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What are your goals in your marriage? Are you trying to make sure everything’s fair and that you and your spouse are contributing equally to the relationship? Today’s guests explain why that could be a recipe for failure. Dr. Nate Klemp and Kaley Klemp are married researchers and relationship experts who have developed the 80/80 method of managing marriages and relationships. Listen as they explain how their method can lead to more closeness and a better connection.
Nate Klemp, PhD, is a writer, philosopher, and entrepreneur. Along with his wife Kaley, he’s the author of the newly released “The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage” (Penguin Random House). He’s also the co-author, with Eric Langshur, of the New York Times Bestseller “Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing” and is a regular contributor for Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, and Mindful. He’s also a founding partner at Mindful, one of the world’s largest mindfulness media and training companies. Nate holds a BA and MA in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD from Princeton University.
Kaley Klemp is one of the nation’s leading experts on small-group dynamics and leadership development, a TEDx speaker, and the author of three other books, including the Amazon Bestseller “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership,” “The Drama-Free Office,” and “13 Guidelines for Effective Teams.” A favorite with Young Presidents Organization (YPO) forums and chapters, Kaley has facilitated retreats for more than 400 member and spouse forums throughout the world. Kaley is a graduate of Stanford University where she earned a BA in international relations and MA in sociology with a focus on organizational behavior.
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.
To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor, Better Help. You can get a week free by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Calling into the show today we have Nate and Kaley Klemp. Kaley is a graduate of Stanford University, where she earned a B.A. in International Relations and an M.A. in sociology. Nate holds a B.A. and an M.A. and philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. They are a married couple who together wrote the book “The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage.” Kaley and Nate, welcome to the show.
Kaley Klemp: Thanks so much, Gabe, so happy to be here.
Dr. Nate Klemp: Great to be here.
Gabe Howard: Personally, I am not a big fan of marriage and relationship books. I tend to believe that every relationship is just so different that it has different needs and wants. So, a book that claims to have the solution to improving your marriage naturally makes me suspicious. Now, spoiler alert, you both made it onto the show. So obviously something piqued my interest. And that specific thing was why 80/80?
Kaley Klemp: Basically, to understand 80/80 is to answer the main question that modern couples are asking, how do we stay equals and be in love? That we can sort of solve for equality, trying to do things 50/50 fair. But that completely blew up. I imagine we’ll talk some more about that. And so it’s how do we create a relationship where we can stretch more toward one another, create a tenor of radical generosity, of contribution and appreciation rather than scorekeeping, and therefore, rather than just having our individual pursuits succeed together.
Gabe Howard: As I’m sitting here thinking about my own marriage, I think about all the advice that I’ve been given and there’s the 50/50, you know, and then there’s the you’re two equals. Now, in my mind, two equals equals like a hundred and a hundred, which mathematically falls apart so 80/80 falls apart even more for me. So I guess my yeah, my specific question is, so if I put 80 percent into my marriage, which I believe is what you’re saying, what do I do with the other 20 percent?
Dr. Nate Klemp: You’re right, the math makes no sense, which we like to say is sort of the whole point because neither does love, right? There’s a kind of inherent irrationality that’s happening here. We are arguing that you want to move the yardstick in marriage from just doing your fair share, your 50 percent to 80 percent. And your question is, well, OK, so that leaves 20 percent. What do you do with that? Or why not 100/100? That’s the question we often get. And really the answer there is that we think this spirit of radical generosity that’s really the essence of 80/80 can either be underdone or overdone. Right? And most of us are under doing it. But there is a potential of being so radically generous that you essentially give up yourself and, you know, you no longer think about your own purpose and your own projects. And there’s a kind of loss of self that goes along with that. So 80 percent is sort of that middle way that we’re trying to strike out here.
Gabe Howard: I absolutely love that you admit that the math doesn’t add up and compared to the fact that love doesn’t add up. Which sort of feeds into my idea that, you know, these books and webinars and seminars, that’s why they always drive me a little batty and plus my natural, pessimistic nature. I understand the concept of fairness, but at the same time, I don’t think that I understand the concept of fairness in a marriage. Now you explore this idea of fairness, and I believe that you’ve realized that fairness in a marriage is a problem.
Dr. Nate Klemp: 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. But really, what I think is most interesting, especially for this podcast, given your focus, is we started to uncover some really interesting research in psychology that basically says fairness is almost like a mirage in the desert. Like you think it’s there. You think if you just get closer to it, you’re going to find it. But the closer you get, the further it recedes. And there’s sort of like two explanations for that. One is what cognitive psychologists call availability bias, which is basically just a fancy way of saying that when it comes to me, all of my contributions to our marriage are totally self-evident. I know exactly what I’ve done. I know all the plates that I’ve taken out of the dishwasher, all of the contributions to our marriage. But when it comes to what Kaley’s done, it gets really fuzzy.
Kaley Klemp: And one of the things that’s really interesting about this, too, is that it’s not only that I know every laundry basket that I’ve folded, I know every dishwasher I’ve emptied, it’s that a lot of the things that happen in marriage, a lot of that work is actually invisible because it’s emotional labor. So it’s really hard to calculate like, all right, today is Nate’s mom’s birthday. How much time and energy and thought went into can we gather outside? Can we make a meal that everyone will actually eat? Can we make sure that she feels celebrated and everybody stays safe? And we keep in alignment with the agreements with school? Like all of these considerations that actually take a lot of energy, they become invisible. And so how to make that kind of stuff fair is a total losing battle because you can’t. And there’s another piece of this that I think is also really interesting, 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 like, oh, man, this weekend I cleaned for an hour. It was probably like a half an hour. And I think about it a little bit, I don’t know if you’re a Calvin and Hobbes fan, but I definitely am.
Gabe Howard: I love Calvin and Hobbes.
Kaley Klemp: Ok, so have you seen the one where Calvin is counting his push-ups by how they feel? That’s how labor goes in marriage, right? So Calvin’s doing push-ups. He’s like one, two, twenty, a hundred. Man, that was a workout. It feels that way in marriage, too. Especially with child care and housework. Oh, my gosh. Every activity feels like more.
Gabe Howard: But how do you get around that? I get that we shouldn’t count favors. I understand that. It even sort of sounds wrong, but at the same time, I don’t want to be taken advantage of and I need to keep score somehow, which I know sounds all kinds of messed up. And it’s probably giving you great insight into my marriage. But how do you avoid that?
Dr. Nate Klemp: We’re arguing that if you stay anchored in this mindset of 50/50 fairness, it’s a recipe for the kind of conflict and resentment that we’ve been talking about that comes from keeping score. If, on the other hand, you do something radical and it is radical, which is why we call it radical generosity, it makes no sense, it is by definition unfair. But 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.
Gabe Howard: Now, if it’s radical, how do you get there, how do you implement this into your marriage?
Kaley Klemp: So there’s two easy-ish places to start, the first for radical generosity is around contribution. And we think about this is what you do in your relationship and it’s looking for ways that you can give in the relationship from radical generosity rather than keeping score. You think about it as a gift to your family, a gift to you as a couple. So you’re probably doing the same thing, your attitude is just really different. So 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, instead of thinking it’s a gift to the family and it’s a gift to Nate and our daughter, that they get to play cards while I finish up in the kitchen. Part one is radical generosity and part two is appreciation. And it’s changing the glasses that you wear as you’re looking at your partner, that in some ways it’s easy to put on the glasses of finding fault where you catch them doing all the things that irritate you, all the ways they’re not measuring up or trying as hard. And instead I say go on a scavenger hunt looking for all the ways that your partner is awesome, looking for all the ways that they contribute. Because when you catch them doing something great and you thank them for it, it creates incentive to do more of it. By the way, these didn’t have to be enormous things. This is not like and then I got a half an hour massage and then I appreciated him for completely painting the house. These are things that are like thank you for turning on the coffee when you were in the kitchen first. It was so nice to not have to wait for it to heat up. Little things that make a huge difference.
Gabe Howard: When a couple implements this into their lives, what’s the first thing that they notice? And honestly by first thing that they notice, I want to know the first challenge that they have that makes them want to give this up.
Dr. Nate Klemp: Well, I think the biggest challenge is there can be an expectation that all you need to do is shift your mindset from 50/50 to 80/80, and you’ll be radically generous all the time and you’ll live in this state of marital bliss and you’ll be happy ever after. And the reality is that these are mental patterns that are so deeply ingrained that fairness never goes away. If a couple thinks like, oh, I’m never going to think about fairness again, I’m never going to keep score again, I’m going to be radically generous. They’re doomed to failure in some ways and I think the real challenge is to bring a bit of mindfulness to your experience of marriage, where you begin to just see that these thoughts about fairness are sort of the background of almost every relationship and they never go away. But if you can just see them as thoughts, there’s room to then shift your mindset to this idea of radical generosity. And so I think that’s both the biggest challenge, but also a pro-tip in a way, is to just become more mindful of the way your mind has been patterned to look for what’s fair, and use that as an opportunity to shift.
Gabe Howard: As I’m listening to this, I think to myself, oh, this is perfect, I don’t need this, I’m already generous and fair and kind. I’m a great husband. But sincerely, I know that even in my own marriage, there’s deficiencies. I would imagine that there’s deficiencies in probably most marriages because most people believe that their marriage is perfect. What is that? There was a study that said that, you know, 90 percent of people believe that they’re an above average driver.
Gabe Howard: Clearly, that can’t hold up. So is it like this for marriage? Would somebody like me who has the perfect marriage, and I say this tongue in cheek, benefit from this book? Because after all, I already believe that things are good.
Kaley Klemp: It’s so funny that you raise it this way, because one of the surprises that has shown up for us in writing this book is that there seems to be sort of a stigma around saying, hey, I could improve in my relationship. And so we think about 80/80 as an opportunity for couples who are doing well to be great and for couples who are struggling to have some more tools. So in some ways, wherever you are, there’s a way that 80/80 can help you. Many couples will consciously or unconsciously feel a little bit defensive about the idea of getting help in their relationship. And yet, to me, that seems sort of silly. It’s not like, hey, I’m going to buy a recipe book. Well, that must mean that there’s a real problem with your cooking. Let’s say they’re like, I’m going to buy a parenting book. Well, are you thinking about leaving your children? There’s sort of a really funny double standard around marriage. So I would say, yes, if you are already in a relationship where you’re communicating and feeling healthy, 80/80 has the opportunity to help you grow. And if you’re in a situation where you go, darn, I feel really stuck, hopefully there are some tips in here that can help you get unstuck and on that path to more connection.
Gabe Howard: And we’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with authors Nate and Kaley Klemp discussing their new book, “The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship.” I still want to go back to this idea that there’s nothing wrong, but specifically, what if one partner thinks there’s nothing wrong but the other partner is like, oh, I need this book. This is fantastic. How do you navigate that? Because I imagine that this is probably common. I don’t think that partners tend to both realize that they need a tune up or an adjustment or something looked at. It’s usually one person over the other. How do you get the defensive partner on board?
Kaley Klemp: Really, the question I hear you asking is, what do we do with one person’s really psyched about it and one person is a little bit more reluctant?
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Kaley Klemp: This showed up so much in our interviews that we actually wrote a whole chapter called The Reluctant Partner. There is an approach that the gentle way that you introduce this to your partner as, hey, I think that there are some ideas here that could take us from good to great, is much more available and exciting and non-threatening to a partner versus like, hey, you need to read this book because we’re messed up. Right? Instead, it’s to say, hey, how can we use some of these to be even better? If you’re in a situation where you try to raise it with your partner and what you get back is active defensiveness, why are you trying to mess up our relationship? This is working just great for me. Then we think that there’s actually sort of a stealth gift that’s possible in 80/80, which is in your own mind if you’re able to shift from man, I do all the work here and they’re, just the, you know, free rider and frame it for yourself where you’re still probably doing the same amount of work. But if you do it as a gift to the family and are able to go looking for things to be grateful for, sometimes it helps change the tenor where your partner becomes more available to the conversation about how you can grow.
Gabe Howard: What are the things that the couples notice when they first get started, what’s the first challenge that they work on together and what’s the first success?
Kaley Klemp: Well, so one of the first things that we encourage couples to work on together. In your question, I’m believing that this couple has said we’re in. We’re in for the mindset shift, we’re in for radical generosity. We want to create sort of the call and response of an act of contribution and appreciation. Then together, what they often construct are their values. How do we together want to define success? Because one of the things that we found really, really interesting in this book is that when you shift your mindset to radical generosity, you move out of winning as an individual. And instead it feels like a shared success that you win together. But there isn’t a single definition of what that success might be. So some couples are really about financial security and others are really about raising happy kids and some are really about adventure. There’s a couple we interviewed called the Honey-Trekkers who are on, I believe, year nine of their honeymoon. They are really about adventure and they’ve made some choices, like they don’t have children. And I don’t think that their 401K is that full. And just to be able to pursue that adventure, all of that is a long way to say that when couples are able to sit down and say, what is this chapter of our life about? How will we know that we’re in alignment with our vision for ourselves and our values together? That project unites them in feeling like when they do achieve things, it’s for the benefit of them together.
Gabe Howard: I’ve noticed that a lot of folks that listen to podcasts on the topic of like relationship improvement, etc., I would say 90 percent of the time, based on the feedback that we’re getting, it’s one partner that wants to, quote unquote, save the relationship with another partner that is.
Kaley Klemp: I think sometimes in a relationship where one person is working really hard on the relationship and it feels like their partner is reluctant, they can get discouraged, and that actually increases the amount of criticism that they bring to how they see their partner. And so by shifting their perspective where they’re looking for those moments, those glimpses of this is why I married you, this is why you’re fantastic and highlighting those, it does start to engage their partner more in the conversation.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. It’s really just that shifting, right?
Kaley Klemp: Yes.
Gabe Howard: It’s the difference between a goal and a deadline.
Kaley Klemp: Yes.
Gabe Howard: A goal is something that you achieve. A deadline is something that you miss.
Kaley Klemp: Yes.
Gabe Howard: But the results is the same. My goal is noon, I did it. My deadline is noon. Oh, it’s pushing down on me.
Kaley Klemp: Yeah.
Dr. Nate Klemp: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Now, let’s move into success, so now they’re successful, they’ve been doing this for six months. What are some things that they see in their marriage improvement wise, that are both short term and long lasting?
Dr. Nate Klemp: There are a number of things that they might begin to see. The first is they’ll likely see a reduction in conflict, tension and resentment. As we’ve talked about, 50/50 is really a recipe for that. And a lot of the tools we’re offering here with radical generosity are way out of that. I’d say number one would be that reduction in conflict. But then number two, and this is really like the whole reason we wrote this book, is an increase in connection. Connection we think of as just the lifeblood of the relationship, that when we are connected, all sorts of good things happen. One, we start winning together, as Kaley talked about. But there’s also a really significant shift in intimacy. A lot of the reason couples are struggling to have a healthy life sexually is because there’s just a lack of connection or there’s so much resentment in the system that the last thing you want to do is start tearing each other’s clothes off. Right? There’s just a way in which becoming more connected and that feeling of being in love, it enhances the relationship on all sorts of levels. But it also has this sort of ripple effect to the entire family, that kids become happier. Your neighbors who you interact with may become happier because you don’t have that scowl on your face. There’s a way in which by changing our marriage, we like to say we’re changing the world because we’re changing the way we show up.
Gabe Howard: Now, I have a personal question for the two of you, because you wrote this as a married couple, did you run into anything surprising during your research that applied to your own relationship? And I guess did the 80/80 method work
Dr. Nate Klemp: Yes, well, first of all, it has been amazing for us this whole journey of writing this book coming up with these ideas together. We long ago made this pledge that we would never work together. We had a wall of separation between Kaley and Nate, as we called it, but we decided to write this book and it ended up being the best thing that’s ever happened to our marriage. The way that I think this really helped us was around power. And one of the key themes of this book is that if we’re looking to be equals and in love, fairness is a pretty clumsy technology. But if we look closely at power and the structures that underlie power in a relationship, that’s actually a really good way of achieving equality, that doesn’t require us to keep score and get into constant conflict. So for us, you know, we met at 17, but then really got together at twenty four, married at twenty six. And power was always this really interesting dynamic. Kaley early on was the higher earner. I was going to graduate school, she was working at Deloitte and then as an executive coach. There was some really interesting dynamics around power that I don’t think we fully understood until we wrote this book. And this book was a way of understanding that if we shift to this idea of a structure built on shared success and shared values, that becomes one of the most powerful ways of just achieving that balance between the two of us and achieving real equality.
Gabe Howard: Kaley, what are your thoughts on this?
Kaley Klemp: I think Nate really named it beautifully, living in the background of this power dynamic, fairness snuck in a lot where for me there was this experience of, like, you’re not trying as hard as I am or you’re not working as hard as I am. And instead of seeing it as a team effort, we actually we’re almost competing with each other. 80/80 really changed the way that I thought about how we were each contributing in our own way. So rather than both of us, for instance, trying to be the quarterback, sort of like, how can we be a team? You need a quarterback, but you also need a running back or wide receiver if you’re actually going to score. And so I think that power was a key piece. The other piece that really shifted for me is that my default thought process is still fairness. I’ll level with you, Gabe, I would say, at least once a day, I have some version of a thought that’s like, wait a second, that’s not fair. And having the language of radical generosity or 80/80 as a cue helps me go looking for. That story can either become something that I tell myself and then go looking for evidence of or something that I challenge. And when I have the thought that’s not fair, if in that moment I’m able to go radical generosity and look for evidence that Nate’s actually doing something generous for me, or on the whole that balance and connection is enhanced based on what I’m doing, it takes away the sting and it takes away the scorekeeping that I think characterized the way that I thought before we started this project.
Gabe Howard: What’s the one insight or practice, like the most important insight or practice that you hope couples take away from your book?
Dr. Nate Klemp: Yeah, I think it’s a two-tiered practice, but it starts with this idea of one radically generous act of contribution a day. So just doing one nice thing. This doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to take your partner to Bali or to some extravagant dinner. It could just be writing them a sticky note that says, I love you and putting it on their desk, something simple that can be transformative. And then the best way to follow that up.
Kaley Klemp: Is with appreciation. So when your partner does that one radically generous act, catch them doing that and appreciate it and really do go on that scavenger hunt where instead of just skipping over all of the ways that your partner is great in a day, appreciate them for the things that you might almost feel entitled to. Because when you shift that relationship to appreciation, it gets contagious.
Gabe Howard: I love that so much. Thank you both for being here. Where can folks find you and your book?
Dr. Nate Klemp: You can find the book, The 80/80 Marriage pretty much anywhere, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, local bookstores. We are at 8080Marriage.com, that’s eight zero eight zero marriage dot com. We’re also on Instagram at 8080Marriage and Facebook. And we have a free newsletter where we offer weekly tips and suggestions and things like that. So that’s the best place to find us.
Gabe Howard: And I hope everybody checks that out and signs up. Thank you both so much for being here.
Dr. Nate Klemp: Thanks for having us.
Kaley Klemp: That’s a fun conversation. Thanks, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: And thank you to all of our listeners for being here as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as a nationally recognized public speaker. It would be cool to have me at your next event. You can grab a signed copy of my book with free swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. . Please rank and review. And wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Share us on social media, use your words and hey, tell other people why they should be listening to Inside Mental Health. I’ll see everybody next Thursday.
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