How To Make 2023 The Best Year Of Your Marriage

While this was originally intended to be a New Years post, these 5 resolutions are important all year round.

by Lee Baucom, Ph.D.

5 Resolutions To Improve Your Marriage In The New Year

1) Forgive more often.

Forgiveness is something we know we should do. But for most of us, it is a challenge. We know we should, but sometimes, it just seems so unfair. Why should we let that other person off the hook? Why should we have to be the one to forgive? Shouldn’t we hold onto those hurts in order to protect ourselves?

If you find yourself nodding in agreement with those questions above, you have fallen into the cultural trap about forgiveness. You see, forgiveness is a misunderstood concept. Forgiveness is also something that runs counter to our natural wiring. Yet not forgiving keeps us stuck, frozen, and connected to the injury caused by some action of another.

Not long ago, I was teaching a workshop on forgiveness.

I asked a simple question at the beginning: “What are the actions that are just simply unforgivable?”

People offered up a number of suggestions. Many were rather heinous, and some were simply statements of recent hurts still on the surface. I wrote them all on the whiteboard and left them to the side.

I then proposed that there are two “paradigms,” two mindsets, that we carry around about forgiveness.

One paradigm is that we need to hold people accountable, never forget so that they cannot injure us again, and seek justice for the transgressor. This mindset is “I cannot forgive.” But there is another mindset that understands a simple fact: forgiveness is primarily for the person forgiving, not for the person forgiven.

Forgiving another person frees us up, lets us move forward, and allows us to heal.

Not forgiving keeps us captive to the injury, prevents any growth, and keeps the wound open and festering.

In that workshop, people began to tell stories of hurts and pains, and their need to forgive. What was interesting is how the other participants encouraged the people sharing to NOT forgive. I noted how easy it is for us to slip back into mindset #1.

Our natural wiring is for self-preservation.

It is not for growth. It is for survival.

And from a simple survival perspective, seeing everything as a threat and anyone that injures you (accidental or maliciously) as an enemy is protective. But protective in a way that keeps your growth stunted and keeps you living in a very small space.

So back to mindset #2, forgiveness is so that YOU can move on; so that YOU do not continue to drag around the injury.

Long ago, I heard the analogy that not forgiving is like being hit by a sharp rock, picking up that sharp rock, gripping it so tightly that you continually cut your own hand, and shaking it at the back of the person who threw the rock. They walk away while you continue to injure yourself.

The first step in forgiveness is acknowledging that you want to forgive because it will free you.

The second step is to begin to see the other person in another light, as one that may not have truly intended to injure you.

Let me repeat that: someone’s actions may not have been intended to hurt you in the way that you were hurt.

I have a core belief, and I simply invite you to adopt it: “People do the best they can, where they are. They do things for THEMSELVES, and not against YOU.”

In other words, with rare exceptions, it is not the aim of people to injure others. In the act of protecting or defending themselves (or some image of themselves), they may cause injury, but that is not the primary purpose of actions.

I am certainly not perfect in seeing others in this light, but that is my intention.

And when I do view people from this perspective, it is easier to be empathetic — their actions may have injured me, but it was from a point of pain in them.

When we are feeling threatened or hurt, we all tend to lash out in ways that are hurtful, but it is from a point of self-preservation.

Forgiveness is based on a decision. It is based in a shift in mindset. And it is based in opting to move forward.

[One note about what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that another person’s actions mean nothing and should be disregarded. I am not saying you should not feel hurt. And I am not saying you have to reconnect with anyone that “does you wrong.” Your hurt and your pain, that is part of being alive. We humans have the unique capacity of not only suffering an injury, but constantly wondering about the meaning of that injury and the psychology of the other person. Pain is unavoidable. But when we keep the incident and injury alive in our thoughts, we prolong and deepen the pain. The pain is real. How long you hold on to the pain, that is optional. You will naturally feel hurt, but you can also choose to move through the pain and into healing (that really is what forgiving is about). Also, this is not about “forgive and forget.” There are times when you can choose to forgive so that you can move forward AND decide that the person is not a person with whom you can relate any longer.]

In the new year, resolve to forgive more. Resolve to see others (and yourself) as doing the best they can, given where they are. And resolve to understand that forgiving is about YOU deciding to not carry the pain with YOU.

2) Be lovingly direct.

Many of us are not raised to be direct. We are raised to hint around at what we want, then are disappointed when what we want never arrives. Often, we find ourselves stuck between being indirect and being demanding.

When we are indirect, we are trying to get the other person to do what we want, but without having to claim or request it. When we are demanding, we are trying to get what we want by giving the person no choice. In either case, we are being controlling and focused on only getting what we want.

But there is another possibility: being lovingly direct.

Being direct is about being clear about what you want. Being loving is understanding that you may not get what you want, just because you make a request.

Let’s just take one fairly typical marriage scenario. Let’s assume that you are feeling a bit neglected, and therefore a bit unloved.

You could:

A) be indirect and hint around at wanting attention, then hurt that your spouse did not pick up your subtle hints,

B) demand attention and then be unsatisfied when your spouse either goes through the emotions but is not happy about it, or your spouse pulls even further away because of the pressure, or

C) make a loving request that you would like to carve out some time to connect and ask about how that might work for your spouse.

Just guessing, I suspect that option C will be more likely to get you the results you would want.

But I also know that this requires taking some responsibility. You see, if you use approach A or B, and you don’t get what you want, you may take this as proof that your spouse does not love you, is uncaring, is unwilling to connect, or any other number of beliefs. Then, not getting attention only serves to deepen beliefs you may already hold. Your spouse may have unwittingly stepped into a trap. The sad part: there may have been potential for doing things differently, of getting what you both most deeply desire: connection.

Resolve this year to not be indirect and to not be demanding. Instead, resolve to be lovingly direct.

3) Work on your personal boundaries.

First, a quick definition of a boundary: What you will not let others do to you.

Boundaries form the expectations we have on how we will be treated by the world.

Think for a moment about the people in your life that almost emit an understanding to others about being respectful. You would never imagine being disrespectful, not because the person tells you how to treat him or her, but because you just get a feeling, an understanding. That person is clear about personal boundaries.

So why would your personal boundaries be a part of your resolutions about marriage?

Because most people do not adequately set their personal boundaries, but when a personal boundary is violated, we tend to respond in rather defensive/attacking ways. In other words, when we do not monitor our boundaries, we tend to react to others in ways that violate the other person’s boundaries. This creates an atmosphere that is toxic and hurtful.

Boundaries teach others how we want to be treated.

If we do not teach others on how to treat us, we cannot blame others for not treating us in the way we want to be treated. It is up to each of us to create the necessary boundaries. It is not up to others to guess on our boundaries.

Let’s take a common boundary issue in marriage. Because of proximity, a couple is bound to have disagreements. Often, these disagreements lead to arguments. Sometimes, an argument fuels yelling. I am of the opinion that yelling, or being yelled at, crosses boundaries. (Let me assure you that this does not mean I have never raised my voice. But I do recognize this is aggressive behavior and not particularly useful to a loving relationship.)

Notice that I used the term “raising your voice” in that last paragraph.

The reason for this is because when people make it clear they do not want to be yelled at, the conversation often degenerates into an argument about whether it was yelling or not. Somehow, “raising your voice” is less threatening and more clearly noted.

So, letting someone know that they are “raising their voice” at you is the starting point.

Requesting they NOT raise their voice (in a clear, calm voice) is next.

If the yelling continues, I suggest you end the discussion until things are calmer (which is NOT an excuse to avoid any discussions you don’t want to have — only that waiting for a bit more calmness can be helpful).

This can be applied to many other boundary violations, of which you will become more aware as you clarify your boundaries. (I devote an entire chapter in my Save The Marriage System.)

Resolve to create and clarify your own personal boundaries. Also resolve to respect the boundaries of your spouse and others. It will lead to much more loving and respectful interactions throughout your life.

4) Give attention freely.

It is funny, but the one thing we have, of which we cannot run out, is love and attention. We will eventually run out of time, and we can always run out of money. But love is both free and infinite. We can always love more people. And love is often best shown in attention.

But how many times do we withhold love and attention? Sometimes, we do it in the midst of a busy schedule. And I get that. Which is why the resolution is not “always be loving and attentive.”

Instead, this resolution is aimed at the fact that we often choose to not “show up” when we are with people.

By that, I mean that our body is there, but our attention is not. We can be physically present but emotionally absent. There are several reasons why this can be true.

For example, we may be distracted by the device in our hands (smart phone, tablet, e-reader, magazine, newspaper, remote control, etc., etc.) But instead of admitting that we cannot pay attention to both, we pretend to be listening.

We let some other object get the bulk of our attention, when the living, breathing person beside us deserves it more.

Resolve to not let inanimate objects keep your attention diverted from the people who love you.

Perhaps even more important, resentment and anger can block attention. Sometimes, instead of addressing an issue with someone, we choose to be a bit passive-aggressive. We simply cut off connection and attention. This is deeply wounding, and really does nothing to address the original issue. Can you think back to a time when you were angry with someone, so that when you were around them, you just refused to truly listen and interact? Or perhaps you became antagonistic and obstinate? It likely did little to change the real issue, but did likely increase the disconnection and chasm between you.

Resolve, this year, to freely give attention. Resolve to not be distracted by inanimate objects or derailed by old hurts and resentments. Resolve to love more freely, recognizing you have an endless pool of love.

5) Focus on partnership.

We have that natural wiring, the wiring that is always tempting us to play “what about me?” And it is certainly important to make sure you care for yourself. But sometimes, in the midst of a struggle, we are tempted to abandon the relationship, the connection. I believe that marriages are about being a WE, a sense of being partners, together, indivisible. I also believe this only happens when you are truly yourself and understand being an individual.

It is my observation, though, that way to many of us tend to function in the ME sphere, and forget the WE sphere — especially when the WE is under stress.

Yet the path back to connection and relation is a return to the focus on being a WE.

For a moment, just consider whether you are truly playing as a part of a team, or if you have dropped back to defending your territory, your needs, your desires. The defense of ME is the danger. It is not a problem that you are aware of you. But it is a problem when a person defends his or her space, to the detriment of the partnership that is formed in a marriage.

This year, resolve to being in a WE, of truly showing up with attention, of clearly noting your personal boundaries, and of forgiving. I know I am.

Lee Baucom, Ph.D. is a best-selling author, therapist, coach and speaker, and has over a quarter of a century of experience helping couples and individuals learn to thrive in their relationships and their lives. He is the creator of the internet marriage program, Save The Marriage.

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