I’m Tired of Being the Maid!

On April 1, 2015, in Chores, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

In every marriage, there’s an element of drudgery… It doesn’t really have anything to do with the relationship itself, it’s just a simple reality of most of our lives. Laundry has to be done, the lawn needs mowing, dishes need to be done, the floors need sweeping, and the list of chores just goes on and on and on…

It’s a hassle to take care of these things, but it’s even more irritating when you feel like all of the household responsibilities are falling on your shoulders, and your spouse isn’t lifting a finger to help. This unfair “division of labor” can lead to resentment, feeling overworked, undue stress, feeling overwhelmed with things to do, and a sense of nearly constant anger that your spouse is unwilling to help – even when you ask.

Do you feel like the maid?

Do you feel like the maid?

As if this weren’t enough of a problem, there’s even another downside – one person in the marriage feels like they’re doing all the work, and the other person feels like their constantly being nagged to help. Neither member of the relationship is happy in this scenario – though it’s safe to say that the person doing the disproportionate share of labor is “worse off.”

Now, we won’t pretend that some people don’t do this on purpose – specifically take advantage of their spouses so they don’t have to do much of anything around the house (or otherwise) - but this less likely than the alternative, that they simply never sat down to discuss an effective division of labor. Instead, they’ve let assumptions and habits dictate how they handle household needs, and it has lead to a place of unhappiness and unfair division. This is largely the product of a lack of communication.

There may be some household responsibilities that you would rather do yourself, some that you simply do better than your spouse, and some that you don’t want to mess with at all – and all of that is just fine! Solving this problem involves taking stock of all the daily, weekly, monthly responsibilities that come with maintaining your household and lifestyle, and having an open discussion with your spouse about who’s going to do what.

The goal is to effectively divide things up so you both feel like the other is contributing their fair share, and everything is getting taken care of as needed. This could mean taking turns for some chores, combining efforts to get things done together, divvying up tasks for who’s best suited to handle them… or any combination of those options. You have to sort out what’s going to work best for you, and that starts with having the discussion in the first place.

If nothing else, you should be working together to make sure one of you doesn’t feel overburdened or taken advantage of.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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They Just Can’t Forgive Me

On March 30, 2015, in Forgiveness, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

When problems have caused a rift in your marriage, when disconnection or disagreements have gotten out of control, and you’ve done or said something truly hurtful…

It can be extremely difficult to find forgiveness and move forward.

One of the largest barriers to forgiveness, though, is forming and offering an effective apology. Even when people are truly sorry for their actions, they may not articulate it very well, or be able to show their spouse how much they regret the behavior.

Because it can be so difficult, we’ve broken down an effective apology into 7 steps:

1. Figure Out What Happened

You have to know what you did wrong – exactly. Get the facts in order. Understand precisely what you did and how it made your spouse feel. You can’t apologize for something you don’t fully understand.

2. Explore Why

Now that you know what happened, figure out why it happened. Even if there are factors outside your control, accept that you were susceptible to them. Getting to the bottom of why helps you truly understand the nature of your actions, the factors that lead to them, and how to avoid it in the future. Remember, though, there’s a difference between explanation and excuse – finding a “why” doesn’t mean pointing fingers.

3. Express Regret

Tone, body language, and plenty of other things beyond the word “sorry” have an impact on your apology. Just brushing off a problem with a quick “I’m sorry” is a far cry from looking your spouse in the eye and genuinely expressing your apologies – and stating specifically what you’re sorry for. Include some of the “what” and “why” mentioned above.

Here are some simple steps to help your spouse forgive you.

Here are some simple steps to help your spouse forgive you.

4. Admit and Accept Responsibility

You have to accept and own what you’ve done. Statements like “I’m sorry you feel that way” do little but shift blame toward your spouse. Don’t look for excuses or shift the focus on to something else. If you made a mistake, admit it. Even if you didn’t intentionally hurt your spouse, you can still apologize for upsetting them and take responsibility for the behavior that caused the problem.

5. Don’t Repeat The Behavior

While there are no 100% guarantees for the future, making a concerted effort (and giving your word) to do your best to never repeat the problematic behavior goes a long way toward forgiveness. By exploring your “why,” you probably have a good idea of what lead to the problems in the first place, and you’re now prepared to see when those factors are stacking up again – and you can use that ability to avoid falling into hurtful actions again.

An apology is useless if you just turn around and repeat the behavior.

6. Make Peace

Before you can get to a place of forgiveness, it’s important to make amends as best you can. Ask your spouse what can be done to “make things right.” It all depends on the issue, of course, and some are much larger than others, but you might be able to “make up for” your errors with gestures of kindness, or sometimes by making personal changes or seeking extra help.

This might be anything from agreeing to make dinner for the rest of the week to enrolling in anger management classes. Whatever it is, be open to smoothing things out and showing your commitment to apologizing.

7. Ask For Forgiveness

Last but not least, ask to be forgiven! This will likely take some courage, but if you really want to get over the hump, it’s ok be direct – and ask if you can be forgiven for whatever problems you’ve caused. No one owes you forgiveness, and while it may come without asking, being humble and vulnerable enough to admit your mistakes and show how much being forgiven means to you will show your spouse that you’re serious about atoning for your mistakes.

Moving past problems and finding forgiveness can take time. It can be a tense process that takes several stages, or even several tries. If apologizing to your spouse and being forgiven for your errors is truly important to you, be humble and put in the time and effort required to make it right!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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Is Porn Ruining Your Marriage?

On March 25, 2015, in Porn & Internet Addiction, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Pornography is a touchy subject for most people. For starters, it’s an intensely private (some would say shameful) use of time that most people are uncomfortable talking about, or even bashful about admitting to – without even going into any detail.

The unfortunate reality is that the internet has made porn more abundant and available than ever before – and that means that its damaging effects are even more widespread than they used to be.

And while people of both genders watch porn, men are far and away more likely to – and more likely to suffer from the negative effects. You might be wondering just what those affects are – and as you probably guessed, every last one of them has to do with closeness, connection, and a healthy sex life.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. There’s No Intimacy

The sexual parts of our brains learn from the things that stimulate us. In a real human relationship, sex involves communication, connection, and intimacy – but in pornography, there’s absolutely none of that. It strips the whole complex sexual relationship down to the acts themselves – and we can’t help but internalize those patterns.

Because everyone in porn is “ready to go,” it imparts the “lesson” that this is how normal sex works, and therefore makes it all about the act – instead of about the connection.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Not only does pornography give us an unrealistic representation of sex, foreplay, and connection – it also gives unrealistic expectations of what bodies should look like. These are people whose bodies ARE the product they sell – and that means intense workouts, plastic surgery, professional makeup artists, and on and on to make sure they are looking like some sexualized “ideal.”

But the truth is, people don’t really look like that – at least most of us don’t. When we start to associate our sexual thoughts with those images, though, it creates an unrealistic standard that our partners can’t live up to (because they are real people, after all, without makeup, airbrushing, and camera tricks to help cover up imperfections). For men, it creates a totally objectified view of the female body, as well as standard of male physique and “anatomy” that doesn’t reflect reality – and may lead to self-consciousness and self-doubt.

Is porn ruining your marriage?

Is porn ruining your marriage?

3. Conditioning

Just like Pavlov’s famous dog, we are all subject to conditioning – that is, associating certain stimuli with certain outcomes. What the means for a porn user is that, well, eventually the images/videos/etc. become a central component of sexual stimulation – instead of the real live person they’re married to.

This goes for arousal and stimulation, but also runs deeper, affecting even the desire to be with another person (instead of on the computer). The longer this goes on, the harder this conditioning is to break. For most people, they don’t even realize when it’s happening until after the damage is done.

In a similar vein, being conditioned to pornography can also make “regular” sex seem boring. While there’s nothing wrong with “spicing things up” from time to time, many of the acts depicted in pornography simply aren’t pleasurable for both partners, are too strenuous, or – like the people themselves – are dramatic, exaggerated versions of “real life.” Thinking they are the norm can be problematic, to say the least.

4. Selfishness

Like the entries on intimacy and conditioning, getting satisfaction mostly through porn (and usually masturbation) can lead to developing bad habits surrounding sexual needs – particularly a spouse’s needs. If a person is used to instant gratification, and can achieve it by themselves (and relatively quickly), it can make seduction, foreplay, even connecting at all feel like too much work, or somehow not worth the effort.

People become concerned with satisfying their own needs, and disregard the needs of their partner – and what starts with sexual desire eventually bleeds into intimacy, connection, communication, and ultimately, even participating in the relationship at all!

These are only some of the problems that pornography can cause in a marriage. The parts of our brains that control sex drive - and all of the related desires, needs, and behaviors – are complex and subject to outside influence, and not always under our control. If you’ve noticed some of these problems in your relationship, it might be time to ask your partner about porn use.

If it’s already a problem, talk to your spouse about the damage being done. If it’s truly an issue, you may even want to consider seeking professional help.

As with so many other issues, overcoming the obstacles starts with communication and honesty. Don’t let porn ruin your marriage!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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Predict Divorce With Just Two Questions

On March 23, 2015, in Divorce & Separation, Uncategorized, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

With just a couple of basic questions, you can get a huge amount of perspective on your marriage. It’s an interesting way of evaluating the current state of your relationship, and if you compare your responses to your spouse’s, you might have a giant moment of realization…

First let’s get the questions out of the way, and then we’ll talk about the implications of your answers.

1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “much worse” and 5 being “much better” – what do you think your level of happiness would be if you and your spouse split up?

2. Using the same scale, what do you think your spouse’s level of happiness would be if the two of you split up?

You can predict divorce with two simple questions!

You can predict divorce with two simple questions!

These may seem like strange questions coming from us – since we’re trying to keep your marriage together – but the responses to these questions yield some mighty powerful results about the current state of a marriage.

The questions come from a University of Virginia study from almost 20 years ago, which surveyed some 3,597 couples with these questions, and then followed up six years later. They looked at responses from both members of a marriage, and in their follow up, looked at who got divorced… and the results might not be what you expect!

Of course the couples who both thought they’d be happier apart were likely to divorce, and the couples who both responded that they would be worse off were likely to stay together…

But here’s the surprise:

The highest divorce rates came not from the couples who thought they’d be happier apart, but from the couples who assessed their partners inaccurately! The further off they were, the more likely the couple was to be divorced in the follow up study.

This serves as a HUGE reminder about communication, and how important it is to be on the same page as your spouse. The projected levels of happiness weren’t even the defining factor for these failed relationships - the most important factor was the accuracy of knowing how your spouse felt.

So, even though it might be a hard topic to approach, ask yourself these questions – and ask your spouse. If the responses surprise you, or even if you’re just a little off in your projections, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re communicating. You need to find out why your assumptions are incorrect.

This all boils down to effective and honest communication. If you’re keeping each other updated about how you feel (both good and bad), you can maintain an accurate mental picture of where your spouse is at in the relationship, and determine if there are areas that need work.

Even without these survey questions, the principle of the matter is important. Do you know how your spouse really feels? Do they know how you feel? If you don’t make the effort to find out, you could be making assumptions that are going to hurt the marriage in the long run.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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My Wife Hates My Friends!

On March 18, 2015, in Relationship Problems, Uncategorized, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

This is an all too common scenario, even to the point of being cliché: the wife who hates her husband’s friends. And while this might seem almost eye roll worthy, like something out of a cheeky comedy – there’s a LOT of truth to it, and for some couples, it’s a real problem that is driving the marriage apart.

According to a study conducted by The Daily Mail, as many as 25% of the surveyed women admitted to disliking their husband’s friends, and believing that they have a detrimental effect on his behavior. 10% say that their husband’s friends have put a strain on the relationship, and 16% admit to trying to prevent their husbands from spending time with their “undesirable” friends.

But why all this animosity? What’s the real issue at hand here? It can’t just be that EVERY husband has annoying, problematic friends…

According to the women who took the survey (and many of the common complaints we’ve all heard), “the boys” tend to drink too much, make crude jokes, act immature, stay out too late, make sexist remarks, talk about sports too much, and on and on…

We’ve probably heard (or experienced) most of these things before – but one of the biggest complaints is that husbands simply ignore their wives when their friends are around – and THAT is a real problem.

Before we get too far into what to do about this stuff, though, let’s take a step back and a get a few things out in the open…
Understand that friendships are extremely important no matter what gender you are, and that “same gender” friendships offer a type of connection that a marriage doesn’t. This goes for both men and women. Feeling like you don’t “get” why your spouse enjoys the dynamic of their friendships with these people is, well, just another item on the list of differences between men and women.

This isn’t the case for every couple, of course, but wives being annoyed by their husbands friends for typically masculine traits is, to some degree, just to be expected – just like we can expect husbands to feel out of place, irritated, or disinterested in a group of their wives’ friends. It’s simply a matter of different interests and communication styles, which are only amplified when the group of friends gets together.
135231854On one hand, this is an issue that (at least in minor situations) should just be overlooked. It might make you a little annoyed, sure, but understanding that your spouse’s friends are important to them – even if you don’t quite get why – is part of being a supportive spouse. As long as they aren’t spending an inordinate amount of time with their friends or engaging in destructive behavior, in most situations it’s best to try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, think about your own friendships, and give them the benefit of the doubt in choosing who they want to spend time with.

Now, on the other hand… Some people do have toxic friendships. Such friends can be enablers for bad habits, bad influences in terms of behavior (or even ways of thinking), or even cause direct damage to your marriage. If this is the case, something has to be done!

Your spouse probably won’t see the situation the same way you do, so it’s important not to attack them, demonize their friends, or make demands. Instead, try to make them see things from your point of view – explain the differences in behavior and help them come to the realization on their own.

If you’re on the receiving side of this – if your wife hates your friends – try not to take it too personally. Try to understand where they are coming from, and do your best to strike a balance. If it’s that she simply doesn’t like them, then you can likely find a way to keep your important friendships without subjecting your spouse to too many of their antics…

If, however, they really are damaging your life, it’s time to GET HONEST about what you want, what you’re doing, and how many of the choices you’re making are happening because of their influence.

In most cases, your spouse’s friends really aren’t anything to worry about. In fact, it could be a point of pride that your spouse has built and maintained such strong friendships. The little changes in behavior are only natural (especially for men) when they are bonding with their gender group.

If you find yourself ignoring your spouse when your friends are around – whether or not your spouse has said something to you about it – STOP IT. You don’t have to dote on them every second, but making them feel nonexistent is only hurting your marriage AND hurting their perception of your friends.

If your spouse hates your friends, do a little evaluating. Are they overreacting, or do they see something you don’t?

No matter what the outcome, talk about this stuff rationally and calmly. If it’s an issue already, you definitely are NOT seeing eye to eye – so hash things out until you’re on the same page. You might not come to a perfect agreement right away, but if you make a point to see from each other’s point of view – you’ll be a lot closer to resolving the problem than you were before.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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Want to Get Lucky This St. Patrick’s Day?

On March 16, 2015, in Sex & Intimacy, Uncategorized, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! On this fun-filled holiday, we want to talk about getting lucky with your spouse – though perhaps more accurately, making your own luck in the bedroom!

You see, days like today offer the opportunity for some extra playfulness – and in turn, show you what an important element fun and games can be for your sex life. Days like St. Patrick’s Day are filled with parties and celebrations, parades, gaudy decorations, and high spirits pretty much everywhere you turn.

Want to get lucky this St. Patrick's Day?

Want to get lucky this St. Patrick's Day?

In these environments, playful flirtation and some lighthearted romance are perfect for building your connection to each other – and getting you excited to get back home and into the bedroom!

You can plan a date with the intention of going into the St. Paddy’s fray to party, to people watch, to dance and laugh among the other celebrators, and above all, to feel happy and carefree! These kinds of low-pressure, simple dates can help you cast aside troubles you might be facing. Unlike going to dinner or to a play or movie, you don’t have to sit still! You have the chance to cut loose a little bit because well, so many other people are too!

Showing your spouse your carefree, fun-loving side is a wonderful way to set the mood with your spouse, and these moments are also perfect whispering sweet nothings in your spouse’s ear, letting them know how much you want them, giving them sly little compliments, etc. This is all about having fun!

Now, here’s the real kicker – it doesn’t even have to be a holiday for you to do this kind of stuff. Using the St. Paddy’s hullaballoo is a great reason to get out of the house, get a little silly, and remind yourselves how much fun you can have together…

But once you’ve enjoyed one such excursion, there’s no reason you can’t create your own whenever you like. You don’t need a holiday or some big ordeal - you just need each other and the desire for some fun! This is something you can recreate on a whim!

Have some memorable (but not too serious) times this St. Patrick’s Day, and let the holiday be a lesson in cutting loose, having some fun, and being playful with your spouse. It doesn’t take much to have a good time!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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5 Facts You Need to Know If They Cheated

On March 12, 2015, in Affair-Infidelity, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Recovering from infidelity is one of the most difficult challenges any relationship can face. For the person who was cheated on, it can seem all but impossible to regain trust, to get past the pain, and to even consider moving forward with the marriage.

For anyone who has been cheated on, there are a few essential facts for coming to grips with the reality of the scenario, and understanding them will be critical in your ability to rebuild the relationship.

These may seem a little harsh at times, but it’s a harsh situation to be in…

1. Your Spouse Is The Source Of Your Pain

As tough as it is to admit – it’s true. Your spouse is the one who wronged you, and right now, they are the source of all the hurt you’re going through. This is important to understand because it helps you shift away from blaming yourself, searching for outside “reasons,” or making excuses for them.

Also, once you internalize that they are the source of the pain, you can take the necessary space to think long and hard about rebuilding trust with them. You won’t be tempted to fall back into old patterns right away.

2. Your Spouse Is A Liar… And They Can’t Prove Otherwise

At some point during an affair, your spouse lied to you. Maybe it was to cover their tracks, maybe it was to “protect” you, maybe it was something more serious – one way or another, though, no affair can take place without a certain amount of dishonesty.

What you should know when your spouse has cheated.

What you should know when your spouse has cheated.

Unfortunately, that means that you can’t really trust what they say, no matter what promises they make. That is, you can’t trust them UNTIL YOU CHOOSE TO.

No amount of begging, pleading, promising, or “proving themselves” will solve the problem entirely. You have to choose to reinvest your trust. They can’t convince you – they can only help make your choice easier. Trust is generally earned through actions, and your spouse’s actions have betrayed your trust. It’s going to take time to rebuild it, and it’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

3. You Can Still Make It Work

In the worst moments, this may be another fact that’s extremely hard to accept, but it’s true! You can still make your marriage work – it will just take time and effort.

Your marriage isn’t over unless you decide it is. With the help of counseling, you can find ways to forgive your spouse, reconnect emotionally, and move forward. The key is to recognize that your OLD marriage wasn’t a relationship that worked, but that you can embark on a NEW marriage with the person you’re already married to. You have to put the past behind you, own up to faults, and agree to start fresh. It won’t be easy, but it IS possible.

4. Details Hurt

You may think you want to know all the gory details, but if the hurt is still fresh… You don’t.

The specifics of when it started, where things happened, and even what happened won’t do much but give you more to think about, more to feel hurt about, and more to demonize your spouse over. The more you know, the more you’ll have to forgive.

Now, if you still want to know the ugly details after some time has gone by, after you’ve patched things up, then you have every right to ask – but understand that it won’t make you feel any better. It might even be a good idea to only bring up such questions when see a counselor or in some kind of mediated conversation. Dredging up the details can send you spiraling back into pain and distrust, even if the affair is long over.

5. You Can’t Do It Alone

When your spouse cheats on you, the emotional impact is devastating. In the face of such hurt, it’s difficult to make rational decisions, to communicate effectively, to even be in the same room as your unfaithful spouse…

Your judgment is clouded, you might be acting out of hurt or anger, and you can only see the situation from your own subjective position. With some professional help, though, you can understand the whole issue in a little more context, understand the conditions in your marriage that led to the affair, learn about forgiveness, and hopefully get some of those emotionally charged thoughts and actions under control.

A properly trained third party can make all the difference in getting you and your spouse talking again, helping you avoid destructive conflict, and teaching you tactics for rebuilding the damaged connection.

Our How To Survive An Affair video series is a great place to start!

If you’ve suffered through an affair, remember that it doesn’t mean the end of your marriage… It means the end of your OLD marriage. If you’re willing to work on it, and agree to move forward in a new direction of trust, love, and understanding, you can save your relationship in the wake of infidelity.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

 

From the get go, this is a tough question to ask… There are so many variables to consider… What exactly do we mean by fighting? Does it matter what age the kids are? Do the kids even understand what you’re fighting about?

These are all important questions, but they are a little bit misguided. Those questions don’t really get to the root of the matter because they don’t address the actual problem – how you fight with your spouse.

This isn’t about what the kids can or can’t handle, it’s about the way you and your spouse resolve differences. Is it OK to fight in front of the kids?

In a word: no.

Is it ok to disagree in front of the kids? To speak to one another with respect even if you don’t see eye to eye? The answer is yes, but you have to “fight” effectively, or you risk putting your children at risk for emotional damage (and potentially teaching them some bad habits for the future).

You see, disagreeing isn’t the problem. We can’t expect to be on the exact same page as our spouses at every moment. At some point or another, one of you will do something that irritates the other, someone will forget something important, say something hurtful, or simply have a difference of opinion on an important matter.

Is it ever OK to fight in front of your kids?

Is it ever OK to fight in front of your kids?

When this happens though, how you proceed is critical – especially if you have kids around.

Even if the topic of debate has nothing to do with the kids, they’re still listening to how you’re talking to your spouse, paying attention to how angry you get, and watching to see if you make up.

If a disagreement is not handled maturely – and turns into a big fight, complete with slamming doors and shouting above each other – it can get pretty scary for a child. It’s noisy, it’s chaotic, and frankly, they might not understand what you’re arguing about at all. They do understand, however, that something’s wrong.

In these fearful moments, kids usually withdraw emotionally and physically, building barriers to healthy communication and relationship building. Alternatively, fighting parents can also make some children lash out – either in an attempt to distract the parents from fighting with each other, or to reclaim attention that is being taken up by the arguments.

Whether or not you’re aware of it, kids are learning from you pretty much all the time, and when you fight with your spouse, they are learning about how to deal with conflict. Whatever approach you take to the problem, they will absorb.

This means that arguing the “right” way is important, and so is explaining to your children that disagreements are normal, that they are not to blame, and that you and your spouse still love each other.

You can teach them how to disagree effectively, but more importantly, you are teaching them how to look past an isolated conflict and make up with the people they care about. To teach them this, though, you have to be able to do it yourself.

If you and your spouse are getting in to it, if tempers are flaring and you feel yourself getting worked up, stop and breathe for a moment. Take a few minutes to compose yourself, leave the room for a moment, or whatever it takes to let your nerves calm. Even outside of marital arguments, this is a good skill to have (and teach your kids).

Once you’ve settled, conduct your disagreement in a calm, civil way – even if your children are still in the same room (if they aren’t, you can bet that they’ll be listening as best they can). Show them that arguments don’t have to vicious, and that finding solutions is possible if people are willing to come together.

It’s unrealistic to think that you can avoid all arguments in the presence of your children. It’s equally unrealistic to think that they aren’t closely affected by your emotional state…

Keep your disagreements civil and work toward making up calmly. Your kids – and your marriage – will be better off for it.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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Of all the things that can come between people, of all the reasons tensions flare and couples fight – from petty little things to major blowouts – one thing is at the center of more arguments than anything else:

Money.

More than in-laws, kids, who said what, who looked at who… More than all of that, money is the thing that comes between people, and it isn’t hard to understand why.

We all stress about it at one time or another. Sometimes we don’t have enough, sometimes we have “enough,” but not as much as we want. Even for the well to do, money can be a source of anxiety, or at the very least, a matter dealt with very seriously. Keeping track of accounts and bills is a complicated task for everyone, and for most people, financial jargon, taxes, assets, and the like are confusing – even cringe worthy – to navigate.

If it’s not the dollars themselves, we stress about the jobs we work to earn the money, we stress about the necessities that eat that money up, and as couples, we argue about where that money should be going.

To get a better understanding of how these fights happen, let’s take a quick look at a few of the major categories of conflict in this arena. These aren’t all-encompassing, but are some of the more common scenarios that cause couples to argue about money. Let’s get them on the table, and then we’ll look at what to do about it.

Friends, Family, and Helping Others

While we might like to think that we’re all charitable and helpful, many fights about money happen when it comes to, well, giving it away to other people.

It could be a loan to a friend, helping a parent, giving a sibling a large gift, helping a close relative during tough times, or anything else of this nature.

The number one thing couples fight about is MONEY.

The number one thing couples fight about is MONEY.

It feels like the right thing to do, or you might feel obligated because of your own financial circumstances, but your spouse might feel differently (or see something about the situation you don’t).

If you and your spouse don’t share the same relationship dynamic with the person you’re helping, you might not see its importance (or that it’s a mistake) in the same light.

Power Makes People Tense

More and more commonly, both members of a couple are “breadwinners” and contribute the overall income, but this isn’t always the case. Or, for many couples, there’s a huge gap in wages, so one person is bringing in a significantly larger portion of the income than the other person.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like a problem, but it can be – even below the radar. The divide makes us a little uneasy, because there’s some strange sense of “power” involved in producing the majority of the income (even if you don’t act like it).

This can make one member of the couple feel in control of the money, and the other like they have to get approval for any spending. It doesn’t usually play out to those extremes, but that underlying inequality can lead to some conflict.

Kids Cost Big Bucks

Having children is expensive – as most people are well aware – but managing those expenses can be a source of tension for many parents. Even for people considering having kids, the financial commitment is no doubt part of the conversation.

Whether it’s figuring out allowances, saving for college, what food to buy, what clothes to buy, picking up toys or special treats… the list of potential expenses is staggering. Any disagreement on what to get or how much to spend could lead to an argument, especially if making that decision also involves a cranky child.

Financial Personality

All expenses aside, people simply think about money in different ways. This “financial personality” is going to have a pretty large impact on the way you deal with money in a general way. It might be lessons you learned when you were young, or simply the methods you’ve found that work for you, but people certainly have a range of approaches to money management.

Some people are savers, others are investors. Some people shop within strict parameters, others rack up the credit card bill to deal with down the line. Some live on steady and carefully managed income, and others thrive in a “feast or famine” approach to finance.

If a couple is made up of clashing financial personalities, things can get a little messy.

Debts

Unfortunately, financial “baggage” is the norm today. From student loans to car payments, credit card debt to the mortgages, debt is just a part of life for many people. In a marriage though, some debts will be taken on as a couple, while others may still be lingering around from well before.

These debts, particularly the old ones, will be a drain on income that doesn’t seem to result in much tangible reward, and that simple fact can cause some stress – especially if money is already tight.

Yours vs. Mine

Most married couples end up combining finances, but this can lead to some murky territory for what “belongs” to you, your spouse, or both of you. This can be something major like a car, or something minor… like who ate the last cupcake.

This division of ownership will rear its ugly head sometimes, even if you’ve agreed to share everything. It just happens as part of our own subjective impulses. It’s tough to divide everything right down the middle, and eventually things will tip one way or the other – and that can lead to conflict.

So, with all of these potential financial pitfalls, what can a couple do to minimize disagreements about money?

In a word: BUDGET.

With a robust budget, you have a system to fall back on. The key is to make your decisions together, and then STICK TO THEM!

This way, when disputes arise about what’s being spent where, you don’t have to make it about momentary opinions or personal feelings. Instead, you just refer back to the budget, and if you didn’t account for it in your planning, then it’s likely an unnecessary expense.

The point is that you have an impartial “third party” in the form of the budget you agreed on. You just have to go back and compare the financial disagreement at hand to the blueprint you set out for your joint finances. Stick to the plan, and it will resolve arguments for you!

Money is going to be a little different for every couple, but the need to manage it effectively is the same, no matter what your tax bracket might be. Avoid many of the problems couples face by taking the financial guesswork out of your day-to-day lives. Make a budget and stick to it.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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Can Separation Save a Marriage?

On March 2, 2015, in Divorce & Separation, Save Your Marriage, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

When people are facing trying times in their marriages, they may consider the idea of temporary separation. They might feel like they need some space, that they need to get away from behavior that’s making them upset, or that they simply need a break from the marriage to collect their thoughts and emotions.

But this raises an important question: can separating actually help a struggling marriage?

Well, the short answer is yes – if (and only if) it’s done correctly. If not, it can actually end up causing a lot more damage.

So, how does a couple separate the “right way” – and furthermore, how does it actually help?

First, let’s make sure we understand the real purpose of separating. It’s not supposed to be a hasty decision, it’s supposed to be that last-ditch, “Hail Mary pass” attempt at getting things back on track when you feel like you’ve run out of other options.

When you separate from your spouse, the idea is to get a taste of what life would be like without them. It’s supposed to be a chance to reevaluate the marriage, and see if some new perspective changes the way you feel. Sometimes we’re “too close” to our problems, and once we’ve stepped away, we can see our own contributions to them, how we may have been overreacting, or discover new solutions simply by looking at things from a new vantage point.

With those guiding principles established, what does a separation “done right” look like?

For starters, you have to set some guidelines (that you both agree upon), and stick with them. If the separation is actually going to lead to some positive changes, establishing some ground rules is key.

You may have your own specific rules to establish, but there are also some general guidelines that will help make separating a source of resolution.

Here are a few of the most important:

Time Frame

If you decide to separate, set a time limit immediately. Your time apart should be no more than six months – and in all reality, probably shouldn’t be any longer than three months (especially if you have kids).

Establishing this time frame helps keep you focused on the real reason for the separation – to work on and improve the marriage. If you separate with no clear end in sight, you may just drift apart instead of putting in the effort to make changes and meet a self-imposed “deadline” for sorting out issues.

Can separation save your marriage?

Can separation save your marriage?

Live Like You’re Divorced

If the main purpose of separation is to show you what life would be like without your spouse, you HAVE to live as if you were already divorced.

This means splitting up finances (don’t close your accounts just yet, but split up your money as if you were), staying in separate places, even splitting up custody of the kids. You have to really get the sense of being apart – no sharing cars, “hooking up,” or relying on each other the way you did when you were “together.”

If you let yourself fall back into old behaviors, you’re giving yourself a false sense of what splitting up will be like, and worse, giving yourself some of the “benefits” of marriage without the responsibilities – and you likely won’t work on changing the problem areas that lead to separation in the first place.

Don’t Date

This is a bit of a touchy subject, since many couples separate because one of them is seeing someone else, but if it can be avoided, it should be! It’s tough to work on one a relationship if you’re starting to develop feelings for another person.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, some couples DO actually get back together after dating other people – it helps them realize what they were taking for granted, and how unpleasant the “dating world” can be. This is NOT our recommended approach, but it does work for some people… You’ll have to find what works best for you and your spouse.

Don’t Change The Rules

Yes, one of the rules is about the rules themselves – but it has to be mentioned!

If you start to miss each other, good! Don’t change the rules. If you’re struggling to make your appointments and get the kids where they need to be, good! Don’t change the rules.

When things get tough, it’s your chance to learn. Don’t change the rules to make things easier on yourself, instead look for the lesson in the struggle.

The point of separating was to get a sense of life without your partner, and if it’s tougher than you anticipated, that’s a pretty strong sign that splitting up with your spouse isn’t the best idea.

You laid out the guidelines for your separation for a reason. If you change them halfway through, you risk undoing the lessons you were learning, and stopping your progress dead in its tracks.

Work On It

This last rule is the most important of all. No matter what ground rules you set, no matter what time frame you establish, no matter what your problems might be - nothing is going to change if you don’t put in some work.

This means working on both yourself and the relationship – and it will be different for everyone. If you’ve gotten to the point of separating with your spouse, life probably feels pretty stressful, and this is your opportunity to set a new course.

It could be working on things directly related to your marriage (or the problems that lead to separation), from anger management to problems with addiction, from taking parenting classes to working on money management…

It can also be peripheral things that might not have been central to the issues in your marriage, but are “problem areas” for you nonetheless. This could be getting in shape, kicking a bad habit, spending more time on a passion, etc.

The idea is to be the best version of yourself, because it will also translate into being a better spouse. When you are confident in yourself and fulfilled in your pursuits, you have so much more to offer another person in terms of connection and support. This goes for both of you.

If you aren’t working on the things that caused you to separate, the whole thing is for naught.

Remember the real reasons for separation, and make sure you’re going about it in a way that will actually lead to growth and positive change. If you’ve already separated from your spouse, but didn’t lay out the rules mentioned above, that’s ok! It’s not too late to “restart” on the right foot.

Think long and hard before making the choice to separate – and if you do, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons (and going about it the right way). If you keep these “rules” in mind, it truly can help get your marriage back on track!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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