Aleteia

The 80/20 rule that helps couples refrain from scolding each other

KŁÓTNIA
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To keep from getting locked into a downward cycle, learn to express your emotions in moderation. 

“My husband says that I am always complaining about him and that he can’t take it anymore,” confesses Eve. “But my complaints are justified,” she continues, “because he doesn’t do his part.” Chloe, on the other hand, suffers the complaints of her husband—“He yells at me!”— and she isn’t sure what attitude to take: return the hurt and feel guilty for it, or feel bad for having let him down, or feel sad for not being thought of as a nice person. 

These quarrels, which are often the result of continual scolding, undermine the relationship and can lead to mislabeling the aggressor as a narcissist and the person being attacked as the victim. Hastily resorting to this formula of condemnation may unwittingly keep us from recognizing our part of the responsibility in this dynamic. Therefore, it is especially important to remember the 80/20 rule applied in communication: saying a minimum of four positive comments before you say something negative. 

A road of tenderness and humility

Is it impossible to avoid scolding in a relationship? How can we get off the toxic merry-go-round where, in fact, neither partner finds a place of marital well-being? Discovering the other, so different from the image we had of him or her, provokes mixed, and often negative, sentiments: anger for having been “fooled” or for having been mistaken, exasperation because things are not going as we would have liked, but also disappointment—with the other and with oneself—for not being able to adapt to these newfound differences. 

However, it is precisely in accepting this reality where the challenge of life as a couple resides. Yes, my spouse is different, although we do share core values that are fundamental to us. I didn’t marry my clone, thank God! And we are going to have to adapt to each other, and keep in mind our different ways of doing things (in every area of life), in order to build that “us” that identifies us as a couple. Behind the complaints, questions of power are generally at play: I know what we need, I want to control the situation. 

To keep from spiraling into a toxic relationship, the key idea is to express your emotions in moderation. Speak in terms of “I” and not “you.” Set limits to disrespectful speech. If behaviors do not improve, it is highly recommended that the couple turn to a third, neutral party, to help them identify what is hiding behind these everyday quarrels.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” The Prayer of St. Francis proposes. It is a road of tenderness and humility. 

Marie-Noël Florant