21 Day Relationship Challenge – Day 3

Make the Positive Argument

Today’s resolution suggests that you “Make the positive argument.” We’re all good at arguing our case; by making the positive argument, you argue the other side. Really, I’m amazed by how well this works.

How does this resolution sound to you? If you tried it, did it help you see a situation differently?

Did it make a difference to your happiness?

We can all learn from each other, so please post your experiences with the resolution in the comments section below.

  • peninith1

    I had to go back to previous posts to really ‘get’ this phrase. Yes, it does help your perspective to make a positive argument for a position–even the one opposite to what you are thinking.

    Doing that over the years has helped me to see that one’s point of view is actually the most important factor in determining what seems real to you. You can see that in the political sphere all the time. People get passionate, overheated, emotional and completely counter-factual and illogical if they never see outside the box of their own viewpoint. (Don’t get me started on our fragmented news media being all about reconfirming our own biases!!!!)

    My S.O. holds very different views from mine on a lot of issues of politics and public policy, so I have learned to look at external issues from both sides. Your post reminds me to pay attention to this aspect of the personal. You make me remember strongly times when I have tried–and succeeded–to think and act against self definitions of who I am and what I’m good at. I CAN be good at managing money, solving logistical problems, learning new skills, demonstrating self discipline. If I choose to see myself in a different light, I can discover new dimensions of myself. And, as you rightly point out, I can also find many reasons give my friend credit for aspects of himself neither he nor I consciously claim for him.

  • ABC

    Well, I dont have a husband but isnt this slightly dangerous. I can imagine this working well for most parts, but what if the husband or boss IS in fact treating you badly and you are convincing yourself otherwise???

    I am sure women in abusive marriages do this….

    • peninith1

      But this method could also help a person who is belittled to try looking at herself in a more positive light than in the terms her partner presents. I agree that in a sick relationship this tool might not help. But in a fixedly negative relationship I would guess that nearly anything normally nurturing would backfire. A kiss in the morning and at night could be interpreted as guilty cover up by a crazy jealous person. You can’t WRITE rules that will make some things better.

      • gretchenrubin

        My resolutions aren’t meant to cover abusive relationships. That’s beyond my scope.

  • Betsy Westendorf

    I read your post just before a conference call with a client who needed to give feedback to her assistant. I had been planning to help her craft a corrective feedback message but after reading this I took your approach. She loved it, and she added that her assistant had told her how much he liked working for her because she took the time to give positive feedback. His previous boss only corrected him. So it was actually what he had asked for. Thank you. What a lesson for me. This approach forces us to unhitch from the automatic “crap detector” that is part of the human condition and redirect our thinking which redirects our energy, our words and our appreciation and compassion.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you found it useful.

  • leap

    I feel making the positive argument could be a useful tool
    in relationships with oneself, family, friends, and even political “foes” or
    any combination thereof. I agree with ABC that there are times when it could be dangerous to do so. Theoretically, if one can distance oneself from the duress, it would not be possible to make the argument. One would not find enough evidence to
    support the null hypothesis that the partner is not abusive. I sometimes feel
    the jury is still out in my head when it comes to certain relationships.

    I guess one also needs to check any positive argument against one’s true values. One could avoid piling up a laundry list of negative evidence and still recognize a partner’s particular thoughtless habit persists. In a healthy relationship, one ought to be able to say occasionally, “I know you are a thoughtful person, but when you don’t reciprocate a handwritten note (complete with SASE), I feel hurt. Would you be willing to try this ONE thing toward improving our relationship? It would go a long way toward building
    trust.”

  • Angie

    Gretchen, I can’t find the answer to this in the 21 day challenge info- Do you suggest we tell our S.O. that we’re doing the challenge? I’m hoping my husband will notice a difference in me over the next few weeks, but would it be better to tell him now or when it’s over? Thanks for sharing your happiness research!

    • JJ

      I think tell him when its over!!

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting question! Depends, I guess…

      In my case, bringing up something like that usually means I’m fishing for praise or appreciation, and that rarely works out well. So I don’t.
      I always think in terms of working on myself, and changing my circumstances and my relationships that way. But maybe others think it would be good to tell a sweetheart. ???

      • Angie

        I agree- I’m way too eager to fish for praise or appreciation. That’s one of the things I noticed about myself since reading your blog/book.
        That settles it. I won’t mention the project. My goal is to improve my relationships by improving myself. Thanks for the advice.

    • Kirstie

      I was thinking the same thing! I haven’t told my husband yet, just that I am doing a happiness porject this year and am actually using my beautiful journal I got for Christmas… Perhaps when it is over I’ll tell him! :>

  • happiness project follower

    Sorry, but I am afraid I have been very disappointed so far with the 21 day challenge – all points are re-hashed from the book(s) – for some reason I was expecting something actionable each day, like call 1 friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or write a note or e-mail to a loved one, or something like that. Simple, 2 minute immediate actionable items to help us improve a specific relationship or relationships.

    • gretchenrubin

      Sorry to hear that.

      To me these seem actionable! Different approaches work for different people. For my part, I just wouldn’t call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while. (I almost never use the phone anymore, except to talk to my family or for work; is anyone else finding this?)
      Good luck!

  • Laura

    I really like this. I do something similar when I am burnt out on chores or work. I turn it around and think instead”I hate doing dishes” something like “I am blessed to have home full of food to provide dinner for my family. I will def use this technique.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s weird to me how often this works! I think, “I don’t like putting the books away,” then I think, “I love putting the books away,” and then I decide that I DO!

  • bluebird believer

    This is quite relevant for me at the moment, as I’m working full-time and my partner is on a break from studying. He didn’t get a summer job, the one he thought he would fell through, so this means he’s my “house husband”. My job is pretty full on and I come home pretty exhausted. I’m quite a tidy organised type and when I come home to find a kitchen full of dishes and other chores not done, I get quite annoyed with my partner. I just think, as I’m making the money the least he could do would be to get things done around the place instead of being on his computer. He’s a wonderful loving guy in many other ways, and I have to remind myself of this. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and I struggle to get my message across without “nagging” (don’t we all HATE that word!!).
    So in this case, trying to remember the ‘positive argument’ sounds ok (remember that he is a great guy and I’m lucky), but really I would just like the dishes done!

  • Ellen

    I do something similar when I am driving and someone elses’ driving causes me to get upset. I tell myself and even speak it out loud, “That person is demonstrating poor driving technique!” Then my reflexive internal personal attacks on who they are or their mental abilities are no longer front and center and I am also much calmer and happier (and I drive better without any rage!).

  • Yocheved Z. Amrami

    gretchen! you are amazing.. thank you for this. my fiance and i have been going through a challenging phase in our relationship – shift in careers, transitioning from sf back to nyc, etc – and this really helped me see past my own frustrations. happy to see it in the 21 day challenge.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck during a challenging time!

  • SharonThoughts

    Something about this technique just doesn’t sit right . I guess it seems like there should be a way to acknowledge and not dismiss the first thing you’re thinking (the negative) and then try to quickly move to a “yes but” statement. For example, “My husband’s such a slob!” ” Yes but let me think of some times when he wasn’t.” Somehow it seems a little less Stuart Smalley to me. It doesn’t seem as pie in the sky.It allows you to have the first thought or emotion yet chose not to dwell on it, and then intentionally choose something positive.

  • peninith1

    I was searching around my mind for an example of this mental transaction–then remembered St. Therese talking about being annoyed by another sister clicking her teeth together or making some other sort of noise during prayer, and deciding to regard it as ‘delightful music.’ That is an example that has actually helped me not to rebel and agitate myself about someone else’s repetitive habit.

    Also, this brings to mind another lesson learned from sisters: “If another’s fault vex you, uphold your sister in prayer, and yourself PRACTICE THE OPPOSITE VIRTUE.” That is one that has helped me enormously many times.

  • Kirstie

    LOVE THIS ONE – Thanks @gretchenrubin:disqus! I love the “secret” – Don’t believe everything you think – as well as the resolution. I KNOW I am good at this: it comes so instictively to me when listening and chatting with friends about any issues they may be having in their lives. However, when it comes to me, my default setting is the spiral of criticism and negativity…
    Thanks for this Aha! moment. I have the tools, I just need to use them!

  • KatieB

    Training our brains to think in a different way and eventually making that new (positive) way the habit – this is something that these 3 resolutions have given me so far.

    Just today when I had to stay at work late for a meeting (which is rare), my husband had to pick up our son from the babysitter. I should mention that my husband works from home. Whenever he is the one to pick up our son, he goes later than I do. This irritates me for some reason. I think, “Doesn’t he even care that our son has been at daycare for 7 hours? Is his work more important than spending that extra 15 minutes to 30 minutes with our son?” I made myself think the opposite. “Wow! I have an amazingly attentive husband. Both to me and our son. Yes, he does work really hard and spend lots of time at work, but when he’s with us he is 100% there. He so easily enters into our son’s interests. Imagine if I had a 1950s husband! I am one lucky lady!”

    Because of the challenge, I forced myself to look on the bright side. Such a simple idea, but so profound.

    I have been totally and completely drawn to female bloggers out there who challenge the status quo. You and DesignMom are my favs. I feel like it is my own personal revolution to go against the norms of “nag your husband,” “feel guilty about being a working mom,” “have a negative self image,” “be stuck in a job you don’t find fulfilling” etc.

    The way you come at happiness and our choices to re-frame our experiences to fully appreciate our longs days and short years is my own personal “burning of my bra.”

    Thank you.

  • I was able to put this into action first thing this morning. I became annoyed with my hubby over some small thing and thought “Why doesn’t he think of how things will affect me!?!” Then I thought “He does think of how things will affect me!” and remembered that when he couldn’t sleep last night he went downstairs so he didn’t keep me up, and because he was up anyways he took a the time to make me coffee. I’m so glad I wasn’t in a snit over a petty issue after all. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great example.

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  • Make a positive argument could be a way also to consider the all picture and not only details. Sometimes a recent “bad” behaviour is compensated by a long list of small “good” acts.

  • Jo

    I loved this idea …. so powerful. I have also recently been reading about a related idea by an author Arielle Ford called Wabi Sabi Love. About seeing love in imperfection. It worked brilliantly for me where my super caring husband annoyed me for such a silly reason each day. He makes sandwiches and leaves the board etc out (I am very tidy in the kitchen) But then I thought actually normally he is so thoughtful that this is a reminder to me of how I must do things that annoy him and to be aware of that! Also, when he heads off to work it’s a reminder to me that I am lucky enough to have him in my life and we are lucky enough to have food to eat to leave around.!!