The 80:20 Ratio: The Secret to Appreciating Your Marriage

February 14th, 2012

But those who marry will have trouble in this life. (I Cor. 7:28 NCV)

In the book of Corinthians, Paul warns us of the responsibilities, involvements, and, yes, the troubles that come with marriage. When I quote 1 Corinthians 7:28 at our conferences, many in the audience chuckle, as if they understand perfectly what Paul is saying.

Something else that is tied to this idea of trouble in marriage is what I call “the 80:20 ratio.” According to this concept, around 80 percent of the time, your marriage can be categorized as good or even great while around 20 percent of the time, you may have troubles of one kind or another. I arbitrarily chose 20 percent to make my point. For some couples it can be less or it can be more. It depends on many factors and can vary from week to week.

I cannot put a precise number on the amount of trouble you may have in your marriage, but what I do know is that God does not promise a fulfilling, trouble-free relationship 100 percent of the time. (I heard one man say he and his wife had twenty-eight happy years, then they “met and got married.”) Disagreements and misunderstandings happen. Stress comes from without and within.

If we do not accept the inevitability of some trouble as part of God’s design (that we will have moments when we feel unloved or disrespected), we may fall for the idea that a marriage should always be the perfect Hollywood romance. And then when troubles do come, we may conclude that we are not receiving what we deserve. If we expect 100 percent fulfillment, we will be ill prepared to deal with the moments when we feel unfulfilled or worse. We will grow discontented and resentful, and if we let these feelings dwell in our minds, it is not much of a jump to wondering if we made a mistake by marrying in the first place.

My point is simple: it is all too easy to focus on the 20 percent (the irritations and annoyances) and forget that 80 percent of the time things go quite well or even better than that. That pesky 20 percent of trouble turns out to be the leaven that leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).

My solution is also simple. Do not live by the standards of Hollywood; trust what God says in His holy Word. Treasure your marriage like a bottle of the kind of expensive perfume women might like for Christmas, and don’t let a few imperfections be like the dead flies that can give perfume a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1). God has given you a meaningful lover-friend relationship; don’t let the 20 percent—those times when one or both of you is tired, irritable, or just plain having a bad day (or moment) for whatever reason—sabotage your marriage.

My 80:20 ratio idea is an “aha” moment for a lot of people. When filling out a conference feedback form, they mention how enlightening the 80:20 ratio was and add comments like, “I realize I have a better marriage than I thought,” or “Maybe my expectations of a ‘perfect’ marriage were unrealistic.” Sarah agrees. She well recalls that early in our marriage she was concerned, not because we had major conflicts, but because the normal daily stuff was getting to her. To put it biblically, the little foxes were spoiling our marital vineyard just as it was trying to bloom (see Song of Solomon 2:15).

We continued to have our bumps, and Sarah continued to express her bewilderment about these tensions. Then one day I said to her: “Sarah, you want everything to be perfect. But Paradise has been lost. Sin is in the world. Eighty percent of what we experience can be wonderful; however, 20 percent will be troubling. If you don’t grasp that, you will poison the 80 percent that’s good.”

Sarah says my little speech changed her entire view of marriage. The 80:20 ratio helped her realize there is no perfect relationship, and this came as a “huge freedom” for her, just as it did for me. We still have our 20 percent of troubles, but we just stop and remember that the 80 percent is really the big picture, and the big picture is what really counts!

Prayer: Thank the Lord for all the trouble-free moments in which you and your spouse enjoy Him, each other, your family, your ministry, and life as a whole. Ask Him for the strength to accept your measure of trouble, and the wisdom to deal with the annoyances and irritations by loving and respecting each other with new commitment. (You may also want to pray about troubles at work, at church, or with the children, all of which can affect how you handle the 20 percent in your marriage.)

Action: Say in the face of a troubling moment: “Look, we will get through this brief storm. This is part of the 20 percent. Smooth sailing awaits us. For now, let’s hang on to our hats.”


This devotion is excerpted from The Love and Respect Experience: A Husband-Friendly Devotional that Wives Truly Love, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.

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