When and how to give an ultimatum


Question: My husband will rage at me, refuse to talk for hours or even days, and then act like nothing happened.  When I try to ask him what happened, or tell him that I don’t like this behavior, he makes statements about how bad his day, his job, even his life is and won’t address what I’m saying.  I’m sick of the melodrama and the constant sense that my feelings don’t matter as much as his.  Should I be thinking about divorce?  We have children and I don’t want to hurt them.  What can I do?

Answer: Any good counselor faced with the divorce question is going to start by investigating further.  How would it hurt the children?  Are they being hurt right now by the exposure to your fights?  Why are you thinking of divorce?  What have you already tried?  Does your husband know what you’re thinking or would he be surprised if you walked out?  Find a friend you can answer these questions in front of and get feedback from, or get out a pen and paper and start writing.

Most women that I have seen in my practice who go through with a seperation or divorce have been thinking about it for 1-3 years before they actually go through with it.  Their husbands have been aware of the severity of the issues for less than half that time.  Women don’t tend to like confrontation and they are trained to smooth the waters.  This can really backfire on them in a marriage.  A relationship this intimate will generate some disagreement and require you to be adamant about your boundaries.  Men are NOT trained to smooth the waters and avoid conflict in this culture.  They’re trained to avoid failure and loss. 

Women in my office are often at wit’s end because their husbands will fight endlessly and refuse to communicate.  Your husband seems to feel that he can “win” the fight by pointing out his greater victimization and probably accusing you of being hard, lacking empathy, not caring, etc.  My guess would be that he also pouts when he can’t convince you to leave issues alone.  If this were his only set of behaviors, you would have already left him.  You will need to evaluate both the good and bad in this man to properly evaluate whether or not the relationship can be saved.  At this point, it may be difficult to remember good things.  Get some mutual friend to remind you of his good points.

If you are getting out of this marriage, do it with class.  Give him the warning you would want to have and the behavior changes you would like to see.  If you’re worried about this being an ultimatum, it is.  Every time your husband walks into a store and looks at his favorite stuff, he’s facing an ultimatum.  The store refuses to let people just walk out with that good stuff.  If he truly wants the latest gadget, he has to pay the price or have the cops called on him.  It is an ultimatum and he does just fine with it.  He pays or he walks. 

The reason most women don’t give ultimatums is the fear that he’ll walk.  It doesn’t work better to hang in there resenting the crap out of him until you up and leave without warning one day.  That’s unfair.  Give the man a choice, realizing you are taking a risk.  Get support from friends, don’t tell family members too much if you think there’s ANY chance the marriage will survive, and find some time for yourself.  If he’s willing to pay the price of keeping this realtionship, get help!  This will be a huge change for both of you and a good counselor, mentoring couple, or pastor can be sanity saving.

If he decides to walk, let him go.  He may be attempting further manipulation and just making a threat.  He may be totally serious and it’s better to get this done now before you hate him so desperately that your children suffer the backlash of it.  Kids can come out of divorce just fine.  They will be eaten up and spit out by constant parental fighting and divided loyalties.

Be strong and calm in what you say.  Be consistent in how you act.  Be willing to take risks.

Photo Attribution: The Italian Voice by Creative Commons License, Flickr

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