It’s nearly Halloween, and among all the kid’s parties, costume shops, and kitschy decorations, there’s one aspect that can really give your relationship a boost – haunted houses!

You might be asking yourself what a haunted house has to do with marriage at all, and while it might not be immediately obvious, the answer is quite simple! Getting spooked brings you closer together!

Scary Halloween fun can spice up your sex life!

Scary Halloween fun can spice up your sex life!

From a simple “fear response” standpoint, feeling a little scared will actually make you huddle closer together. Even if there’s no real danger, your automatic response is to cling to one another for “safety.” This physical touch and closeness alone has its own merits – on a very basic level, a trusted touch makes our brains produce oxytocin (the “love hormone”) that can help us feel more connected to our partners.

Beyond that, there are some other subtle ways that haunted houses can give your marriage a push in the right direction, particularly when it comes to your sex life. First off, your brain’s “fight or flight response” – that panicky, on edge feeling you get when you’re not sure what’s about to happen, the feeling that haunted houses thrive upon – activate the same parts of the brain responsible for sexual arousal and sex drive.

There are also some sexual feelings tied to protecting or feeling protected – and the scares of a haunted house usually spur one of the members of a couple to take some kind of “protective” role (even if it’s just with their body language) in the face of perceived or imagined danger – even when we know it’s not real. It can trick us into adopting some semi-primal behavior, and well, that tends to excite our primal sensibilities (like sex drive).

It may seem stereotypical, but there is some truth to this: many women feel more attracted to their male partner after he shows signs of protection, and men feel more virile and powerful when doing the protecting. Every couple is different, of course, but those behaviors are biologically hardwired into our brains.

When it comes to bravery, simply having the guts to go through the haunted house – to face fears and make it through – tends to make people feel empowered and indestructible, and those are pretty sexy feelings to have. It bolsters confidence, makes posture more commanding and attractive, and the excitement primes both mind and body for more action!

Try it out! Take a trip through a local haunted house with your spouse (or maybe try a few), and see how it makes you feel. If you go in looking for a little excitement, stay close together, and take those bubbly, frisky feelings with you back home to the bedroom. Most of all, have fun with it!

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

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Identifying and addressing a drinking problem can be an extremely touchy subject. Not only can it be tough to determine if someone’s drinking is truly a problem (and how severe that problem is), it can be even more challenging to try to approach him or her with that problem. People tend to be resistant to accusation or criticism, and can react unfavorably to the suggestion that they might have a problem. In fact, denial and resistance are extremely common components of alcohol dependence.

But before we get too far, let’s get a few things out in the open.

First, a “drinking problem” is a very broad definition. There are some established criteria for identifying “alcohol dependence” (which we’ll get to in a moment), but defining a “problem” is going to be a little more unique to your marriage. Only the two of you can determine what’s problematic for your relationship. Even if it doesn’t meet the textbook descriptions of alcoholism or alcohol dependence, if drinking is causing issues in your marriage in any way – it’s a problem that needs addressing.

Next, alcohol dependence has less to do with quantity than many people think, and is instead determined more by people’s behavior surrounding alcohol, as well as the physical toll it has taken on their bodies. The two physical signs to look for are:

  1. 1. Tolerance – if the person has developed a high tolerance for alcohol, meaning that they are having more drinks than they used to, or more than other people to achieve the same effect.
  2. 2. Withdrawal Symptoms – If a person is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it means that their body is becoming more and more accustomed to imbibing alcohol on a regular basis, and when they don’t, their body reacts negatively. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, shaking, and anxiety. These symptoms tend to get worse over the course of the day (and are different than a typical hangover). Withdrawal symptoms are an extremely telltale sign of addiction.

Other behavioral factors also indicate when excessive drinking is becoming a true addiction. If people are drinking more than they intend to on a regular basis, or if they are talking about drinking less or quitting, yet continue to fail to change their behaviors, these are indications that they have trouble with self-control.

The third phase of factors that indicate alcohol dependency has to do with how alcohol affects an individual’s ability to participate in other factors of their lives. If your spouse is arranging their social life around places they can drink, avoiding events or places without alcohol, or is choosing to stay home and drink instead of attending family or social functions, drinking has become a lifestyle choice – and that likely indicates problems and addiction.

This can go even further, when people are seeking to cover up the amount they drink, are overly concerned with how and when they are going to acquire alcohol, or if they’ve been approached about the problem but continue to drink anyway. If it’s beginning to affect work and day-to-day function, things have certainly become a serious problem.

Does your spouse have a drinking problem?

Does your spouse have a drinking problem?

Now, even if you can readily identify your spouse’s behavior as alcohol dependency, approaching them about the issue can still be very difficult. Again, denial and resistance are common components of addiction.

It’s going to be a tough road no matter what, but if your spouse is struggling with alcohol dependence, they need your help. Here are a few tips to help you approach this difficult conversation:

1. Outside Counseling

Marriage counselors, couples counseling, addiction recovery groups, substance abuse counselors, etc., have the tools and expertise to help you and your spouse navigate this difficulty. Even if you haven’t approached your spouse about their problem, contacting organizations that specialize in alcohol dependence and addiction recovery can help equip you to deal with the challenges ahead.

2. No Cover Ups

Stop covering for your spouse in terms of their job or questions from the family. Don’t lie for them or minimize their behavior. This may seem harsh, but you can’t let them rely on you to cover up their addiction. In some ways, you’re facilitating their bad habits, and allowing yourself to protect them from the consequences of alcohol dependency.

Don’t say they’re sick or make up excuses why they couldn’t attend a function. Be honest and transparent, and also, allow your spouse to explain themselves (instead of covering for them by default).

3. Throw Away The Generalities

When you do approach them about the problem, don’t talk about broad things that alcohol addiction does, talk specifically about what your spouse is doing. This is usually best when they are sober, and perhaps feeling guilty or sheepish about their behavior. They need to understand exactly the damage they are causing specifically.

4. Support

You don’t have to face this problem alone. Recruit friends and family members to help you. There is strength in numbers, and showing your spouse that there are other people concerned for their wellbeing will resonate with them – and hopefully make them admit to their problem. You can approach the person individually, or come together for a more “intervention” style sit down. Be sure to include people that love and care about your spouse – the primary message is that you want what’s best for them.

5. Line In The Sand

After you’ve talked about the problems at hand, sought counseling, etc., it’s important to let your spouse know how badly they are hurting the relationship, and let them know in clear terms that you can’t stay if they don’t change their ways. This isn’t meant to be a threat or to scare tactic – it has to be true, you have to stick to your guns, and they have to understand exactly what they are doing if they choose not to find help with their alcohol dependency.

This is an extremely sensitive subject, and there’s a certainly a wide range of specifics that are going to make every case unique, but hopefully this information and these tips can help you understand the severity of your spouse’s problem, and give you some confidence when approaching them about the tough topic alcohol dependency.

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

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It sounds like the old stereotype, right? “Men always want more sex…”

Well, there is some truth to the strength of men’s sex drive, especially as it may exist outside of (or in spite of) any problems you may be experiencing in the marriage. We sometimes refer to “Nature’s Biggest Joke” – the idea that men want/need sex to feel connected, and women need to feel connected to want to have sex.

Because of this dynamic, men tend to still seek out sexual activity even if the connection isn’t its strongest – and because that connection might be lacking, women tend to resist.

This situation is precisely where this stereotype comes from. When marriages aren’t at their best, men still typically want sex often, and women might not have the same desires.

But what if he’s right?

Sex IS an important part of maintaining the connection and closeness in a marriage. It’s a part of the intimacy that separates lovers from best friends, but that’s not its only value – staying sexually active with your spouse can help your marriage in all sorts of ways!

Here are a few reasons sex is so important, and what you have to gain from spending some more time romping around in the bedroom!

He's right. You should have more sex!

He's right. You should have more sex!

1. Health

Sex is good for you, plain and simple. It increases your heart rate, burns calories, relieves stress, increases blood flow, strengthens pelvic muscles (which helps with bladder control), helps you look younger, and gets rid of headaches.

…And that’s just the beginning! The chemicals produced by your brain and body can also help promote better moods, boost your immune system, relieve all kinds of physical pain, and increase your overall libido.

2. Communication

Sex requires communication, whether it’s verbal or not. Even your reactions to your partner are a form of communication. You’re telling each other what you want and don’t want, what you like and don’t like, and the whole time, you’re practicing how to listen and respond to your partner.

This ability to read each other’s body language, to respond to nuanced and subtle cues, is an important part of your interactions inside and outside of the bedroom. No other form of communication is so vulnerable and intimate.

3. Confidence

A healthy sex life has a way of making us feel more masculine and feminine. Fulfilling our respective “gender roles” in the bedroom puts us in touch with some deep-seated, animal tendencies, and just seems to make men feel “manly” and women feel “womanly.”

For both genders, sex can put a little pep in your step, brighten your mood, and make you feel attractive and powerful.

4. It’s FUN

Sure, you could watch some TV, you could scroll through Facebook, you could do any number of things on a given evening – but are any of them even half as fun as having sex?

In long-term relationships, sometimes we forget that sex is also just purely enjoyable. We pile up these expectations about what it means for our marriage, what our spouse is thinking, how attractive we feel or how attractive our spouse might find us, and all kinds of other hang ups – but forget that it’s also a simple pleasure that makes us feel great!

Let go of those hesitations and complications, and just enjoy yourself!

5. It Brings You Together

This is the one that gets the most coverage – and it is absolutely true. Sex does bring you closer to your spouse, but not just through intimacy and the vulnerability of “bearing it all” to one another. The physical act of having sex also helps your brain produce oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of love and trust.

When your sex life is good, it tends to spill over into other areas of your relationship. You’ll feel more affectionate and more forgiving, you’ll spend more time together (even if it is between the sheets), and likely have a more playful and fun dynamic in your day-to-day interactions.

Now, “fixing” your sex life (if it’s in need of repair) isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but you can start small, move slow, and get back into the swing of things. Remember that a full range of sexual experiences, not JUST sex itself, has many of these same positive benefits. The specifics of your sex life will be totally unique to your relationship – just don’t let it fall by the wayside.

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

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How the Upcoming Holidays Can Make or Break Your Marriage

On October 13, 2014, in Marriage Advice, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Over the next few months, most of us will dedicate a good amount of energy to various holiday celebrations (and preparations). We’ve got meals to make, gifts to find, family trips to plan, relatives to visit, decorations to contend with – the list goes on and on.

This can be rewarding and bring you closer to your family, but it can also be very, very stressful – and depending on where you are in your marriage, it can be a catalyst for major changes in the relationship, either positive or negative.

If you’re already on tense ground with your spouse, the stress of the holidays causes even more trouble. You’ll likely have some time commitments to keep, some financial pressures, and plenty of other thoughts tugging at your attention – and this can make you impatient, short, and temperamental.

The holidays can be a critical time for your marriage.

The holidays can be a critical time for your marriage.

But the opposite is also true. You can use the holidays as a time to connect with your spouse, to embrace family and enjoy the spirit of the season. Even if it is stressful, it’s a chance to develop a sense of teamwork with your husband or wife, working together to solve the challenges that will inevitably arise.

It all depends on the way you approach it. Remember, you are ultimately in control of your own mood. If you let the holidays be a source of stress or anger, and in turn direct those emotions at your spouse, don’t be surprised when they respond with frustration and anger of their own.

But, on the other hand, if you both try to make the most of it, roll with the punches, and make a point to spend some time enjoying the holidays together, it can have the totally opposite effect – it can bring you closer together and build the strength of your marriage.

While these situations can happen year round, the holidays that happen through November and December seem to be particularly volatile for many couples. The month of January is notorious for seeing the highest rates of divorce filing, and it’s likely that marital trouble during the holiday season contributes to these numbers.

Instead of letting it stress you out, try to make the holidays a time for closeness. Celebrate family traditions, take advantage of time away from work to go on dates and participate in events, and above all, strive to maintain a positive outlook (and share it with your spouse).

It may only be October now, but the holidays will be here before you know it. Keeping these things in mind as we get closer can help reduce stress (and more importantly, how you let that stress affect your marriage), and keep you focused on a happy, healthy marriage as you get into potentially chaotic holiday preparations.
It’s easy to put off working on your marriage during this time of the year, when it feels like there’s so much going on and you’re spending a lot of time with extended family, but these are some of the best chances to build (or rebuild) the bond you have with your spouse.

Don’t let the stress get to you, and don’t take it out on each other – this is a prime opportunity to create great new memories, spend quality time together, and enjoy the holidays making your marriage the best it can be!

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

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The story isn’t hard to imagine… One spouse works a demanding, high-paying job that requires lots of travel, lots of hotel stays, lots of meeting new people – while the other is back at home, likely dealing with household and family responsibilities, working a lower paying job (or not at all)… And all the while, they are growing further and further apart, the likelihood of an affair is multiplying, and neither of them knows how to address the problem.

Despite the title of this piece, this doesn’t just happen to husbands who travel. It can happen to any of us: a traveling wife, spouses who both travel, or even spouses who just have to contend with extremely demanding schedules.

You see, travel is only part of the problem here – and a relatively small one at that. The larger issue is connection and a strong bond, because without them, it’s not the physical distance that puts a couple risk, it’s emotional distance.

The reason this seems so common with couples divided by work related travel is that time apart sets the stage for the formation of bad habits and eventual decay of the bond the two people share. Spending time together – alone, away from distractions – is an essential part of building a loving bond in a marriage, and it’s something that has to be maintained through continued “upkeep.”

Unfortunately, though, many couples that have gotten out of the habit (like couples who are separated by travel-heavy jobs) simply get used to not spending time together, so even when they have a chance to… they don’t.

Does your spouse go on several business trips?

Does your spouse go on several business trips?

For people who travel, this damaged bond can make infidelity more tempting because they aren’t feeling emotionally invested in their marriages, they aren’t putting their spouse first, and they likely aren’t feeling emotionally or sexually satisfied. This is NOT to say that travel itself creates these problems, or that people who travel for work are more likely to cheat, but when the marriage is already suffering from a lack of strength and intimacy, being on the road makes it that much easier for a person to succumb to temptation.

Again, it’s not the travel doing the damage here, but how a couple deals with it. The same damage to a marital bond can be done without even leaving the house. All it takes is a lack of attentiveness, a lack of effort, not spending time together, and not making your relationship a priority.

But of course here’s the real question: what can you do about it?

The first step is staying in touch. Even if one of you has to do a lot of travel, making regular phone calls, keeping each other up to date, and keeping the channels of communication open will go a long way in keeping the marriage at the top of the priority list for both of you. Even if you don’t get to physically interact, flirting by way of friendly text messages, talking over video chat, even sending each other pictures can keep the romantic spark alive while one of you is on the road.

When you do get the chance to spend time together in person, you have to make the most of it! That means getting away from the TV, the computer, and other distractions, and making a point to spend the time you have building your marriage. This could mean going on dates, engaging in deep and meaningful conversation, engaging in physical intimacy – anything where the focus is completely on your spouse.

There is one more extremely important component to this, and while it can go for everyone, it’s particularly important to couples that have to spend large amounts of time apart: avoiding relationships that could threaten your marriage.

Travel can be lonely, and so can being married to a person who travels often. Since we’re all subject to feelings of loneliness, we can seek out connections with other people fairly unconsciously, and while we may think we’re simply passing the time or making a new friend, we may begin to emotionally invest in this new person – and actually damage the strength of the marriage.

When we feel lonely or vulnerable, we may find ourselves connecting with others – especially those of the opposite gender – and while it may feel harmless, it’s setting the stage for an emotional affair (that could even lead to a physical affair). Any of us are susceptible to this – that’s why we need to be aware of the problem before we allow it to happen! You don’t have to wall yourself off from other people, but be aware of where your thoughts and feelings are headed whenever you’re interacting with someone new.

It can be tough, definitely, but with a focus on one another and an agreement to make your marriage a priority (even if you have to be apart for periods of time), travel and distance don’t have to create problems or chip away at the integrity of your relationship.

Stay connected any way you can! Stay in touch every day, and spend as much quality time together as you can – it will do wonders for you marriage!

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

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I Can’t Stand My Husband’s Family

On October 6, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Sometimes it’s hard enough to get along with our own parents and siblings, but when it comes to a spouse’s family, some of us face some giant hurdles…

It could be different ideals, growing up in different parts of the country, different socioeconomic circles, opposing political beliefs, or even just different ways of viewing the world. Whatever the specific divide may be, the in-laws may be totally different than the family we grew up with, but if we’re going to keep our marriages happy and healthy (and at least not tear each other’s hair out during holidays and family reunions), we’ve got to find a way to get along.

Before we get too far into this, it’s important to remind you that no two people (and with it, no two families) are the same. We’ve all got our quirks and our biases, and sometimes we just have to accept people’s idiosyncrasies for what they are.

Even if your father-in-law doesn’t seem to give you the time of day, or your mother-in-law hovers over your shoulder whenever you’re around her – these are the people that raised your spouse, and you should be making an effort to keep things as civil (and better) as possible. You can’t control their behavior, but you can control yours.

Here are a few tips to keep tensions at a minimum and help build the relationship you have with your in-laws:

1. Find Common Ground

It could be sports, a hobby, a particular movie you both enjoy, a passion for cooking or gardening or working on cars – anything to find something to talk about. Just getting a conversation going can help form bonds and relieve tensions. You may have to do a little probing, or ask your spouse for some input on what various members of their family are into.

Do your in-laws drive you up the wall?

Do your in-laws drive you up the wall?

Once you’ve got something in common to talk about, your differences won’t matter so much – just try to steer clear of the topics you’re likely to butt heads over.

If you’re having trouble finding something you have in common, but still want to work on developing a rapport, it’s not as tough as you think – just ask questions! Show a genuine interest in them, and they are likely to reciprocate.

Forming relationships can be tough, especially if you already started out on the wrong foot, but humility and a genuine interest in the other person will help them open up, and once you find something to talk about (that doesn’t stir either of you up too much), you’re well on your way to not just making peace, but forming a meaningful bond as well.

2. Forget The Intermediary

When you married your spouse, you became a unit, a family, and that’s a total package. Instead of thinking about your in-laws as your spouse’s family, and using your spouse as a filter between yourself and them, accept them as your own!

With our own family members, we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt even if we don’t get along so well. We just accept the fact that they’re blood, and do our best to love them for who they are.

Your spouse’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles – these people are a part of your family now, and you should treat them as such… and not just for your spouse’s sake. These are people that are now tied to your life, and as with all people, they likely have wisdom, experiences, and insight that are different than your own. These are people you can learn from and grow because of, so be open to the relationships you can have with them as real people, not just through the intermediary of your spouse.

Make an effort to get to know your spouse’s family on a personal level, and that feeling of being an “outsider” will melt away.

3. Focus On The Positives

So maybe it’s tough to get along. Maybe you can’t help but argue from time to time. Maybe you just sense tension every time you’re in the room with your in-laws or have to put up with criticism. Despite all of this, it’s important to remember one huge thing – they helped shape the person you love.

While the previous bit of advice focuses on forming a relationship with in-laws on your own accord, it can be a huge icebreaker to remember that the very first thing you have in common is your spouse. You both love that person. In fact, some of the things that cause tension with you and your spouse’s parents might be directly responsible for the qualities you love about your husband or wife.

Keeping this positive outlook can help you see the other likeable qualities in your in-laws, and will probably make your more at ease (and maybe a little more likeable yourself). The more you can find to admire, the easier it will be to get past the things that drive you crazy.

Now, not all spouse/in-law relationships are problematic. For many couples, the relationships formed with each other’s families are a great source of fulfillment and joy.

For other couples that don’t have good family lives, some of this stuff can be a lot more challenging – or downright undesirable. We don’t get to choose our family members, and some of us have parents, siblings, or other family members who may be cruel or abusive – and while these people are still family, the advice listed here should be tempered with your best judgment. These tips are meant for repairing tense and difficult relationships, not subjecting yourself to torment.

For those with strong relationships with your in-laws, keep it up! You’re helping strengthen your marriage by building bonds with people important to your spouse.

You may always struggle to feel like a true part of your spouse’s family, but making the effort to get to know them personally (and find qualities to appreciate) will bring your closer, and help them open up to you as one of their own.

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,


Deerly Beloved

On October 1, 2014, in Keeping The Love Alive, by Dr. Dana Fillmore
Look closely at the background!

Look closely at the background!

This has got to be one of the greatest wedding photos we’ve ever seen. Plenty of people go to great lengths to get amazing shots of their special day, from props and locations to special photography techniques and highly processed final images…

But when it comes to natural beauty and perfect timing, well, this photo just might take the cake. In a moment straight out of a fairy tale, this New Jersey couple had a herd of deer appear from the woods during their wedding celebration, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

Erick and Lauren Fix were in the middle of eating dinner when the deer began to emerge from the surrounding forest, and photographer Ian Christmann convinced them to get up from the table in an effort to capture this unique photo. The herd of deer, who live on the farm where the wedding was held, began to appear just in the time for the reception. It’s almost as if nature itself decided to show it’s approval of this couple’s union!

What are some of your favorite wedding photos?

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

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I Think I May Want a Divorce

On September 29, 2014, in Divorce & Separation, Save Your Marriage, Uncategorized, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

If things are tough in your marriage, and have been for some time, one of you may have uttered the dreaded D-Word: divorce.

And even if you haven’t said it aloud, you may have thought about it. First, don’t worry, simply thinking about it doesn’t make you a bad spouse, and saying it out loud doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen or indicate that your marriage is doomed.

In fact, you can’t make a truly informed decision about the future of your marriage unless you understand the potential consequences of your choices. If things are bad and divorce feels like an option, you owe it to yourself, your spouse, and your marriage to explore what that decision would mean for your family, and really ask yourself if it’s the best option available.

People often have this misconception that divorce is an instantaneous thing, that you agree to split and that’s all there is to it – that it doesn’t also have effects that ripple outward into other parts of your lives.

That’s why it’s so important to consider the broad implications of divorce before you decide to go through with it. And similarly, consider the impact of deciding to work on your marriage. What challenges might you face in either scenario?

Before you make any rash decisions, here are a few questions to ask yourself (and your spouse) to dig down to what you really want, and to find what will work best for your unique relationship.

1. Are You Making A Rational Decision?

When you consider divorce, are you coming from a logical thought process that has weighed pros and cons, discussed options, and considered long-term impact? Or, are you coming from a place of anger? Are your thoughts of divorce based on an emotional, reactive state of mind?

If you’re going to follow through with it, you have to make your decisions with a clear head – where you understand all the potential consequences and aren’t letting strong emotions cloud your judgment.

There are some things to consider if you want a divorce.

There are some things to consider if you want a divorce.

2. Can You Handle The Fallout?

Divorce can be a long, ugly process that costs a lot of money and produces a lot of heartache. It doesn’t just affect you and your spouse – it touches your extended families, your kids, your work life, your friendships, etc. You will likely be under stress throughout the process, and that can seep into many parts of your life.

Divorce also changes the dynamic of many friendships and longstanding connections. Will your ex’s friends think of you differently? Are you damaging other important relationships?

Committing to saving your marriage OR committing to dissolving it can both be difficult roads, but before you decide, think about the long-term impact of each possibility.

3. What Are Your Reasons?

Why do you want a divorce? Are they problems that can be solved or elements of your relationship that can be improved? Have you made an effort to try?

Sometimes divorce is inevitable – but MOST of the time, the problems in a marriage are the result of both parties not knowing how to build and maintain a successful relationship. Most major problems – lack of communication, lack of time spent together, infidelity, sex life issues, lack of kindness or consideration, dishonesty, etc. – CAN be overcome if people are willing to work on it.

So, with this in mind, what are your reasons? Are they problems that can’t be solved? Is there still room for improvement?

4. Was The Marriage Ever A Success?

This is going to be toughest question to answer because it requires an honest and sometimes painful look in the mirror. Has your marriage ever been truly successful and happy? Have you and your spouse worked on ways to keep your bond strong, or has it always been problematic?

Unless you’ve developed a true sense of “we” – the entity the two of you create with your dedication to each other’s wellbeing and happiness – you may be thinking about ending your marriage before it’s truly had a chance to flourish.

We keep coming back to this idea of working on your marriage, and it does take work, but unless you’ve gone to great lengths to build a happy marriage (and it still came apart), you haven’t seen what a truly strong marriage can be! Until you know what your ideal marriage feels like, don’t give up!

Here at StrongMarriageNow, we like to think that nearly every marriage can be saved from the brink of divorce if people are willing to work for it. However, before people can be convinced to work toward a happier and stronger marriage, they need to evaluate the current pain points in the relationship, and understand what they can do about them!

By using these questions to take a step back from the dreaded D-Word, couples can think realistically about the current state of their relationship (and what they can do to improve it). Most of the time, the decision to work on the marriage will be the obvious one…

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,


6 Signs That You’re Having An Emotional Affair

On September 24, 2014, in Affair-Infidelity, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Emotional affairs can be somewhat murky territory. Because there aren’t necessarily clear definitions of infidelity – like there are with a physical or sexual affair – it can make the boundaries blurry, and sometimes the people involved don’t quite know that they’re doing something that could seriously damage their marriage.

Emotional affairs usually begin as friendships or friendly working relationships, and only become a problem when certain aspects of that friendship become inappropriate – usually when one or both people start looking to that friendship for emotional support and companionship, instead of looking to their spouse.

There aren’t quite set boundaries here, and every relationship (both marriages and friendships) are a little different, but if you’re worried that you may be wandering into an emotional affair, or suspecting that your spouse is, these 6 signs can help you get a clearer picture of what’s happening.

1. Comparing To Your Partner

If you find yourself weighing the qualities of your “friend” against the qualities of your spouse, from appearance to personality to everything in between, it means you’re starting to think of that friend in a romantic way – even if you’re not directly aware of it.

Friends should not be occupying the same mental space as the person you married, and if thoughts of someone other than your spouse are creeping in, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and reevaluate the connections you might be building to someone else. If you’re weighing the two against one another, it means you’re beginning to think of them in the same way.

There are several signs of an emotional affair.

There are several signs of an emotional affair.

2. You Look Forward To Seeing Them

Of course you can look forward to seeing many people in your life, but when emotional affairs are budding, the feeling is a little different. It’s that same sensation as early puppy love – butterflies in your stomach, a little bit of nervousness and excitement – these are signs that your subconscious or unconscious mind is expecting an emotional reward from seeing this person, and a clear indicator that you are developing feelings beyond friendship for them.

If you find yourself experiencing such feelings, it may be time to take a step back from the friendship.

3. You Feel The Need To Defend Your Friendship

If people are asking you about the amount of time you spend with someone other than your spouse, or are making snarky comments about how close you are, and you defend your actions with “we’re just friends!” – it might mean that you’re more than friends after all…

Even if we aren’t totally aware of falling into an emotional affair, part of us is – and that’s why we defend the “friendship” or try to downplay the closeness of the relationship. If others (your spouse included) are criticizing the way you interact with your friend and it puts you on the defensive, it likely means that you’re doing something you shouldn’t be, and that somewhere inside, you feel guilty about it.

4. Sharing Marriage Frustrations

Friends are important as confidants and support structures, but lamenting your marriage to a friend of the opposite sex (and allowing them to be your place of comfort) is a dangerous path. When we find someone who seems to understand all of our problems, who has all the right things to say, and who doesn’t seem to display the things that are bothering us about our spouse, we can start to idealize them.

This perceived stability and concern then starts to make us attracted to that person, sharing more and more personal information as trust builds and the relationship grows. But this doesn’t solve any problems; it only diverts attention to someone new and creates more difficulty for the marriage.

It should also be noted that the major problem here is in our perception of that other person as some ideal mate or someone who doesn’t share any of our spouse’s undesirable characteristics. This is largely imagined. We don’t know what it’s like to live with that person, what bad habits they have, or anything else beyond a surface-level friendship. The idealizing we do is in our minds, and mostly just a mechanism for escaping the problems we may be facing in our own relationships.

5. Extra Communication

Crossing over from friendship to emotional affair, as the previous warning sign indicates, has a lot to do with communication. It’s the amount of personal information you’re sharing, the advice you’re asking for, and all the while, the trust and emotional investment you’re placing in this other person.

When communication (no matter how innocent) begins to include text messaging, phone calls, social media chat, etc., and you’re going out of your way to stay in touch with this person on a regular basis, you may be wandering into affair territory – especially if you’re trying to keep those conversations secret.

This large amount of communication likely means you are looking to your “friend” for support instead of your spouse, or are simply sharing the parts of your day, concerns, and fun stories with someone else – and this is precisely the kind of communication that keeps your bond with your spouse strong.

6. Withdrawal From Your Spouse

This is when you know things have truly gone too far, when you’re thoughts and emotions are so focused on your “friend” that you begin to pull away from your spouse both physically and emotionally. As we invest in another person emotionally, our bodies follow suit, and even if you never cross the line into a physical relationship with this other person, the fraying connection with your spouse will make sex, snuggling, and even casual contact less appealing.

This damage to the physical part of your relationship, coupled with your thoughts being with another person, will not only raise red flags for your spouse – it can also cause them to question their self esteem, their importance, and ultimately cause even more damage to the marriage because of their lack of confidence and stability.

For some, emotional affairs can do more damage to the marriage than physical infidelity. It’s a slippery slope from friends, to flirtation, to emotional investment, and this kind of betrayal can be devastating to your spouse. No one is above the risks here, for we all thrive on emotional connection and the support of others – the problems happen when we knowingly look to someone other than our spouses for that support.

Keep these things in mind as you interact with your friends and coworkers, and be aware of the warning signs. Not every friendship will become an emotional affair, but given the right circumstances (and not paying attention to changing feelings), it can happen right under our noses, and result in a long road to recovery and rebuilding trust.

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,

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My Marriage is Making Me Fat!

On September 22, 2014, in Health Issues & Mid-Life Crisis, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

For many couples across the country, marriage is a major factor in a period of weight gain. According to one 2012 study, in the five years after getting married, women in their early 20s gain an average of 24 lbs., while men of the same age group gained an average of 30 lbs. While gaining weight isn’t guaranteed for everyone who walks down the aisle, it’s certainly very common.

But why?

There are a couple of important ways to look at this – one of downsides and potential problems, and another that’s far more reassuring. Let’s start with the bad news first.

Weight gain by itself is not inherently bad. Sure, if it continues unchecked, it can lead to health problems, but the real concerns here have more to do with the state of mind of married couples, and how their actions (or inaction) are related to this issue of weight gain. If we look at some of the potential causes, we can see how the same behaviors could lead to problems in the relationship.

Have you gained weight since you've been married?

Have you gained weight since you've been married?

First, gaining weight may happen because people, once they’re married, feel like they’ve found a partner and have to put less effort into their appearance. While marriage shouldn’t be based entirely on appearance, this attitude of taking your partner’s attraction for granted can lead to lack of effort, lack of romance, and ultimately, problems in a couple’s sex life.

It’s also important to recognize that as we get older, our bodies tend to change. Metabolism may not be what it once was, and the same old habits may begin to take a toll on our health and weight. Adding to this potential problem is the fact that couples have the tendency to influence one another’s decisions – so when it comes to mealtime, you may be more likely to indulge in your spouse’s favorite (unhealthy) food, to finish off each other’s leftovers (or the kids’ leftovers), to get a second helping, or even to make larger meals.

Similarly, our decisions about how we spend our time can be influence and reinforced by our spouses – and this works both ways, it’s no one person’s “fault.”

What this means, though, is that an evening on the couch watching TV is awfully tempting if your spouse is already doing it – and that you joining them reinforces their behavior. Again, this isn’t inherently bad or wrong, just one of the factors that can lead to weight gain.

A lot of this stuff goes back to complacency, feeling like things are just fine the way they are, not worrying about maintaining a certain level of health, appearance, or even motivation as the marriage moves toward the future – and even beyond weight gain or appearance, complacency is a major problem causer across many aspects of a relationship.

Now, how about the good news?

According to several studies in the last 5 years, the couples who experience the most weight gain are actually the happiest! So if you’ve put on a few pounds, it might actually be a good sign (at least for your marriage). Couples tend to get a little heavier when they aren’t experiencing stress, when they are spending quality time together communicating and growing the emotional parts of the relationship, and simply because their time commitments to other pursuits (kids, household, jobs, etc.) fill most of their days – but all of these things are rewarding and important for the longevity and strength of the relationship.

The only real issue here is the sometimes difficult task of maintaining physical attraction over time. A little weight gain isn’t a big deal, but if it’s symptomatic of “letting yourself go” (and we’ll all have different definitions of what that means exactly), it could become a problem down the road.

It is NOT our intention here to make you feel bad if you’ve gained a little weight. It happens to all of us, and is VERY common among married couples. Instead, this is to show you just how normal it is, and to remind you that you have the power to change it. Now that you’re aware of the common factors behind weigh gain for married couples, you can take the necessary steps to carve your own path.

Take some time to dedicate to exercise, both because it will make you feel good and because it will help keep sexual attraction alive in your marriage. Be aware of the ways your and your spouse reinforce each other’s decisions – talk about it and form plans to keep each other from getting sucked into the couch or skipping out on physical activities. Just as your inactive choices reinforce one another, so do your active choices.

You can work together to shed those extra pounds and keep them off – you can keep each other on task for exercise goals and when preparing meals, and agree to make those types of things a priority in your marriage. If you’re among the crowd who is experiencing some weight gain because of a happy marriage, keep up the good work!

Spending time together is important, and so is relaxing together – just remember that even if it isn’t a big factor now, appearances are important to maintaining that attraction to one another, and watching out for changes in your body (and the bad habits that can cause them to happen) will go a long way in keeping your marriage fulfilling for years and years to come.

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,

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