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Ultimatums Are Bad, Right? Actually, They’re VITAL For a Thriving Marriage. Here’s Why.

When things happen in married life, whether bad or good, a common reaction is to blame (or give credit) someone else.

While they may have been a contributing factor to the result of a situation, when we fail to acknowledge our own role in life’s circumstances, we damage our own growth and chance for lasting happiness.

How can that be, you ask?

There are countless times in married life when you’re faced with the idea of compromise.

Shouldn’t you simply go along to get along?

But at what price?

Often the price is the deepest part of our self. Our core. Our integrity.

Popular belief – the way through conflict and in to the world of happiness is to learn to speak each other’s language better. Or to learn the art of reflective listening. While I’m not completely against these concepts, it seems a bit too elementary for the nitty-gritty of married life.

What happily married adults know more than anything is: Marriage is not about making someone else happy or getting one’s needs met. Marriage is about growth and integrity and doing the right thing regardless of whether your spouse likes it.

Very often, breaking the vicious cycle of gridlock requires just that – upsetting your spouse for the sake of your own integrity. It requires, at times, ultimatums. 

At the base level, growing up in marriage means we’re willing to take responsibility for ourselves.

I teach this idea every day to my kids. You take care of you.

In marriage it can be:

  1. Looking straight at our own dark sides without distorting them by saying we didn’t really mean to hurt our spouse or by saying we may have been acting badly but it was all unconscious and we don’t know why we do what we do. An example of a distortion – “I didn’t really mean to not seek help for my rapid ejaculation problem for the last 15 years. It’s just an unconscious problem.”
  2. Taking responsibility for ourselves can also look like giving ultimatums – taking a firm stand regardless of whether our spouse likes it – and doing so not because we’re angry or exhausted – but because we’re finally waking up. This could look like: “That’s the last time I’m having sex with you because you ‘need’ it.” Or “That’s the last time you are going to cheat on me and still be married to me.” Or “That’s the last time I’m going to sit by quietly while you yell at the kids.”
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There’s a great misconception about giving ultimatums. We think they are about doing something to our spouse, but in reality they are about our own growth – because for an ultimatum to mean anything at all the giver has to follow through. And the most meaningful ultimatums in marriage are calm.

But, you say, there’s no such thing as ultimatums in marriage.


Sure there are.

Only they’re disguised as boundaries, conditions, even as love.

It’s time we each wake up and realize there are conditions with love and relationships.

I have many deal breakers when it comes to my marriage. So does my wife. Does that mean we don’t love each other? Not at all.

The only thing I know about unconditional love is it doesn’t happen in this world. It’s something only God offers.

Growing up into a vibrant and full marriage requires becoming an adult. And becoming an adult means taking a stand – at times a hard one – one that requires an adult decision.

Sometimes it looks like: I won’t live like this anymore. I want better and I’m going to stop pretending it’s someone else’s fault. OR I’m going to stop blaming so-and-so for lying to me when I wouldn’t know how to tell the truth if I tried. OR I’m going to initiate a scary conversation because I’m tired enough of my own excuses to actually make a change.

The variations are endless but they all have to do with self-confrontation – being willing to step out and be honest for the sake of our own life, no matter the cost.