Be Nice

Posted on October 27, 2014


You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  Ruth Wood

She’s as sweet as tupelo honey.  She’s an angel of the first degree.  Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey

When she gets weary, try a little tenderness… But the soft words, they are spoke so gentle, it makes it easier, easier to bear.  Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, Try a Little Tenderness

When I was engaged to my wife, there was an occasion on which we were going to visit my parents.  On the drive there we were having an argument.  I was still mad on arrival.  My mother had no interest in the details of the disagreement.  Her only response was, “Carol is so sweet.  You be good to Carol.”  When I tried again to make my point, I got the same answer.  This was actually the best piece of marital advice I ever received.  Thirty years later, I haven’t a clue what the argument was about, but I still have the sweet wife.

A few months ago on a radio morning program, they were discussing dating sites and a survey of the top adjectives one could use to describe oneself in order to obtain a response from a member of the opposite sex.  For men trying to attract women, the most popular adjective was “fit.”  This was surprising as the conventional wisdom is that men are more concerned with a woman’s physique than vice versa.  For women trying to attract men, the adjective most likely to get a man’s attention was “sweet.”  It was not about looks, physique, education, or income.  It was about disposition.

In other posts, I have discussed how damaging criticism (or worse yet, contempt) can be to a relationship.  The antidote to criticism is not giving up your voice in the relationship, it is what we call a soft start-up.  If you can be nice about how you approach a subject, your partner is much better able to hear you, and your partner will love you for it.

There is a popular SCTV skit (readily available on Youtube) in which Bob Newhart plays a therapist whose only advice to clients is “Stop it.”[1]  Whatever the problem, his advice is the same, “Stop it.”  If I could have a similar mantra for couples, it would be “Be nice.”  There are many marriages in which couples speak to each other so harshly that if you spoke to your friends that way, you would not have any friends.  I maintain that the things people say and do make sense if you understand where they are coming from.  How couples get into these places of treating each other badly make sense, but they are not helpful.

There is an old story about a woman coming to see a divorce attorney.  She explains to the attorney that her husband is so bad that he is the devil incarnate, and that she wants to get a divorce.  “He is the worst husband ever.  I really want him to suffer when I divorce him.” she says.  The attorney advises her that he will need about a month to draft up the papers.  He tells her that if you really want to hurt your husband with the divorce, between now and then go home and be as kind and giving in the relationship as you can be.  Then when he has fallen into this false state of security, you can drop the divorce papers on him.

The woman decides to follow the attorney’s advice.  During the ensuing month she goes out of her way to be kind, considerate, giving, and helpful.  At the end of the month the attorney calls her to let her know the divorce papers are ready.  The woman replies, “Why would I want divorce papers.  I am married to the most wonderful man in the world.”

Kindness begets kindness.  Love begets love.  Be nice to each other.  As Grandma used to say, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

[1] He charges $5 for the first five minutes.  He doesn’t take insurance and he doesn’t make change.