The 90-10 Relationship Rule You Must Follow To Be Happy

So many couples don't follow this simple rule.

woman shouting Paranamir/ Shutterstock

There are many couples who argue incessantly and have no idea that this is destroying their relationship, the calmness of their home, and their kids’ ability to get along well with others.

Their blind spot is that they both wholeheartedly believe that it is necessary to have an opinion about every single thing that transpires in the universe. This is incorrect and is always learned in your upbringing, either directly or as a counter-reaction. Here’s what I mean and how the 90–10 rule applies.


There are two types of people who constantly push their opinions and preferences on others. One type grew up in an argumentative, debate-filled home where everyone was always arguing about everything. This was so much part of the environment that these people have no idea that this isn’t how every family is.

The stress was a constant, so it wasn’t seen as anything that could be different or that could be changed. When people grow up in families where everyone is always pushing their own way or their own opinions on others, they innately see everything as a battlefield or a zero-sum game, from where to go on vacation to what to eat for dinner and everything in between.


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The other type of person who argues constantly with a partner is someone who was told that children should be seen and not heard when they were a kid, and never had their opinions taken into account.

These people often put their own kids’ opinions on a pedestal, frequently leading to situations where their kids treat them like garbage. Now that they are an adult, they want their opinions listened to and valued in a way that they never were when they were kids, and they also want their kids to constantly express their opinions.

The only one who they wish had no opinions is their partner, whose perspective they argue with in order to get their own way or to get their partner to defer to the kids.


When either of these people marries someone with similar tendencies, the home can turn into a war zone, with constant squabbling between parents and kids.

Everyone here believes that having an opinion is essential in all situations, and if you don’t express yourself then you are somehow less of a person or are less respected.

On the contrary, when you have an opinion about every single thing, it is like the boy who cries wolf. Nothing you advocate for is taken seriously because you are just as vehement about whether you should eat Chinese food or Italian food as you are about how much sex you want to have or having another baby.

Children observe their parents and absorb all the stress of a home where there is constant conflict.


They also learn to be very argumentative and stubborn, both with their siblings and with their parents. The home becomes the setting for power struggles, where every person is trying to get their way at all times.

Parents who felt ignored or emotionally neglected as kids think it is positive for their kids to be stubborn and difficult. It is not. Being inflexible and rigid ensures that you will have difficulty on the job, in friendships, and in intimate relationships.

Parents need to work on their own unresolved childhood issues to ensure that they don’t unintentionally reward their kids for being rude and selfish to others.

Often, parents who grew up feeling invalidated say things like “Good job advocating for yourself” when their own child says something truly self-absorbed or unempathetic to someone else, instead of helping the child be aware of others’ feelings.


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This brings me to the 90–10 relationship rule

If you zoom out and look objectively at life, there are really only one in ten things that a person ought to deeply care about that happen in a day.

Successful, happy people know how to be flexible and roll with things, adapting to new environments and changes flexibly.

Therefore, try to only express an opinion about 10% of things, and let 90% of things slide. Think about this from the perspective of a CEO.

If a CEO had opinions about 90% of the things going on in their company, they would not get anything done and the company would fail. Instead, they delegate about 90% of things and focus their attention on the top 10% of things that are real priorities and deeply consequential to the success of the company at a macro level. These are the high-level things about which they have important opinions.


Caring about every single little thing is endemic to people who have low self-esteem.

Getting their way about everything is a litmus test of how much others respect them. Since they constantly feel disrespected by the world, when a barista fails to remember their coffee order, this is taken as a huge blow to their ego.

When someone on Facebook disagrees with them, they take it as a knife to the heart. Training your kids to think that their opinion on every tiny thing deeply matters means that they will constantly be getting into conflict with others. They will appear, and feel like their self-worth is predicated on getting tiny little victories at every moment instead of based on larger core values.

Here are examples of things that people with high self-esteem and flexibility can afford to not have an opinion about:

  • where you are going to eat
  • what to watch on TV
  • what shirt your wife wants you to wear
  • anything you wouldn’t care about if you were only going to be alive for another year

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Here are examples of things worth arguing about by people who are confident and big-picture thinkers:

  • being in a loving marriage
  • having a sex life
  • modeling good behavior for your kids
  • a partner’s untreated addiction or depression
  • getting treated with basic respect

If you stopped arguing about 90% of the things you currently argue about, your parenting would improve dramatically, as you would be modeling strength, confidence, and flexibility for your kids. 


Open-mindedness is a huge predictor of happy relationships, and only open-minded people can sit back and not sweat the small stuff. Most parents want their kids to act appreciative and aware of their privilege, but then model behavior like fights over which tropical destination to choose for a vacation! How can the kids appreciate their lives when their parents don’t?

Also, if your partner, who may not be able to transition their thinking in this way, gets more little victories over where they eat and where they vacation, they will likely calm down more and the general tone of your home may improve significantly.

This is why I encourage men to stop caring so much about what their wife thinks about big-ticket items and to “just do the stuff your wife wants.” I also encourage women to stop fighting about every single thing their husband wants to do in bed and make it a space where they actually try to get outside their comfort zones.

This 90–10 rule has the potential to transform the environment in your home to one that is peaceful and calm versus one where every tiny decision becomes a fight to the finish between two insecure people’s egos (more than two if you include the kids, who are learning how to communicate in this unfortunate way themselves).


Also, you may find yourself transformed internally from having to take the big picture view about what is actually important and worthy of wasting your limited time on this planet arguing about and what is not. 

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.