Dr. Nate and Kaley Klemp share an alternative to score-keeping in marriages and relationships they call radical generosity.

couple hanging a portrait on the wallShare on Pinterest
Maskot / Getty Images

One of the most important ingredients in a good episode of the “Inside Mental Health” podcast is a great topic.

Week after week, we strive to teach people something about mental health that they can use in their daily lives. The task of picking topics largely comes down to what I think the audience will find interesting. With that in mind, I am not a big fan of marriage and relationship topics.

I believe every relationship has different needs and wants, so a person who claims to have the solution to improving your marriage makes me suspicious. But there’s an exception to every rule, and Dr. Nate Klemp and his wife, Kaley Klemp, and their book, “The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage,” grabbed my attention.

Specifically, I wanted to know how anything can be 80/80 — 50/50, sure. But 80/80 makes no sense, and that made me happy. I’ve always disliked math. Math is so specific. Discussing what size a person defines as a “small” house is much more interesting to me than mathematical absolutes.

The first question I asked the Klemps was to explain their math. I even said this with the tone a high school teacher would take when instructing students to show their work on a pop quiz.

Nate replied, “We think of this idea of 50/50 fairness as almost like the cultural center of gravity in a marriage. Like this is just where we tend to default to, and it creates all sorts of resentment. It leads to keeping score.”

In my marriage, I believe in fairness. We must each pull our own weight. We both have careers, do household chores, and so forth. By each of us doing half, we get everything done — together.

But the Klemps are correct. To meet this razor thin line, we have to divide chores down the middle. This means we have to be aware of where the middle is and who is doing what, which sounds a lot like keeping score. And personally, I have been annoyed at my wife when I feel like I’m doing more.

Kaley pointed out that a lot of this work is actually invisible because it’s emotional labor. When we cook dinner, we take credit for choosing the menu and the emotions that went into that selection. We know we chose our partner’s favorite side dish instead of our own and take credit for it, but we don’t always consider that when giving our partner credit.

“And there’s another piece of this that I think is also really interesting,” Kaley explains, “which is about overestimation. I think that what I’ve done is more, and I just miss what Nate’s done. And there’s actually a whole bunch of research that says everyone does that. When we’re estimating how much time we spent on things, we’re actually way off. So when I say … this weekend I cleaned for an hour — it was probably like a half an hour.”

“So what’s the solution?” I asked. While the Klemps acknowledged there is no single solution for a happy relationship, they explained that their research supports a concept they call “radical generosity.”

“You think about it as a gift to your family — a gift to you as a couple,” explains Kaley. “So you’re probably doing the same thing, your attitude is just really different. I’m still washing the same dish at the end of dinner. But instead of being like, ‘Man, when I cook, I make way fewer dishes for Nate than he makes for me,’ [I think] … it’s a gift to Nate and our daughter that they get to play cards while I finish up in the kitchen.”

Nate continues, “If you strive toward this idea of radical generosity, where you’re trying to do more than your fair share, all sorts of really interesting things happen. Like all of a sudden, there’s no longer this persistent conflict that’s going on in the background, and there’s this contagious spirit of generosity that starts to emerge in a relationship that can be really powerful. We like to say that just as resentment is contagious, radical generosity is also contagious, and it can create a kind of upward spiral that affects the entire culture of the relationship.”

While my general belief that relationship books are over-produced (and overutilized) remains intact, I very much enjoyed the results of Nate and Kaley’s findings.

I also enjoyed speaking with them. They were energetic and supportive of one another, and at one point in the interview, literally finished each other’s sentences. It was a moment that was both a little goofy and a little sweet, all wrapped up into something fun and positive, which sounds like a great marriage to me.

You can find their book, “The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship,” by visiting their website.

Want to hear more from the Klemps about improving your marriage or relationship using the 80/80 method? You can click the player below or visit the official episode page.

Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe is the host of Healthline Media’s weekly podcast, “Inside Mental Health.” You can listen and learn more here.

Gabe can be found online at gabehoward.com.