So, He Won't Propose: When (and When Not!) to Give a Man an Ultimatum
After months of waiting, Bethany decided enough was enough. She told him he had two years to propose or they would break up. (A generous amount of time, in our opinion.) 24 months later, he bought a motorcycle instead of a ring, and she walked out the door. "It sucks," she says. "I'm not sure if I did the right thing."
It's an age-old dilemma: When you want your partner to do something he's not doing -- be it get down on one knee or just wash the dishes -- should you issue an ultimatum? With 10 percent of proposals occurring on Valentine's Day, we thought the days leading up to V-Day were a perfect window to provide any woman in the market for a ring with this very valuable information.
The answer, according to relationship experts, is, well, kind of. We'll explain.
First, you should know, Webster defines an ultimatum as "a demand accompanied by a threat to inflict some penalty if the demand is not met."
The key word is "threat," says Jim Duzak, the Attorney at Love. "If it's a man who's on the receiving end, he's going to feel under attack," he says, "and men go into defense mode when they're attacked, which tends to shift the attention away from the issue at hand and back at the woman."
And if a man does do what's required of him according to the ultimatum, it can create resentment down the line. "If someone does not want to get married and then they do because they also don't want to lose you, it generally does not end up working out in the end," says Dr. Robin Siebold, author of "To Divorce or Not."
So does that mean you should never issue an ultimatum? Not exactly. Ultimatums can work, but "only if it's used to share information, as in telling your partner a non-negotiable of yours for a relationship," says Siebold.
Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker and creator of the "Married in a Year" DVD, calls this issuing a Me-timatum. "Ultimatums should be all about what you want. If you want to get married and you've been together for a year and he hasn't put a ring on your finger, then you should say, 'I want to get married and have kids, and you're not there yet. It's cool. You're a great catch, but I got to move along.'"
In other words, an ultimatum can only be given in terms of yourself, says Dr. Jane Greer, author of "What About Me?" "You have to shift your focus from what you want your partner to do, to what you're willing to put on the line, how far you're willing to go in the relationship, and the changes you're willing to make," she says.
For example, say a woman is dating a new guy and wants to have sex with him. But she only wants to sleep with him if he is monogamous with her. Instead of saying "I'm not going to have sex with you until you stop sleeping with other women," she should say, "I'm not comfortable being intimate with a guy who is also intimate with other women."
"This cages it in terms of herself and her boundaries," says Lucia, a relationship expert.
But once you state your boundaries, you can't waver on them. "There's nothing worse than an ultimatum with no substance," says Dr. Greer. If you tell a guy you're not comfortable sleeping with a man who is intimate with other women, and then you go ahead and sleep with him knowing he's still sleeping around, then you're going to lose all your credibility in the relationship. And any future ultimatums will be ignored.
The bottom line: Be open, honest and assertive, stating your needs and desires. If your partner can't meet those needs, be willing to walk away. But don't threaten a breakup hoping to manipulate your guy into doing what you want.
Experts say there is one exception to this rule: when addictive and violent behaviors are involved. "If your partner has an addiction problem, is verbally abusive, or is unfaithful, you should absolutely issue a firm ultimatum," says Greer. "Tell him, 'If you don't get help, as much as I love you, I will leave.'" But if he's violent, "Just leave -- without an ultimatum," says Dr. Tina B. Tessina, author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage."
So did Bethany Fritz do the right thing? Yes and no. She did express her desire to get married, but according to Stanger she wasted way too many years on the guy. "A guy knows in six months if he wants to marry you," she says. "If he hasn't proposed by month 12, it's time to leave -- no matter how cute he is."
Colleen Oakley is a freelance writer who has no problem threatening people to get what she wants. But she does it very nicely. You can find out more about her at colleenoakley.com.
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