The BRUTALLY Honest Truth About What Makes A Successful Relationship

Stephen Hussey

Ever been in a relationship with a guy who is amazing when he’s at his very best, but who too often falls into argumentative, moody, and negative behaviours?

It’s so frustrating. You know he has the potential to be a loving, wonderful, PERFECT boyfriend for you, but he just don’t show it often enough.

Instead, you find that MORE of your time is spent in dealing with arguments and problems, and you both live for those all-too-rare joyful moments when everything clicks and the relationship works.


Women with these kinds of partners get stuck in “Eternal Hope” mode. They live for what they think a man could be, rather than choosing to see him as he really is, warts and all.

You might think to yourself: “Well, this guy IS attractive, successful, and I know I’ve seen him be really sweet and caring before…but if only he was that kind person I know he can be MORE OFTEN.”

Well…I don’t know about you, but living for a few rare good moments isn’t good enough.

Right now, he’s a great boyfriend 20% of the time. And you just wish you could bring up the ratio. That would make him perfect, right?

Spoiler alert: It won’t happen.

The 80/20 Rule That Defines GREAT Relationships

All good couples fight.

Well, maybe not. But they at least disagree. They get annoyed with each other now and then.

But the question is this: How OFTEN does serious disagreement happen? How frequently do you find yourselves locking horns and getting in a bad mood with one another?

If it’s more than 20% of the time, something is probably wrong.

An article published in Glamour this week that agrees with this idea, which it calls the “80/20 theory of relationships”.

As the proponent of this theory, Sloan Sheridan Williams, says:

“The 80/20 rule is about thinking of your relationship in a particular way and managing expectations around it. It’s about realising you need to be in a relationship that most of time is pretty damn great (80%) but 20% of the time, it may just feel good. You may occasionally be irritated, you may have the odd tiff but you can let this slide because for the most part your relationship is solid.”

In other words, it’s realistic to expect our relationship to be great most of the time. But because this is the real world, 20% of the time it might suck.  20% of the time (or 10%, or 5% if you’re lucky), either you or him might be stressed, bored, lazy, a little jealous, or indulging that annoying habit of leaving your clothes and junk lying around the apartment.

It’s no secret that we expect a lot of our relationships in the 21st Century. But to me, it comes down to fairly basic questions:  “Do they make me feel loved, desired, and appreciated 80% of the time?” “Does this person come through for me 80% of the time?” “Are they good conversation 80% of the time?”

Because let’s face it, it won’t always be magic and sunshine. But in small enough doses, we can swallow a few flaws.

It’s when they rise beyond that 20% threshold that we start to feel emotionally drained, stifled, and suffocated.

What Matters The Most – Self-Awareness About Your Needs

Jerry Seinfeld once said about choosing a career: “you have to find the torture you’re comfortable with”.

What me meant was, all careers are difficult at times, so find a passion in life in which you can stomach all the bad, tricky, miserable parts.

You love writing? Be ready for hours of struggle, THEN dealing with annoying editors, THEN facing strings of rejections.

You love being an entrepreneur? Prepare to have problems managing people, worries about sales, and projects that don’t go as well as you’d imagined.

But none of these things matter if you love the work (and find joy in 80% of it).

This is the brutally honest truth of relationships. What really matters is: How tolerable is our partner when they’re at their worst? And how often do they show their bad behaviours? 

A study reported by the app Happify found that the happiest couples experience a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Put simply, for every one bad interaction they had five positive interactions – where a positive interaction is defined as anything from having a good conversation and sharing new experiences, to loving gestures like giving a hug or a compliment or showing concern for a partner’s needs, or expressing physical intimacy and sex. Therefore, for long-term satisfaction, it’s the frequency of positive interactions (and infrequency of negative ones) that really sustains a great relationship.

It’s not good enough to be amazing 20% of the time and difficult and negative 80% of the time. It has to be the other way around for a relationship to work.

Of course, as human beings we are all different. So the million-dollar question then becomes: which flaws are you willing to tolerate?

You really HATE big arguments? Choose a very calm, equanimous guy who hardly ever raises his voice in anger.

You’re a SERIOUS neat freak? Choose a guy who doesn’t live in a pigsty and leave his laundry lying around 80% of the time.

You have no time for jealousy? Find a man who’s extremely comfortable with himself and only ever limits himself to that little cute jealousy where he gets a bit protective when you’re talking to another handsome man.

This also works for the positive traits you want in a partner. What are the things you need him to have 80% of the time?

You CRAVE touch and closeness? Find a guy who is tactile and loves cuddling 80% of the time.

You LOVE compliments and kindness? Find the guy who always has a big heart and loves to spoil you with praise 80% of the time.

You NEED space to work on your career? Find that independent guy who isn’t clingy and is happy to have separate worlds 80% of the time.

Not everyone has the same needs, which is why the best gift you can have BEFORE a relationship is self-awareness. Knowing what YOU need, not what you think you should need.

I suppose what I’m saying is: Choosing right in the first place is half the battle in love. But it leads to all the happiness.

Well, happiness 80% of the time. Which isn’t a bad ratio for anyone to live with.

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Stephen Hussey helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

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24 Replies to “The BRUTALLY Honest Truth About What Makes A Successful Relationship”

  • “Choosing right in the first place is half the battle in love” you are absolutely right, however sometimes it is easier said than done (especially when you are young and inexperienced).

    So what is the “receipe” for making the right choices? You say self-awareness, I certainly agree, but I also consider “past mistakes” of great importance too. A few years ago, I used to believe that mistakes were a terrible thing and that everyone should avoid them at any cost. Now I believe that they are actually the best thing that has ever happened to me, as they helped me reframe my thoughts and needs.

    1. I completely agree. I also think mistakes make you humble and better at ‘give and take’. It’s much easier to forgive someone in a relationship when you are aware of your own flaws. But not everyone is capable of doing that as they haven’t had the life experience to lessen their ego.

      Because I have chosen wrongly in the past, I think I will be more appreciative when something good comes my way.

  • Lol yeah but unfortunately u only learn when ur already in a relationship.. And its not so easy to just leave someone when u find out..

  • There is plenty a pool to choose from. Everyone will end up just fine.

    In my experience, someone else ALWAYS comes along. Just wait and see.

  • I need advice.
    There’s this guy I met on cupid and we chatted for a while, moved to whatapp and calls. It seeme like we hit it off. We were supposed to meet for a date and it didn’t work out and a few days later we just met briefly to see each other and it went well.
    He says he really leked me and he must go away for 2 weeks and is disconnecting. He calls me on the way to the airport and we have a great conversaton.
    The thing is he had disconnected from me but I see that he is connected on cupid!!!
    He is comming back in a few days and I don’t know how to act when he contacts me.
    Should I just carry on where we left off?
    Should I say anything about knowing he was on cupid?

  • Thanks Steve!! Great Article, I Really Enjoyed It. It’s Good For You To Set These Reasonable Healthy Standards For Us As Necessary Guidelines, I Used To Put Up With WAYYY To Much 10% Affection And Appreciation And 90% Ungrateful Abusive Jerk Dumping.

    80/20 And 5:1 Makes Totally Sense, Thank You For Splashing Us With Such Sparkling Beautiful Truth

  • I like the idea of the 80/20 rule because I think I shouldn’t be looking for the perfect man, just a man who syncs well with me. For instance, I am a touchy feely person and I need a guy who is also naturally tactile and initiates physical affection himself. A previous relationship was ruined by the fact we were polar opposites in this regard. I also think in terms of traits and their associated qualities. So I may find an extremely outgoing man attractive in some ways but the downside of that is he may overwhelm my more introverted personality and I may not get enough sensitivity from him (just basing this on men I have dated). The positive side of a trait must overpower the negative side of it for me. When I think of character traits in terms of how they work in practical terms, it’s easier for me to see what is and isn’t going to work.

    Self-awareness is key. I haven’t been single for 5 years entirely by choice but I have to say that I have learned so much about myself during this time.

  • Thank you so much for this. I lived this in my last relationship… I wasn’t as happy as I believed I should be. My friend asked me, how good and how bad it is..I said 50/50 – he is so great at his best but so unbearable at his worst…and he was in his worst too often. And I hoped and hoped and hoped that I will find again this great man that I fall in love with. I did not want to give up on him because I knew how such a great man he can be …but 50/50… I know that I can find better. Thanks again for this article, it reminded me that I mad a good choice when I left.

  • Hello…
    I’m a bit curious. Nowadays, we often see the quote “find a man who remind you of your father” ,but well, different men grew up in different environment. Some of them were lucky enough to be in very good environment but some of them were not. And yeah nobody is perfect. Then we tend to say no to a man without even trying to bring out the best in him. On the other hand, a woman can get really freak out when her man starts to compare her with his mother in every ways. I don’t really see the rational of this kind of comparison. I think this kind of comparison is a bit different than the usual where people usually compare their partners with other people, but in this case, they compare their partners with someone they adore,love & care about. I just wanna ask for your view.

  • Stephen,

    Great post! I don’t usually comment, but this one deserved it *virtual applause* #receiveit

    This is the first I’ve heard of the 80/20 rule. It makes sense though, and is a good benchmark for judging the frequency to which a partner lives up to our standards. Stephen, do you find it’s harder to give yourself grace for your own ‘20%’ moments, or extend grace to your partner in their 20 moments?

    I loved the self-awareness piece. ;) One of my favorite tenets is ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ Knowing what you want up front + sifting for it in the early stages = success!

    I enjoy reading these! They are as enlightening as they are applicable.

    Many thanks,

    x MaryBeth

  • Great article stephen and realistic.. sometimes we all get carried away with a “dream” and wonder why we are disappointed when it doesn’t match up

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