Why Ultimatums Don't Work Part 1: The Story of a Stapler

by marni battista • More.com Member { View Profile }

When I married my husband in August, 1986 at 22 years old, it was because I had issued an ultimatum. Looking back, it’s clear it was, in fact, the ultimatum that poisoned the entire 17-year marriage, leaking its horrific toxins with side effects such as resentment, anger and neglect, into the cells of the relationship.  The result was a slow and painful death in 2004.

When I first met my ex-husband, Bob, in 1984 I was living in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I was spending the summer after my sophomore year at Tulane University visiting my cousin, Kathy, who worked with Bob as a sales person.   In between dips in the apartment complex pool, trying to survive the 110-degree heat while driving my grandmother’s 1976 beige Chrysler Cordoba, a car in which the air conditioning was most always malfunctioning, Kathy found time to introduce me to her boss, Rob,  just nine days before my 19th birthday.  When he declared after just a few weeks of dating that he wanted to be in a “serious” relationship, I leapt at the prospect.

We fell into a relationship quickly during college.  Living in separate cities during the five months I went to Washington, D.C.  to complete an internship made for a strained long distance relationship.  That and my mother’s 50-s era warnings about men “never buying the cow when they get the milk for free” lead to me issuing an ultimatum, ultimately signing our marriage’s death certificate.  He agreed, and unenthusiastically followed through with the wedding.

It took 17 tumultuous years for this marriage to die.  While the specific cause of death listed on the divorce certificate is not “ultimatum,” it was, in fact, the ultimatum which was the poisonous seed that took root.  These roots spread into a tangled web of twisted cords pulsating with negativity, hurt and resentment.

The residue from this ultimatum lived inside me for years, even after the divorce.  Next came my one-year, off-and-on again relationship with Johnny Rock. Even when I should have issued him an ultimatum, I was too afraid. I suffered from Post Traumatic Ultimatum Syndrome and I couldn’t do it.  I should have said something like, “Leave your wife.”  Or, “Come home before 5am, or don’t bother coming home.”  But I had taken a vow, swearing off ultimatums.  I didn’t know then there might be a way to live in some shade of grey, a place where it was appropriate to lay down the law.  Or, that there was a place where I could speak my truth yet understand the needs of the other person.  Live with compassion, self love, and kindness.

In September, 2006 Johnny Rock broke our monogamous agreement, spending several nights with a born-again Christian, blonde, TV game show host.  This deception was more than I could handle, as I realized that there must be some middle ground between ultimatums and the persona I had developed during the relationship with Rock.  With Rock I was forever saying words like, “It’s cool.  It’s ok.  No worries,” trying to convince myself that being treated like shit could somehow be translated into something resembling appropriate boyfriend behavior.  I refused to issue ultimatums.  It had destroyed my marriage.  My lack of righteous anger, however, with Rock destroyed me.  It was then that Rock’s ex-wife suggested I go to the one-week spiritual boot camp that forever changed my life.  During this nine-day retreat in St. Helena, California, I participated in the Hoffman Process, which helped me to uncover the self-love that I had lost somewhere between marriage, divorce, and disgrace.

Throughout the next five years I learned to enjoy my life, to speak my truth, demand respect, and date with dignity.  I learned to say no, say yes, and have fun exploring what I wanted from men, and what I didn’t want. I finished graduate school and met new friends. I built and led a thriving community of Hoffman Graduates in which I felt loved and loveable.  I took trips with my children.  Taught them to camp, to ride the subways of New York and to smile even when the flights are delayed and the airport is closing down.

And then, in May, 2009, five years after my divorce, I met The Brit.

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