What is the 80/20 rule? For anyone new to this term, the 80/20 rule, also known as the pareto principle, is a theory that says that in a fairly healthy relationship, you only get 80 percent of what you want. Maybe your partner isn’t a tri-athlete or great at sharing his feelings, but it’s okay because the 80 percent you do get is really good.
The other part of the equation says it’s the endless search for that missing 20 percent you’d hoped for in your mate that leads many people to cheat.
Why do people feel like the 80 percent isn’t enough for them? Why do they want the other 20 percent so badly?
The reason is because they don’t feel fulfilled and good enough in the relationship, but are unaware of that. And, in turn, they think it’s their partner that’s the problem.
As it turns out, it’s our own internal battles that are showing up on the scene, and it has absolutely nothing to do with our partner.
Although many of us would debate that fact, I was one of those people when I first got divorced. I was sure all my problems were my ex-husband’s fault. But time and experience has shown me, that was simply not the case.
This is where I turn the 80/20 rule for relationships on its head and add my own twist. Eighty percent of the issues we have with others are our own internal battles. Twenty percent are actual relationship issues.
But for couples who want to know how to have a happy relationship, here’s the catch on the 80/20 rule: to get to that crucial 20 percent, you must first work through your own baggage.
Otherwise, you spend all your time bogged down in your own internal issues, never getting to the 20 percent that is vital to creating a meaningful relationship.
Speaker Tony Robbins famously said, “The quality of our life is the quality of our relationships.” This is good news because it means we can actually do something about the current quality of our relationships, to change the future of them.
So, what can we do to create healthier new relationships and improve our existing ones?
Once we begin to become aware of our own needs and wants, then we know what’s important to us and what’s not. We won’t waste our time with people who aren’t a good fit for us, and we can work on maintaining good relationships with the people who share our core values.
Remember, 80 percent of our difficulty with other people comes from our own experiences, which we learned as children from society and family. Then we incorporate these experiences as fact and think it they’re true about everything and everyone else.
The good thing about these troubling patterns of thought is you’re capable of changing them.
For example, men and women who you meet or date may behave in ways that you find offensive. However, your relationship to them when they behave offensively is not determined by their behavior; it’s only determined by how you choose to relate to that behavior. Their actions are theirs, you cannot own them, you cannot change them, you can only process them in your mind.
How you choose to interpret people’s words and actions makes a huge difference in your relationship and how that relationship will unfold. You must go inside to realize that your interpretations are from the past, not from the current reality.
So, during a date, if something doesn’t go as planned or the way you thought it would (or should) go, you can chalk it up to experience and get clear that these behaviors are something that you don’t want in a relationship. Or, you can take it personally and never want to date again.
Take a look at your assumptions, expectations, and stories about the situation and ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship to get something. They’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good.
In reality, the only way a relationship will last past the first date is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give and explore — not a place that you take.
It is very helpful before entering a relationship to already like yourself and see yourself as complete; otherwise, you’re likely to chase new relationships, searching for that jolt of feeling good over and over again. This is part of understanding that how we see anything in life is first through our own filters, and then we project those ideas onto everyone we meet.
So, the next time you are in a relationship situation (dating or friendship), and you find yourself having negative judgments about what’s happening, first ask yourself what’s going on within yourself and just observe it. Then you’ll handle anything your date is doing with more ease and maybe with a sense of excitement and humor.
Remember: to build a relationship that lasts, you must work on your own inner 80 percent while approaching the remaining 20 percent as a joint effort.
If you find yourself getting stuck, a relationship coach can help you figure out the difference between your own needs versus what you need/want from a relationship.
Sue De Santo, LCSW, is a relationship coach. Visit her website for more information.