The 20% Commitment That Yields 80% Marital Growth

It doesn't take a miracle to transform your marriage. It just takes some small decisions.

Great marriages don’t just happen. They are co-created—with each spouse contributing 100% to its success. Today I met a couple that has been married 48 years. They said the secret is that he gives 100% and she gives 110%. We laughed. But, they tapped a central truth. Great marriages go all in. These couples are rewarded with a deep sense of happiness and attachment that feels almost spiritual in nature. We all wish for this kind of marriage. Its what we dream about when we first say “I do”. But, for many of us it now feels unrealistic—just too lofty and expectation given where things are currently. But, what if it only took 20% to claim your great marriage? And, that 20% is well within your reach—if you want it.

Most of us are familiar with the well-known Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20) rule. We’ve seen it applied to many contexts. You may have heard in the workplace that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. You may have heard it in the church context where 20% of the people give 80% of the donations.

Have you ever thought about the application to your marriage?

In my experience working with couples, I’ve discovered a profound application of the 80-20 rule that is particularly encouraging for those who are losing hope that their marriage will ever be what they dreamed. Twenty percent of what you put into your marriage is responsible for 80% of what you get out of it.

Why is this profound?

We tend to believe that if our marriage is not in a particularly healthy place that it will take years of work or maybe a herculean effort to move it forward. We become so daunted by the perceived size of our marital problems that we get paralyzed.

Our communication pattern seems unsalvageable. Shared decision-making feels like a pipe dream. Many couples give up trying. You can hear the indifference in their voices—a defense to protect their emotions.

But, what if the marriage that you dreamed of was achievable based on 20% of what you put into it? I’m not suggesting that this 20% is so easily done. But, imagine the possibilities if it doesn’t require that everything in your interaction change immediately. What if you don’t have to do everything perfectly? What if you don’t have to walk on eggshells? Imagine the possibilities if you don’t have to relearn everything from scratch.

It all starts with changing what you believe. What we believe informs how we behave. By changing your beliefs you change the lens through which you see your spouse, yourself, and the trajectory of your marriage.

I’d like to suggest that adopting the following four beliefs is the most important 20% you can do for your marriage. It’s more important than taking communication skills workshops. It’s more important than visiting a financial planner to agree on a budget. It’s even more important than setting your shared goals.

You just have to change what you believe about your spouse. Everything else (the communication, finances, goal-setting) will follow.

Four Beliefs to Transform Your Marriage

Belief #1: You are in my life to shape me into who God created me to be

You and your spouse are probably pretty different. We tend to be attracted to those who seem to complement who we are. The problem, however, is that those differences tend to create conflict. The conflict then drives a wedge between us.

When you believe, however, that your spouse is here to help shape you, then you are better able to see those differences as growth opportunities. The conflict creates a window for you to stretch beyond your comfort zone—particularly when you know your spouse has your best interest at heart.

Belief #2: You deserve reckless grace

Gracefulness is second only to thankfulness as the most important elements of a marriage. Graceful acts between spouses are powerful because they send a clear message about the importance of the relationship.

You’ve moved beyond tit for tat. You’ve stopped counting your spouses slip ups.

Rather, you’ve decided to show to your spouse a measure of the grace that God shows to you daily. Reckless grace suggests a willingness to be liberal (though not without boundaries) in demonstrating favor to your spouse—even when you’re pretty sure he/she doesn’t deserve it.

Why should you do that? Because you don’t deserve the grace that you receive from God and others.

Belief #3: Your needs and desires are as important as my own

The old adage is true. People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know. Trust builds as your spouse believe that you authentically care about what is important to him/her. Too often marriages are replete with individuals who are more interested in convincing their spouse of their own needs.

Marriages fail when each spouse can only take and not give.

Marriages succeed when it is built on mutuality—give and take. As you prioritize your spouse’s needs and desires, there is a higher likelihood that the same will come back to you. If it doesn’t then that is a time to show reckless grace.

Belief #4: Small steps will transform our marriage 

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your marriage won’t transform overnight.  Relational transformation nearly always happens in baby steps.

Tomorrow spend a few minutes more with your spouse than you did today. Next week, ask her if she needs anything one more time than you did this week. Next month, bring her flowers one more time than you did this month.

Purposeful marriage is about the small steps that happen everyday that bring joy to the relationship.

Too often, couples are waiting for the home run—that one major conference or self-help book that will change everything. When that fails, the couple assume that is confirmation that their problems are just too big—insurmountable.

But, that is a lie.

The one home run isn’t likely to happen. But, that is not the foundation of a great marriage. The foundation is a commitment to these four practices. You don’t have to get them perfect. You just have to try. That’s all. Just try.

You can achieve 80% of what you want in your marriage by committing to these four beliefs about your spouse.  It’s that simple.

Blessings on you in the process. I’m praying for you.

Leave me a comment and let me know which practice you think will be easiest and hardest.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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