80/20 Rule Relationships: Benefits for Your Personal Life

Updated June 13, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Few things in life are distributed evenly. In fact, most efforts and rewards follow a simple 80:20 formula. This rule, first introduced in economics, is now being adapted to help people develop better relationships. Here's how understanding and aiming for 80/20 rule relationships can benefit you both individually and as one half of an intimate couple.

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What Are 80/20 Rule Relationships?

Over a century ago, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto studied the distribution of wealth in his native country. He discovered that 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the land. The theory was later expanded to recognize that many things in life seem to follow the same percentages. The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology gives the general definition of this Pareto principle as "the rule of thumb that 80% of any given output is produced by 20% of input."

In Psychology Today, 80/20 rule relationships are described in a slightly different way. That is, you only need to focus 20 percent of your attention and time on your own needs to ensure that your needs are met. When you spend 80 percent of your time giving your loved ones kindness, caring, compassion, and affection, you're happier and more fulfilled in your relationships.

Benefits Of 80/20 Rule Relationships For You as an Individual

If you want to be happy as an individual, an 80:20 rule relationship makes perfect sense. If you focus all your attention on your partner, you cheat yourself. Giving yourself that 20 percent is critical to your well-being. At the same time, giving 80 percent to your partner can truly make you a happier person.

Maintains Your Individuality

Many people find it easy to lose their sense of identity when they're in an intimate relationship. You need to give time and attention to the ideas, beliefs, activities, and interests that matter to you as an individual. With 20 percent of your focus on yourself as an individual, you stay in touch with who you are and what you want from life.

Creates Personal Space

Even in a close relationship, each partner requires personal space. If you're feeling smothered in your relationship, it may be because you aren't going anywhere or doing anything that doesn't involve the other person. By giving yourself that 20 percent, you create personal space to think and do important things to yourself but not to your partner.

Gives You Time for Personal Development

Taking 20 percent of your time for yourself gives you many opportunities to pursue your own goals and reach your most cherished dreams. Think about it. If you spend 100 percent of your time and give 100 percent of your efforts to your partner's needs, you will never be able to take care of your own needs and desires. Whether you take classes, pursue a hobby, go to a gym, or just read extensively on a subject that interests you, you need to allow yourself time away from the relationship to develop as an individual.

Enhances Self Fulfillment

Giving yourself 20 percent of your efforts has another side effect beyond helping you develop as a person. When you take advantage of the opportunities you have as an individual, you give yourself a chance to live a more fulfilled life. By conquering challenges yourself, you become more confident and happier with what you have achieved in your life. You feel the energy and joy that comes from your own accomplishments, knowing that your efforts have been the biggest key to your success.

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Helps You Become More Generous And Giving

The other side of 80/20 rule relationships is that they help you become a more loving person. When you are always focused on yourself and your own needs, you become stingier, more self-absorbed, greedier, and ultimately, more alone. By focusing 80 percent of your effort on being kind and generous with your partner, you develop a greater capacity to care for others.

Brings Personal Joy

Joy can come from many sources. You might feel it when you're alone, enjoying a beautiful sunrise. Or, you may feel joyful when you hear your favorite song. You may feel joy when you ace a test or get a promotion. But you can also experience the personal joy that comes from having a healthy relationship. When you focus 80 percent on your partner, you feel happy when you have helped them or given them something they need. When they are joyful, you find yourself feeling happy, too, because you've developed your ability to care about their wellbeing.

Benefits For Your Relationship

Beyond what this rule can do for you as an individual, it can improve your relationship. And, if your relationship is an important part of your life, you want it to be healthy and happy. Following the 80:20 rule in your relationship can help it grow stronger, more stable, and more satisfying in many ways.

Eliminates Feelings Of Resentment

You may feel resentment in your relationship if you are sacrificing everything for your partner. You may think 100 percent that it is the right thing to do, but you will likely come to resent them over time. By devoting 20 percent of your attention to taking care of your own needs, you avoid that feeling.

Another thing that can cause feelings of resentment is focusing solely on yourself. Because all your attention is on what you want and need, any failure to get it is magnified in your mind. You may find it very hard to recognize the good things from both your 20 percent and the 80 percent you give your partner. But when you give more loving attention to your partner, rather than always thinking about everything you don't get, you are less likely to dwell on the negatives.

Increases Feelings Of Emotional Intimacy

It is equally difficult to achieve true emotional intimacy when you give your partner everything as it is when you give your partner nothing. You need a healthy balance to have a relationship where you can both feel comfortable enough to share your most personal thoughts and experiences. The 80/20 rule says that you need to give your partner much more attention than giving yourself a healthy relationship. From there, the intimacy can grow and grow.

Makes Settling Differences Easier

Have you ever been in a disagreement where both sides are focused solely on what they want and need? Such arguments are very difficult to resolve. Neither one wants to listen to what the other has to say. Neither gives the other person very much respect. They vow to hold onto their view no matter what they hear because they see their opinion as to the only one that matters.

However, when two people disagree practice the 80/20 rule, they care what the other person has to say. Instead of just talking about what they want, they listen closely to find out what others need. They give them kindness and respect as they both work through the issue to find a resolution that will satisfy both of them. And, because they are not giving the other person 100 percent of their focus, they stand up for their own opinions when it counts.

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Promotes Interdependence

The healthiest relationships are interdependent. If you are too needy and dependent, the relationship suffers. On the other hand, if you are so independent that you don't even consider the other person's happiness, you can't develop a very close relationship. Interdependent relationships are balanced so that each person is strong as an individual and closely involved with their partner. 80/20 rule relationships promote that healthy balance by giving both people a voice.

Dealing With Unbalanced Relationships

If your relationship seems like a one-way street, you can improve it dramatically by adopting the 80/20 rule. It also helps if your partner follows the same principle. But how do you get to a healthy balance from where you are now? Going to couples' counseling together is a good way to begin.

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A relationship counselor can help you learn how to master the 80/20 principle. In couples therapy, you can start by discovering both the positive aspects of your relationship and the areas where you could benefit from making changes. You can learn more about the benefits of taking care of your own needs and giving even more attention to your partner's needs. Your counselor can guide you as you overcome your habit of thinking only about yourself. Or, they can support you as you take steps to honor yourself as much as you need to be healthy and happy in your relationship.

Building an 80/20 rule relationship can create a sincerely loving partnership that can weather the storms that come up in any couple's life. You can be happier and more fulfilled as a person and develop a healthier relationship along the way.


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