The 80/20 relationship rule

Rebecca Thair
By Rebecca Thair,
updated on Jul 2, 2021

The 80/20 relationship rule

Why having your own personal space in a relationship might just bring you closer together

You may have heard of the 5:2 diet, the entrepreneurial 60:40 rule, but now there’s a new rule of proportions, and this one is prompting couples to think about the amount of time they spend together. But can the law of attraction be boiled down to a formula?

The 80/20 relationship theory states that you can only get about 80% of your wants and needs from a healthy relationship, while the remaining 20% you need to provide for yourself. Sounds like the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a spa day.

This idea of an 80/20 time split is nothing new. Italian economist Vilfredo Federico Pareto’s 80/20 principle was developed in 1906, when he found that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. In Japan, the practice of “hara hachi” – where people eat until they’re 80% full – has been found by researchers to lead to less disease and longer lives. Others have applied the 80/20 rule to their work lives, ensuring they keep 20% of their energy reserved so they don’t burn out and have the energy in reserve to enjoy their free time.

This is a photo of a couple at a train station

Image | Bubbers BB /

So, how does this principle apply in relationships? Taken in a positive way, the 80/20 relationship rule can be about rekindling the passions that have fallen down your list of priorities since finding love. It can be about emphasising the importance of spending time on yourself as an individual, as well as nurturing your relationship. You should spend 80% of your time devoted to your relationship, and still have 20% freedom to follow your dreams and do what you want. That actually makes a whole lot of sense.

Some couples can become so used to spending all their time together, they forget how to be apart. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with your significant other, but you shouldn’t lose your own identity in the process. To maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important to know that as much as you love and are happy with someone, you don’t have to be joined at the hip.

Space can multiply those feelings and make the heart grow fonder

By dedicating a proportion of your time to your individual pursuits – whether that’s reading, going to the gym, or playing a video game – you know that you can enjoy time spent alone. It’s not neglecting your partner to be a bit selfish once in a while and enjoy some “me time”. They might even thank you for it if they don’t have to watch Made in Chelsea again. You can both explore your own passions, and give each other the support and space to do so.


Aside from developing yourselves, space can multiply those feelings and make the heart grow fonder. You’ll have more experiences to share together, exciting news to impart, and things to laugh about from your time apart. Spending 24/7 together can mean the conversation is naturally going to run dry at some point, and resentment can start to grow if one person feels smothered and unable to pursue their own interests. We all love that feeling of being desperate to see our special someone because we can’t wait to talk to them, and having a little time apart now and then can give you back that excited rush you felt when you first started dating.

As with any set of rules – who hasn’t had the annual family Monopoly argument at Christmas? – there are some discrepancies in how people interpret them. The part that divides people is on how some view the 20% of the time where you’re free to do what you fancy. Namely, whether you can do who you fancy.

Having a little time apart now and then can give you back that excited rush you felt when you first started dating

Some people believe the 20% freedom means that during that time you can get intimate with other people, but unlike an open relationship, this is only for that allocated period of time. If you're after this sort of 80/20 split, it requires a very high level of trust between two people.

Before bringing this idea into your relationship, it's important to make sure everyone knows what's on the agenda – don't assume your partner will know you're looking to have some no-strings-attached action on the side. And remember, there are two sides to an equation. Your partner will be free to find their own 10/10 as well.

Of course, while there appear to be benefits of applying the 80/20 rule, people have suggested a few issues with it as well. Firstly, what happens if you start to enjoy the 20% of your time away from your partner more than the 80 you spend with them?

Just remember we're all individuals, and what works for one couple might not for another. You and your partner might want to increase your "me time", and other reduce it. Problems might arise if one of you needs more solo time, and the other is missing being coupled up. If you're out of balance with each other, it might be that, unlike a proved theorem, your relationship may not last forever, unless you're open to talking to each other and finding a happy compromise.

This is a photo of a couple in love

Image | Bubbers BB /

Keep in mind the 80/20 rule isn't an excuse to find flaws in your partner because they can't provide you with 100% of your happiness. No one is perfect, so if you're feeling like something is missing, enjoy some independence and know that finding ways to make yourself happy is a good thing. Would you want to risk losing someone who brings you 80% of your happiness, because you're hoping that someone else might be able to give you the 20% you're missing? I'm no mathematician, but something doesn't add up there.

As with most things in life, rules are meant to be broke. Unless it's the rule of shotgun – that's not to be messed with. The common denominator in the 80.20 rule is that ensuring you spend quality time on yourself is more important than the proportion itself, which could work differently in every couple. There's no simple equation for true love, but the advice is to make sure you look after yourselves as individuals to make you even stronger as a couple.

If you want to assess your life and what makes you happy, talking to a life coach can help you work through the problems and solve your happiness equation. A couples coach can help you work through issues and find that balance together.

Visit Life Coach Directory to find a professional in your area.

Join 100,000+ subscribers

Stay in the loop with everything Happiful

We care about your data, read our privacy policy
Our Vision

We’re on a mission to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society.