The Pros and Cons of Ultimatums in a Marriage

Giving an ultimatum in a marriage is still under heavy debate in our culture.

While some marriage counselors are supporting it (in certain cases), others warn that marriage ultimatums can greatly harm your relationship.

ultimatum in a marriage pros and cons

In this post, I’m sharing my extensive research results, after reading dozens of expert opinions of marriage counselors, psychologists, and personal testimonials of long-time married couples.

If you are thinking about giving your spouse an ultimatum, this list of pros and cons will help you decide.

What is an Ultimatum in a Marriage?

Ultimatums in marriage happen when one spouse demands the other one to stop doing, or start doing something they want, otherwise, the marriage is over.

The most common ultimatums are over an affair, porn usage, drug or alcohol addiction, emotional affair, or obsession about a hobby or activity.

The demanding spouse is usually fed up with a certain behavior that he believes can destroy the marriage, and has probably tried to solve the situation or communicate – without success.

Andrea Dindinger, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist, adds that “people make ultimatums when they feel powerless to change the other person.”

Does it work?

Experts disagree. Keep reading to find out.

Examples of Common Ultimatums in a Marriage

Here are a few of the most common ultimatums used in a marriage:

  1. “If you don’t change your behavior, I’m leaving”
  2. If you don’t start helping me around the house, I will look for another partner who will”
  3. If you don’t start paying attention to me, I will find someone else who will” (see what to do when your husband ignores you)
  4. If you won’t make an effort to spend time with me, I’ll find someone else to hang out with”
  5. If you don’t want to have another child, we should consider a divorce”

Here are the pros and cons of ultimatums in a marriage, to help you decide whether this is good for your relationship:

Marriage Ultimatum Pros (According to Marriage Counselors)

1. It’s empowering to think and even say to your spouse that his behavior is not acceptable. It makes you feel like you can regain control over a relationship that seems to be slipping away from you and leaving you powerless.

It puts you, the victim, back in control.

RELATED: 10 Questions to Ask a Cheating Spouse

2. At least in the short run, you will feel better about yourself. You will regain your self-esteem by setting boundaries and rules.

3. Ultimatums in a relationship can sometimes serve as a wakeup call that can drive the partner to make positive changes for the relationships’ sake.

4. Ultimatums can be crucial for setting necessary boundaries and ensuring both spouses are comfortable in a relationship. (However, boundaries are not the same as ultimatums)

Ultimatum in a Marriage Cons

1. While it feels empowering, and reversing the victim role in the relationship, your spouse will not have the motivation to surrender to the ultimatum.

According to marriage counselor Mort Fertel, “if your spouse is addicted to porn, is having an affair, is an alcoholic, or involved in any other destructive behavior, the problem is not that the rules are not clear, but the lack of motivation to live by the rules”.

Fertel claims that an ultimatum does not guarantee that your spouse will change his behavior, and worse – that this will lead to the renewal and the saving of your marriage.

“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.”

The secret is to CONNECT with them.

When you create a connection with your spouse, you eliminate your spouse’s desire for their destructive behavior and fill that void inside them, that makes them behave destructively in the first place.

👉 Learn how to connect with your spouse in Fertel’s free marriage help (highly recommended)

2.  Ultimatums force changes in behavior, which leads to the spouse feeling pressured into doing something they don’t want to do, and worse – a feeling of long-term resentment.

According to family therapist Megan Harrison, LMFT, this behavior may also be harmful to your interest, especially if you cannot follow through on your ultimatum.

This may lead to you losing the respect and credibility of your partner.

3. You cannot control your spouse (or anyone else), and a marriage is not supposed to be someone in charge and the other obeys. It’s an alliance of equals.

According to Kimberly Perlin, a psychotherapist, the real power is by changing your own behavior and inviting your partner to choose differently than the old pattern.

For example, instead of saying “if you don’t stop your affair, I’m leaving”, you’ll say “I understand your priorities better now, and choose to do the same. We both deserve love and caring, and if this is what you need, I respect that, but my future priorities may include leaving.”

4.  An ultimatum may prevent the critical phase of honestly connecting with your spouse, in a calm situation, and telling him how you really feel and how his behavior affects you and your marriage – without raising your voice, name-calling, and belittling.

The Best Alternative to Ultimatums in a Relationship

ultimatums in a relationship does it work

After researching the pros and cons, I’ve reached a (personal) conclusion:

I believe ultimatums should the very last option to use – if you want to save your relationship.

I’m saying this from personal experience and after reading dozens of testimonials of married couples, counselors, and psychologists.

Ultimatums are ignoring the root cause of the spouse’s destructive behavior and hoping a magic pill will make it go away.

It may empower you and temporarily help you stop feeling like a victim, but this feeling won’t last long, and in most cases – it won’t work.

The best alternative to failed boundaries turned into ultimatums – is to actually treat the root cause of it.

I highly recommend that you start with Mort Fertel’s email series to learn how to reconnect with your spouse and make him want to stop his behavior – on his own.

You can do this without his cooperation!

Rooting for ya,


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