Debt is Killing our Marriage

On October 29, 2014, in Handling Money Issues, Relationship Problems, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

Disagreements about money are one of the most common reasons couples fight. It can be about different views of wants versus needs, contention about the price one person is willing to pay for something frivolous, accurately planning finances so all the bills are paid on time, or simply the difficulties of trying to manage a joint income and joint expenses.

Kids cost money, groceries and utilities cost money, going out together, entertainment, basic necessities around the house, gas, school supplies, clothes, hobbies – all of these things cost our hard earned dollars, and deciding how to divide up monthly income is an ongoing challenge for, well, just about everyone!

To make matters even more stressful, many couples are also saddled with some kind of debt, and that puts an even tighter squeeze on their finances. This could be debt from buying a home, credit cards, student loans, car payments, backed taxes, or anything else. No matter where the debt comes from, it’s a burden on your current finances.

Making monthly payments (especially more than one) simply reduces the amount of money you have to make the rest of the ends meet, and that pressure can cause stress and arguments, or worse, can lead to real financial hardship that threatens your family’s stability and quality of life.

Is debt killing your marriage?

Is debt killing your marriage?


So, what can you do?

Direct solutions will ultimately depend on the kind of debt you have. Options for consolidation or refinancing exist for some types of debt, and others may be eligible for forgiveness, forbearance, or deferment programs. Your personal financial profile (as well as a number of other factors) will determine whether or not you qualify for assistance from your bank or lender – but if debt is causing problems in your life, these are certainly worth exploring!

Contact your lender, your bank, your loan servicer, whoever you need to, and ask about your options for reducing payments, locking in interest rates, consolidating debts, or any other options that may ease the pressure a little.

Beyond dealing with the debt holders specifically, there are a few tactics you and your family can employ to help survive the all too common burden of debt.

First, develop a budget and stick to it!

If you know your general expenses each month (debt payments included), and you know your average monthly income, you can develop a budget based on your most important needs, when certain payments are due, and the hardest part – what you can do without.

Being able to afford debt payments is sometimes a matter reprioritizing your spending habits (and this is something both you and your spouse will have to stay on top of). Every little bit helps, from being more frugal about electricity usage to downgrading cable or internet services, from carpooling or riding a bike to save on gas, all the way to taking the most expensive items off your grocery list.

There ARE ways to save money if we really want to – the key is being diligent about your practices, and keeping the habits up month after month.

Now, it’s possible that some of these frugal, budget-conscious methods may also cause some contention in your marriage, but if the troubles arise, remember that it’s what’s best for you and your family. You don’t want your house to be foreclosed on, or for your loans to go to a collections agency. The consequences are far greater than a little discomfort or willpower to save money.

Debt is an unfortunate reality of many, many people’s lives, and we all have to figure out how to deal with these financial responsibilities in our own way. No matter how you deal with it, remember that your marriage is a partnership – you’re in this together. No matter who accrued the debt, or what the reason was, the plain truth is that the responsibility belongs to both of you, and it will take collaboration and cooperation the make the best of the situation.

With each other’s support for managing stress, and each other’s reinforcement for developing better financial habits, debt doesn’t have to cause trouble at all – in fact, solving the problem might just bring you closer together!

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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I Don’t Think My Husband is a Good Dad

On October 27, 2014, in Parenting, Relationship Problems, by Dr. Dana Fillmore

It’s hard to predict what kind of parent a person is going to be. No matter what kind of assumptions or projections you make, when it comes to actually raising a child, your spouse may not handle things the way you expected at all!

Many couples run into these kinds of disagreements shortly after they have their first child – when they finally start to get used to parenthood, they start critiquing each other’s approach. In most cases (but certainly not all), women have had a little more experience – or at least some informal education – with childcare than men.

When these arguments happen, the common dynamic is the new mother criticizing her husband’s “parenting style.” This doesn’t describe every scenario, of course, but it’s certainly the most common version of this problem

So, what are the arguments actually about? Usually, it comes down to difference of opinion – one parent thinks the child needs all organic food, the other parent doesn’t seem so worried about it; one parent strictly limits the amount of television the child is exposed to, the other uses the TV as a temporary babysitter… or any of a long list of examples.

Do you disagree with your spouse's parenting style?

Do you disagree with your spouse's parenting style?

But little arguments can happen about anything – a lot of this stuff is just opinion, or reflects different ways of growing up - and that’s exactly where we have to begin if we want to resolve these disagreements. The first step is recognizing what parental approaches are simply different, and what practices are actually wrong.

If the child is in danger, being neglected, or if a parent’s decisions are preventing them from living a happy, healthy life – those are the wrong decisions. But if it’s simply a matter of one meal over another, a negligible amount of TV time, a choice of clothes, or something equally innocuous, it’s not wrong – it’s just different.

Failing to recognize this distinction, and confronting your spouse about their parenting can come across as criticism of their intelligence and an attack on their character. And because many people feel some self-doubt and fear about being a new parent already, they can really take this kind of criticism to heart.

It’s a sensitive issue, where the person on the receiving end of the criticism can feel inadequate, and the person criticizing can skew their own perspective of the person they love. Combine these with the stresses of being a new parent, and it becomes a dangerous mixture of feelings that can severely damage the marriage. Unchecked, this will lead to resentment on both sides.

First, learn to recognize the difference between “different” and “wrong,” and when it comes time to talk about your differences of opinion, remind yourself (and each other that it isn’t a personal attack), it’s concern for the wellbeing of the child.

Even if you continue to disagree, that’s ok! As long as you’re taking care of critical elements like health and safety, a little variation in parenting style isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Sticking with the “typical” version of these issue, some moms will simply have to relax their hold on parenting style, and let dad do things his own way a little bit. And the dads out there will just have to be open to some education and expertise from their wives, their mothers, and the other people in their lives that will likely have some advice to impart.

There’s no absolute, 100% “right” way to raise your children, but letting disagreements create a rift in your marriage is NOT the way to maintain the happy, supportive home that all kids deserve. If you disagree about an element of one another’s parenting, talk about it calmly, and keep the discussion to the activity or attitude in question – don’t let it seep into personal attacks or other criticisms.

For both of you, parenting should be a team effort – so if one of you isn’t thrilled with the other’s approach, it’s up to both of you to resolve the issue. This could be taking classes together, doing some research, consulting with other parents, or anything else that is going to expand your understanding and get the two of you collaborating instead of disagreeing.

There’s one thing you can always count on as the right decision for your child: maintaining a strong, stable relationship that teaches them the importance of love, support, and compromise.

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

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

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

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

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

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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, StrongMarriageNow.com

 

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, StrongMarriageNow.com

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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, StrongMarriageNow.com

 



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