Should You Give Your Spouse an Ultimatum? There are several roads you can take to get your spouse to change, but is an ultimatum one you should take? BY MORT FERTEL
When you and your spouse are holding on, the last thing you want to do is push them over the edge.
“ If you want to restore your marriage, do not give your spouse an ultimatum. It will not work.”
Have you thought about giving your spouse an ultimatum? Something like, "If you don't stop XYZ, this marriage is over."
Is your spouse having an affair, hooked on porn, an alcoholic, a workaholic or obsessive about a hobby? How do you get your spouse to stop behavior that's destroying your marriage?
An ultimatum is an interesting idea. I bet a friend or family member even suggested it. I'm sure it's crossed your mind. Maybe it was even advised by your counselor. But will it work?
If you want to restore your marriage, do not give your spouse an ultimatum. It will not work. Let me explain why. And let me explain how you can get your spouse to end their affair or stop their addictive or obsessive behavior.
In a sense, it's empowering to think and even say to your spouse, "Your behavior is unacceptable. And if it doesn't stop, I'm leaving you." An ultimatum offers the ultimate role reversal. It puts you, the victim, in control.
Understandably, that's appealing. And there's no doubt that in the short run you'll feel better. But it also feels good to eat dessert after every meal. Just because something feels good does not mean it is good. The question you have to ask yourself is: Will an ultimatum give me the result I want? The answer is no.
Now, I know what you're thinking, "Mort, what about tough love? Shouldn’t I set borders and boundaries?"
If you give your spouse an ultimatum, you'll establish clear rules for your marriage. You'll set borders and boundaries. But where will the motivation come from for your spouse to live by the rules? In other words, the rules will be clear, but why would your spouse want to adhere to them?
You see, if your spouse is a workaholic, an alcoholic, having an affair, into porn or involved in obsessive or destructive behavior, the problem is not a lack of rules, but rather a lack of motivation to live by the rules.
Your spouse knows their behavior is wrong. Even if they won't admit it, even if they justify it, deep down they know that their behavior is immoral and that it's destroying your marriage and soiling their soul. The problem is that they don't care. The problem is that they lack an internal motivation to do the right thing.
Your spouse has to want to stop. The key is their inner motivation, their will. An ultimatum imposes rules from the outside; it does nothing to address the lack of motivation on the inside. Bottom line: although giving an ultimatum feels good, it misses your target.
Getting the Change Without an Ultimatum
Your target is your spouse's inner motivation. The secret to affect someone's inner motivation is to connect with them.
Life begins as a connected experience in the womb of our mother. When we're born and that physical connection is severed, we yearn to connect again. How we go about creating that connection and how well we succeed becomes the story of our life.
People who make healthy and meaningful connections with other people feel fulfilled. People who lack an emotional connection with others grasp at anything in an attempt to fill that void; that's what leads people to sex, alcohol, hours of mindless TV or an obsessive commitment to money, success, work or a hobby. These trappings offer a momentary filling, but the cause of the emptiness your spouse seeks to fill is a lack of a meaningful connection in their life.
When you create that connection with your spouse, you accomplish two profound things. First, you eliminate your spouse's desire for their destructive behavior. You take the wind right out of its sail. You cut it off at its source. There's no more hole to fill. You filled it!
Second, you offer your spouse a permanent filling for a hole that's been insatiable probably since their childhood. Moreover, their desire for your connection will trump any momentary interest in seductive pleasures.
So to get your spouse to stop their destructive behavior you must create a connection with them.
Now don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that your spouse's inappropriate behavior is your fault. It’s not your fault that you need marital help either, but it is your responsibility. Meaning, that you can choose to do something about it. You can impact your spouse's choices, but you'll need to learn to forge a real connection with your spouse, and you'll need to learn to do that without your spouse's cooperation.
Mort Fertel is a world authority on the psychology of relationships and has an international reputation for saving marriages. He’s been a featured expert on NBC, the Fox News Network, and in Family Circle. Click here for Mort’s free report, "7 Secrets to Fixing Your Marriage."