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Ultimatums & Reverse Ultimatums in Relationships

Ultimatums & reverse ultimatums in relationships

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss relationship ultimatums and “reverse ultimatums” in relationships.

First a quick update:

“Letting go of this past year and transforming the New Year”
At the end of the year, it is natural to feel overwhelmed by a vast array of emotions. Read my article and learn the 7 steps to transforming the New Year.

“Deaths and lack of self-help industry regulations”
Listen to the radio interview I gave to NPR where I talk about Sweat lodge deaths, gurus and lack of self-help industry regulations – 

“FOX News Channel”
Watch my Top 5 Celebrity Meltdowns of 2011 this Saturday December 31st live at 7:40 AM EST on FOX News channel

Now, let’s talk about ultimatums and reverse ultimatums in relationships.

Around the Holiday Season, some women expect, hope and pray for a marriage proposal or serious commitment from their boyfriend.

Debbie wrote last Christmas:

“I have been with my boyfriend for four years now and we’re living together for two of those years. We had talked about marriage about 2 years ago and I was waiting for him to propose to me this Christmas. I am so devastated that he didn’t and I don’t know what to do…What about if I issue him an ultimatum – marry me or it’s over? Do you think that will work?”

An ultimatum is a proposition that comes with terms and conditions – it involves a threat: ‘meet my demands or else I will do such and such.’

A reverse ultimatum involves a counter proposition, which I will explain shortly.

Various reporters have often asked me for my expert opinion about whether or not a woman should ever issue an ultimatum to a man. The answer is generally “No. And there is a more effective approach.” And I will reveal the “more effective approach” in a moment.

First, it is critical to understand the way men think. In my article “Why don’t you change?” I reveal that men do not like to change.

Sadly, men generally don’t have any interest in changing until they truly need to change – when the pain becomes so strong that they realize they must change i.e. when the wife threatens to divorce her husband unless he attends counseling or changes a specific habit. And even then, the man will only change when and if he is willing and ready. And ladies, please understand that it takes men years to change, mature and evolve.

“Men resist change because they also often feel that it threatens their individuality and freedom. I am not saying men are right but I am saying that women would be better off by: 1. Choosing a man who matches their values 2. Loving the man for who he is rather than trying to mold him into what they want him to be.

In a case where a person’s health, wellbeing or life is in jeopardy, an ultimatum might be the last resort. An ultimatum is generally the final demand in a series of requests. For example, one woman had to issue an ultimatum to her husband to “get a vasectomy or no more sex” because she fell pregnant a third time and her life was now in danger and she was bedridden for many months; the contraception didn’t work and he had refused her prior requests for a vasectomy – unfortunately he had never put her health and safety first. But the point is that since men resist change and generally rebel at being told what to do or told that they must do something, an ultimatum often fails. Also, if a person gives in against his will, then the seeds of resentment and bitterness will most likely begin to take root and grow. Accordingly, forcing a man to marry you won’t necessarily equal happiness – possibly yours in the short term but not his in the long term.

In a moment, I will reveal the more effective approach to this challenge, but first, a word about “reverse ultimatums.”

Debbie went on to issue an ultimatum to her boyfriend and his response was close to being passive-aggressive. In other words, he simply ignored her requests and went on his merry way as if nothing had changed. He avoided the topic and by being passive in his response he was issuing a ‘reverse ultimatum.’

Debbie tried playing a game and she became shut-down, emotionally and intimately unavailable and thus the game of ultimatums continued until they both broke up and did so with bitterness, anger and contempt for each other.

Games and manipulative behavior, as well as threats or forced demands, do not succeed and only act as a wedge in the relationship – destroying trust and love.

Here is the more effective approach than issuing ultimatums –

5 lessons from Debbie’s experience:

1. Issue the ultimatums at the beginning of the relationship
This is another way of stating that both partners agree to a pledge to each other, and they clearly spell out “the deal breaker.” For example, determine now if you both want children and be wary of tricking him into having them one day or thinking that you can change your man. Read my article again: “Why don’t you change?”.

2. Effective communication
Rather than issuing ultimatums, ask for what you need. Ask him about his desires, goals and vision but also tell him what you feel, what you need and what is important to you. Be assertive when asking for what you need and clarify the consequences of actions or lack of action which can change the focus of a relationship and move it to the next level or end it. Either way, don’t wait for bitterness and resentment to infect the relationship and create more problems.

3. Shared values
This relates to lesson 1. Be clear right now about what your values and priorities in life are, and, find someone who shares those same values.

4. Actions speak louder than words
if you are asking him “Where do you see our relationship going?” and he responds with silence or he has not proposed, be willing to accept that he does not want the same thing as you – does not want to get married – even if he is too afraid to say it your face, his actions have given you your answer.

5. Acceptance
It is possible that you and he have either evolved or grown in different directions, your values have changed (or were never the same) or he doesn’t care or isn’t in love with you anymore. If you have told him what you feel and need and what is significant to you and he refuses to respond, and he does nothing, then you have to act accordingly and follow-through. Accept that you both possibly have different needs and do not get involved in things that don’t fit the way you want to live.

Finally, remember, if you decide to issue an ultimatum, you must be willing to go through with it; if you don’t then he will lose respect for you, your words will have no meaning or power, and he will know that he can control you.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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