The Difference between Nice and Kind: How to Deepen Your Marriage

This is the time of the year when therapists get to sit back a bit and contemplate life and the universe. Most folks don’t realize this, but counseling is a bit of a seasonal endeavor. Clients tend to get occupied with holidays and vacations sometime around November and December, and then they take their leave of us again from June to July. My first few years in private practice, I was seriously biting my nails during those months, wondering what had gone awry with my marketing or clinical skills. Now, I relish these more meditative times and look forward to spending more hours on my yoga mat and in the kitchen with my kiddos making cookies. Yes, this is a truly jolly time of the year.

As we head into the holidays, I usually blog something about how to keep your wits about you when you’re in close quarters with your near and dear. I invite you to head over towards the handy dandy index of articles on the right hand side of this page if you are in need of that right now. They’re pretty good field guides if I do so say so myself. Today, however, I want to write a bit about one of my favorite topics: Kindness.

SOBE TagI have a sweet friend, Deneen, who is part of the South Beach Sidewalk Project. They head all over town and leave little nuggets of goodness for the rest of us like this one. Much better than the nastygrams that are so often sprinkled into our days, right? I am of the opinion that there are not nearly enough grassroots organizations like this reminding us that we are beautiful, complex human beings. (If you want to check out the SOBE SideWalk Chalk Project you can visit their Facebook page here: I soooo think we need one of these in Raleigh. Anyone with me?

The reason that stuff like this is important is because kindness is hard. It’s particularly hard in the context of our closest relationships. One of the most challenging things I ask partners to do during marriage therapy is be kind to one another. I am aware when I suggest it that I am treading on unstable ground. (Please excuse my use of highly idiosyncratic capitalization in the following paragraph.) To my way of thinking, being Nice to someone and being Kind to one another are different. This is entirely my own internal value system at work, but go with me here for a second. To me, being Nice implies a superficial level of positive attention. But, Kindness is different. It’s Nice with a tux on. It’s Nice dressed up and tailored to the person to whom the Kindness is being offered. Nice is smiling at the barista who makes your coffee every day. Kind is remembering his name, asking about his Nana and tipping him extra at Christmas because you have talked to him enough to know he’s buying said Nana a special gift.

Kindness is so important in our interactions with out partners because by its very nature it is a radically intimate act.  It says, “I see you. I see you and I’m going to work harder to continue to see you clearly.” You can’t tailor Nice into Kind if you aren’t paying good attention. And, attention is what we all seem to be lacking. We do things like dissolve into our Facebook pages and TV shows because they require an economy of interaction. We live our lives this way because we’re all tired and overworked. And attention, and therefore Kindness, pulls our hearts out of us and into the relational space. This is how it’s meant to be, even if so many forces in our lives conspire to have it go differently. Would you like a few tips on how to help Kindness find its way back into your marriage? Read on.

1) Candy Coating is Delicious: Many clients tell me that they will not “candy coat” their opinions when addressing their loved ones or that they pride themselves on being”blunt.” Usually, what this really tells me is that they have gotten feedback from others that they are a bit abrasive–even cruel. You can ask anyone who has ever said this to me in session if I’m willing to let that go. (They’re shaking their heads in unison saying, “No, she’ll never let it go.) I’m not talking about the kind of culturally-embraced directness that many folks from outside of the south have. That’s refreshing, and though I’m a native NC girl, I kind of miss it. I’m talking about launching emotional grenades into your partner’s heart and then refusing to take responsibility for the carnage when they blow. For the most part, folks who do this came from families in which their more tender feelings were not honored and respected. To learn to relate with Kindness can feel weird and fake. But, anything that isn’t your first or second inclination will feel weird when you first start to do it. You might as well get started today so that you can change that default setting sooner rather than later.

2) Don’t Hurt Me: Kindness is vulnerability. I wrote a blog this summer about why offering your partner a compliment is often difficult. It’s because offering a piece of yourself, even in the form of a positive word, puts you on the hook for rejection. Folks who have had a rough past can be wary of even heart-felt warmth and push you away. They wonder what you want. They feel unworthy of your attentions. If your partner struggles with this find out why. If you struggle with it yourself, it might be helpful to think about the costs and benefits of protecting yourself so well that you insulate yourself from even the best of intentions.

3) Feeling Good: Just in case you needed another reason to consider showing off your recently acquired candy coating, studies show that folks who engage with the world in kindness have lower inflammatory markers and report a higher general sense of well-being and health. It’s kind of like the gym, but  you don’t have to put on awkward yoga pants.

Do you need some help coordinating your intentions with your actions? I would be delighted to help.

Your Partner in Healing,


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