“Say It Sweetly” Is Bad Advice

Hey everyone! I’m Jenny Hale and you’re watching my truth bomb series – a series of short videos about advice for relationships that’s completely wrong, why it’s wrong, and where the truth really lies.

Today I’d like to talk to you about the piece of advice – in English culture we actually have an expression which is “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”- and the idea is that if you say something sweetly and nicely you’ll get what you want more often than if you say it in a sour or harsh way.

I don’t really know why we’re supposed to want flies in the first place … but leaving the expression aside, the idea that whenever you want to express something when you’re in conflict with your partner, when you’re trying to resolve an issue, that you’ll get a better result if you express it sweetly and kindly and nicely.

Oddly enough, in our culture you find this advice being offered to women more often than to men. There’s something in our culture which says that women should be sweet and polite and nice when they’re expressing their concerns and their needs and their boundaries. With men, if they’re a little bit more forthright, a little bit more angry, a little bit more aggressive that’s just to be expected.

But as time goes on, and we’re looking at the masculine/feminine stereotypes, this advice is morphing into a generic advice which is being given to everybody, men as well.

It seems completely obvious. If I think about it, if someone’s coming to me to tell me something that I might not want to hear, I would prefer they said it nicely.

Intuitively, you think if you’re polite and sweet and nice, people will take it in. If you’re hostile, aggressive, of course people push back.

It seems intuitively obvious, and we all have these experiences.

However, when it comes to our intimate relationships, when it comes to people who are close to us, there is one thing which is even more important than politeness and palatability and sweetness and acceptability. That thing is authenticity.

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If you speak to your partner in a sweet way that’s not really true for you if you’re putting it on, if you’re wrapping your message of anger and resentment in a sweet wrapper, it probably isn’t going to get you the result that you want.

Depending on your partner and their level of sensitivity and self-awareness, for some people it will scare them. The mismatch between the wrapper of sweetness and the underlying emotion of anger, which they can feel, is actually scary for some people. That will put them into a shutdown and they won’t be able to engage with you at all.

For some people if it’s in a sweet wrapper it just doesn’t penetrate. If your tone of voice is gentle and sweet it’s just kind of background noise. It’s not until you actually display some strong emotion that these people go “oh wait a minute, I need to pay attention to this”.

Particularly if you’ve got somebody who’s very task-focused as a partner, somebody who whatever they’re doing, they’ve got their full attention on it, and you want to get their full attention to go from whatever it is they’re currently doing now to some issue in the relationship then it really helps to allow the genuine emotion of frustration or anger or whatever it is, allow it to become on the surface and be visible.

If you do this in a responsible way, you don’t shower them with accusations and blame, but you do allow the emotion to be heard and seen and felt then you’ll reach these people. You’ll get through to these very task-focused people in a much better way than if you use soft gentle language which to them just sounds like more of the same of everyday stuff that they don’t really need to change focus for.

So there it is. Yes, in general, when we’re dealing with people it is good to be sweet, to be kind, to be polite. That’s reasonably common sense. However, when it comes to communicating very deep emotional things in intimate relationship, it can actually become unproductive to wrap that in a sweet wrapper that’s not authentic.

Authenticity is one of the most important features of an intimate relationship. If you aren’t authentic with each other about your emotions, particularly your unacceptable, unpleasant emotions, then in the end it’s going to undermine the basis of the passion in the relationship.

You’ll end up just playing a role for each other and that gets boring and stale and ultimately it will kill the relationship.

So although in general it’s good to be kind and sweet and polite, don’t do it at the expense of your authenticity. Figure out a way to bring your authentic emotions forth in a responsible way. Not an argumentative, attacking way but also for them to be seen and to be felt by your partner. That is what will keep passion alive in the relationship.