Just the other day, we had a moment of clarity.
Our book, The 80/80 Marriage, has now been out for almost two years. Throughout this time, we've wondered: Why do some couples who read the book report massive transformations while others report feeling hesitant, almost overwhelmed, by the idea of shifting to 80/80?
We finally uncovered the answer: the 80/80 model is radical, way more radical than we initially understood.
The goal of this framework isn't to shift from marginal to good in your relationship. If that's the goal, all you need to do is spend a little more time with each other, appreciate each other every now and then, and go out on a few date nights.
The goal of 80/80 is so much bigger. It's to shift from marginal or even good to amazing. It's not about adding a few relationship hacks around the margins but about changing the entire mindset and underlying structure of your life together from accidental to intentional.
We realize how daunting that might sound. With a goal like that, where do you even begin?
So today, we wanted to see if we could simplify the path by outlining what we view as the 5 essential habits of the 80/80 model.
If we had to distill the modern predicament of marriage down to two words, they would be: no space.
Couples from all walks of life told us this is one of the most difficult challenges they face. As one woman we interviewed observed, “There’s no room for connection. There’s just a whole lot of doing.”
So how can we create space in marriage for connection? Thriving couples rely on three primary types of habits: micro, medium, and macro habits.
Micro habits are those short moments of connection that happen throughout the day: a walk around the block, talking as you prep for dinner, or reflecting on the day as you lie together in bed.
Medium habits are things like regular date nights or, our personal favorite, date hikes.
Macro habits arise from the occasional weekend away or full day adventure away from kids and the logistics of family life.
By weaving all three of these into your lives together you can begin to work against the inevitable momentum of modern life. You can create more spacefor each other.
We think of this one like music. Radical generosity is the call-and-response of relationships, where contribution (small acts of kindness) works as the call and appreciation (an expression of gratitude) works as the response.
The actual practice of radical generosity breaks down into two simple daily habits.
The first is doing one radically generous act a day. This is your chance to express radical generosity through contribution—a hug, a card, a clean kitchen floor, or a fresh cup of coffee delivered to your partner in bed. It’s an act that has the power to break through the fog of resentment and trigger an upward spiral of generosity between you and your partner.
The second habit is about what you see. It’s paying close attention to your partner’s acts of contribution throughout the day and then appreciating them for their work. It’s telling them, “You look amazing today in that new shirt.” Or “I’ve been noticing how much time you’re spending with our son, tutoring him in math. I really appreciate all the work you’re doing to help him.”
Revealing works on two levels. The first is the positive side. Positive reveals happen when you reveal what you're excited about, what you're working on, or what you're dreaming about with your partner.
The second is the negative side. These reveals are only "negative" in the sense that they deal with challenging topics and emotions. This is what happens when you reveal feeling scared, sad, or frustrated with your partner. By revealing your full experience, even when it's uncomfortable, you can turn these "negative" moments into opportunities for growth.
Ah, the family meeting. We understand the aversion you may have to this idea -- to turning your marriage into a business strategy session.
But here’s the problem. At a certain point, sharing a life starts to get really complicated. You start with the responsibility-free experience of dating. Then you add one or two demanding careers. You add sharing space. You add a house or apartment. You add kids. You add a few unexpected health issues. You add aging parents. And suddenly, running a household together becomes about as demanding as managing any other complex enterprise.
So it can be extremely helpful to build the habit of a shared success family check-in. This is a time dedicated to staying in sync about the logistics of life. It could be a short conversation at the beginning of each day. It could be a longer check-in once a week. It could even be an extended time for reflection a few times a year, in which you take a step back and look at the big picture.
What do most couples cite as their primary barrier to connection? During our interviews, we were shocked to learn that it wasn't busyness, financial hardship, or conflict. It was that thing we can't seem to stop staring into: the smartphone.
The problem is that the seductive draw of these devices in our pockets distracts us from our desire for real seduction—the good kind, the kind that thrusts us back into being fully present, together.
There’s a simple but not always easy way to put an end to this pattern: create time and space away from digital distraction.
Kick your phones out of the bedroom. Put them away at dinner. Go on date night without them. Turn on "Do Not Disturb" when you're together. And never have sex with a phone nearby.
These are just a few ways you can begin setting boundaries with the devices that hijack your attention from the person that matters most.