.

Where might you be hiding in self-protection? You might need to seek some deeper healing for old (or ongoing) wounds yourself. Draw closer to Jesus. Spend time in His presence. As His goodness, His kindness, saturates your being you will become different. Remember, His kindness doesn’t mean you don’t have to change; it makes change possible.

Is your spouse being simply nice? Consider whether you are a safe place for your spouse to be real. Have you been prickly when they’ve allowed you to see something of their true heart? Have you failed to listen well? Has your spouse sensed you are truly for the relationship?

So what if your spouse is acting ugly or mean or acting out with bad behavior. What would it look like for you to be kind? You will need to seek God’s input here. For you, kindness might mean changing the dance. It might mean having some hard conversations or setting some difficult boundaries. The question is not how to change your spouse; that’s not up to you. The question is who God is asking you to be in this circumstance.

Being nice and being kind. Nice can destroy your relationship. Kindness will bring healing, grace, and joy.

Your Turn: Have you confused niceness with kindness? What would it look like to cultivate kindness in your relationship right now?  Leave a comment below.

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