It is natural for human beings to progress in life. We instinctually want to see results and, often times, when we don’t see any we become easily discouraged. Nowhere is this more evident than in romantic relationships, where all too often people give up because they believe they have “tried everything” to make the relationship better but to no avail.
If you fall into this category, I would like to introduce you to a profound concept studied in economics called the Pareto Law (AKA, the 80/20 Principle) that, when understood, can create incredible change—very quickly—in any relationship. Applied to relationships, the Pareto Law simply states that:
A small percent of our efforts create the majority of our outcomes; hence, 20 percent of our behavior creates 80 percent of our results.
The difficult aspect of this principle for most people is that the 20 percent of the pie that really can create incredible change invariably encompasses most of the behaviors they either don’t want to change or don’t “feel” are the appropriate changes to make. Most individuals and couples continuously address the same 80 percent of areas they “feel” will work and, as a result, repeat the same unhelpful patterns over and over without making progress. This is simply delusional.
Here’s an example of how I worked with a couple to understand and implement this principle. In this case, the marriage was struggling because the husband was acting with anger and hostility toward their three children. This, in turn, severely upset the wife, who was seriously considering leaving her husband.
The parents had long working hours, and their youngest daughter needed significant attention due to her young age. The husband also was stressed because he was remodeling the entire family home.
When I asked both to identify the 20 percent of their inputs that contributed to the happiness of their marriage, they began to list behaviors they engaged in that they “felt” would make the other happy and less stressed. However, they had never once analyzed the results that they were getting from these inputs.
The husband reported how he was trying to discipline the children to do their chores without having to be asked to decrease the amount of housework the mother had to do and reduce her stress. He quickly learned from his wife’s response that this was not in her 20 percent.
The wife reported how she was trying to take care of the children and focus on keeping them out of the father’s ways while he remodeled. She believed that the less the children bothered the father, the more he could accomplish with the renovation, and the less stressed he would feel. Quickly, she learned from her husband’s response that this behavior was not anywhere close to falling into his 20 percent! We then worked on identifying the 20 percent of each partner’s behavior that could be changed to truly help them resolve their differences and become happier in the relationship.
The husband reported that he wanted to spend more time alone with his wife; he believed she was always focusing on the children and too tired to have an intimate relationship due to the amount of housework she had to accomplish. He also noted that he wanted to go out on a “date night” at least once a week and spend a minimum of 30 minutes each day alone talking without any interruptions or distractions from the children. These were the main reasons he became so frustrated with the children and would become hostile towards them when they didn’t do their chores or interrupted them while they were talking.
The wife reported she would gladly be able to do this with him if he would spend time picking up after himself when he is done a remodeling job. She also wanted him to start talking more calmly toward the children when they failed to remember to do their chores and to start playing more often with the children when he had time in the evening. The wife revealed that it was difficult to become emotionally connected to the husband and initiate intimacy when he interacted with their children in a hostile and angry manner.
Both agreed to each others’ terms as realistic expectations, and within two weeks the husband and wife reported feeling like a light switch had turned on. They were actually getting the results that they had desired from one another for so long!
It’s Your Turn
Now it’s your turn to take a look at your 20 percent and identify whether your inputs are really the 20 percent your partner desires. Remember, the 20 percent is not what you “feel” it should be, but what your partner wants it to be.
I believe everyone wants a fire in their romantic relationship, but nobody wants to get burned. We don’t want to work hard at creating an incredibly close, vulnerable, emotional connection that is going to fail. However, we often want our relationship to be on “our terms” and to focus on what we are comfortable with, and this inevitability leads to boredom, frustration and predictable outcomes that are counterproductive.
I challenge you to reach out and learn what your partner wants—what he or she needs and desires. This will always give you the 20 percent of behaviors that will create 80 percent of the happiness that you’re seeking in a relationship. Get ready for some discomfort, expect to grow, and enjoy the experiences knowing that you’re finally making the progress you have always dreamed about with your partner. Listen to the emotional meaning behind what your partner is asking from you. Seek to understand what emotions are driving the need for change, and accept your partner’s feelings; in turn he or she will begin to accept your feelings. If you seek out these small fragments of emotion and accept and recognize them, you will see dramatic enhancements in yourself and your partner.
Find and make the small changes that lead to big results, and start living 80 percent happier in your relationship now!
Matthew Maynard, M.A., MFT, is a strategic emotional intelligence coach by night, and a Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy Clinician by day. Matt graduated with his Master’s Degree from Syracuse University in Marriage and Family Therapy and also has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, which focused mainly on behaviorism. His approach is focused in emotional intelligence, which directs clients on utilizing their emotions appropriately, in order to create dynamic and accelerated changes in their relationships. Matt believes relationships are an art, and can be mastered with specific strategies and skills, available to all. Learn more about his private coaching practice at www.relationshipsarenotfromspace.com
This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! Expert Advice, Practical Tools, and Personal Stories, written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at Amazon.com, BN.com, www.Transformation-Publishing.com and all ebook formats.