The 80/20 Rule: Dating Using The Pareto Principle

Updated June 18, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

You may have heard of the 80/20 principle being applied in business, exercise, and especially dieting: eat healthy 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time. This rule can apply remarkably well to dating and has been used by many people worldwide to strengthen their relationships and well-being. The Pareto principle centers on the idea that one person cannot meet your needs 100% of the time. Instead of aiming for the perfect relationship, applying the 80/20 dating rule means that you can savor the good things about it without sweating the small stuff. This may be the key to a longer, more satisfying relationship.

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The Pareto principle

The 80/20 dating theory stems from The Pareto Principle, which was conceptualized by Italian philosopher and economist Vilfredo Federico Pareto in 1906. After noticing that 80% of Italy's wealth was owned by 20% of the population, Pareto discovered that almost all economic activity could be attributed to the idea that 80% of results come from just 20% of the action it took to get there.

This concept has since been adopted across various cultures and aspects of life. For example, in Japan, Hara Hachi Bu instructs people to eat until they are 80% full and no more. Researchers have found that this guideline may be one reason why Japanese people live such long and healthy lives.

This rule has also been applied to business; to increase productivity, rather than to idle on low importance tasks (the 80%), it can be more effective to focus on the most valuable areas (the 20%). The key to being more efficient, says The Pareto Principle, is to drop or delegate the least important work for the most results-bearing tasks.

In a more philosophical sense, the 80/20 theory implies that there will always be things in your life that are not going right; if your car has broken down, the next problem will be your pet getting sick. It is about your attitude and how you respond to these '20% issues' that can determine how miserable you make yourself feel, according to this rule. Now, people are applying this golden rule to their relationships and dating life, using it to accept flaws in their significant other or spend some quality time alone, among other things.

What is the 80/20 dating rule?

The 80/20 rule states that if a relationship is great 80% of the time, the rest can be less than ideal. After all, it is impossible and unrealistic to find a person or a relationship that is perfect all the time.

This theory also supports the idea that if people feel like something is missing in the relationship, they can take some time to be independent and do things that interest them outside of that person. Even though most of their time may be spent nurturing the relationship, 20% of it can be used to engage in self-exploration and self-fulfilling hobbies, such as traveling, reading, and going to the gym. But why 80/20 and not 90/10? Simply put, any more than 80% may put too much pressure on the relationship.

Sloan Sheridan Williams, a life coach and relationship expert says, "Anything that encourages balance in a relationship is always a positive step forward. The key to a healthy relationship is to raise your standards and lower your expectations. Lowering your expectations for 20% of the relationship will create enough flexibility to allow a relationship to continue and grow."

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The 80/20 rule: Relationships and dating

Many of us have fantasies of the "perfect" partner: we might want them to be hardworking, intelligent, good-looking, romantic, and emotionally available, in addition to being our soul mate, best friend, and romantic partner, all rolled into one. However, this ideal is unrealistic and daydreamlike. No person or relationship is perfect, and none can provide 100% of your happiness because none were designed to. A romantic relationship may be one bridge to the path of happiness, but it is not the only one.

Our unattainable physical, mental, and spiritual standards are something we cannot live up to ourselves, let alone another human being. Even if a person is as perfect as they can humanly be, there will still be some dissatisfaction in the relationship simply because it is human nature to detect flaws in other people.

This is why the 80/20 principle can apply well to dating and help us approach love, people, and relationships with a sense of balance. It can effectively align our expectations with reality. Rather than seeking the ideal relationship, using this rule may give us permission to embrace the imperfections of a relationship and accept our partners as they are.

The Pareto principle also emphasizes the importance of spending time by yourself, which can be just as important as devoting time to a partner. Pursuing and engaging in independent activities that are fulfilling and enjoyable can work especially well in long-term relationships. Plenty of couples are so engrossed in spending time with each other that they forget how to be apart and lose sight of their unique dreams and goals.

The 80/20 principle is about remembering that the search for a perfect relationship will likely only feed perpetual unhappiness and discontent. We can be in a healthy, fulfilling relationship most of the time and let the odd irritations and annoyances slide. However, this does not mean settling for less than what we deserve. There is a clear distinction between being realistic and settling down with someone you know isn't right for you. A good relationship should enhance your life quality and make it better, even if there are obvious issues to work through.

What is a 20% relationship?

A 20% relationship is one where you are only satisfied for that amount of time. It could be for various reasons: the connection is only physical or sexual, it feels superficial, or you don't see a future with that person. One study illuminated that couples are 10% more likely to stay with each other if they shared just one material constraint.

Any relationship that compromises your core values is worth reconsidering as this can cause conflict and challenges later in the relationship. For example, if your partner does not place a high value on having a family and you do, that probably needs to be discussed with them before deciding that you are ready for children.

If there is any physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, this should not be tolerated, and the 80/20 rule would not apply here. If you feel threatened, seek help immediately by calling 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800.799. SAFE (7233).

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

There are many grey areas in a relationship that you may be unsure of, and seeking the help of a licensed couples therapist can help you explore what is sustainable in a healthy relationship and what may not be.

The benefits of 80/20 dating

One of the benefits of the 80/20 relationship rule is that it can keep you realistic. The 80/20 dating principle goes against the impulse to bail if something doesn't fit your idea of perfection. Holding out for a picturesque relationship may prevent you from growing and nurturing fulfilling relationships and can keep you in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. After all, if you cannot be happy with 80% great, you certainly cannot be happy with much else. 

The Pareto principle can also keep you grounded in gratitude. Remembering that no relationship is ideal can remind you of all the things that make the relationship so wonderful. It may even be great because of its imperfections and quirks. When you cultivate a positive attitude and practice acceptance and gratitude for what you have, you can make the relationship even better than it is and increase its chances of surviving in the long term.

The 80/20 rule is also a reminder of our humanness. We can all be difficult at times. We cry, we lash out, we get scared— that is the human experience. Thinking about leaving the other person because they can be hard to deal with sometimes, even if you are mostly happy in the relationship, may not be the healthiest idea. The 80/20 dating rule serves as a reminder to embrace the bad and the ugly in the other person and in yourself.

The key to the 80/20 dating rule is to treasure and see the good in your partner and the relationship most of the time, rather than getting stuck on the things that are less than ideal. After all, if you were not dealing with your partner's quirks and imperfections, you would most assuredly be dealing with somebody else's. 

It can also force you to look at your own issues. Many people expect nothing short of perfection when it comes to their ideal partners but do not use that same measuring stick on themselves. We all have baggage we need to work through before pointing the finger at somebody else, and that begins by asking yourself hard and honest questions like: Am I meeting the standards that I have set for others? And am I projecting my negative thoughts and emotions on my partner? Answering these questions could allow the relationship to be fairer and more balanced and take some pressure off your partner. 

Spending too much time with your partner can breed resentment and boredom and result in people feeling smothered. When two people are given space to be by themselves and do something that interests them outside of the relationship, it can make spending time together that much sweeter and more memorable.

One potential downside of the 80/20 dating rule is that some people enjoy that 20% time alone more than the 80% time spent together. However, all couples are different and need to make their own set of rules; some may find they want to increase their independence from each other, and others may want to reduce the amount of time they spend apart. Whatever the situation, communication can be key to a healthy compromise.

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Want to learn more about the Pareto principle?

Online counseling with Regain

For a relationship to thrive, it can be important for partners to recognize and remember the positive aspects of their significant other, particularly during conflict. This can be true even during the dating stage as no one is perfect. If you and your partner are having trouble overcoming challenges on your own, a session with a licensed therapist could be in order. Regain is an online counseling platform that specializes in helping couples. Whether you’re facing challenges with intimacy, trust, communication, or something else, you can speak with a therapist trained in that area. There’s no need to sit around and hope your situation will improve; instead, you can get started with an online therapist with the click of a button and begin coming up with a plan to transform your relationship.  

The efficacy of online counseling 

The Pareto Principle may be useful for couples looking to focus on the positive aspects of their relationship. Those that still want to make improvements could benefit from online counseling. In one study, researchers assessed the efficacy of an internet-delivered couples therapy program for improving relationship satisfaction and decreasing relationship distress. Couples who participated reported having an easier time recognizing the issues in their relationship and also felt more comfortable working with their partner to come up with potential solutions. Making positive changes within the relationship led to increased satisfaction with one another and less relational distress.

Counselor reviews

“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”

“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”


The 80/20 theory means embracing all aspects of your life, including those parts that may not be as appealing or perfect. This may be the case when it comes to dating, as everyone you meet will be flawed in some way. While there’s no real equation when it comes to love, it can be normal not to always feel 100% happy with your partner. The 80/20 dating rule can remind you to focus on the positives in your relationship, work through problems instead of jumping ship, and model the kind of behavior you want to see in your partner. Healthy relationships take hard work, commitment, and a whole lot of patience. If you’re struggling in any of these areas, consider getting advice from a therapist. Regain has online therapists who can guide you toward the kind of relationship you desire.

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