BlogThe Importance of Tempering Ultimatums

January 14, 2024by Frank Love0

The Importance of Tempering UltimatumsIn the blog immediately preceding this one, titled “Lemuel Kenley: Honoring a Mentor and Friend,” an effort is made to acknowledge Mr. Kenley for the education, love, and appreciation he demonstrated towards my family and me. Check it out.

“As long as you live in my house you, will abide by my rules.” This means, if you do not abide by my rules, you must leave this house. Unfortunately, this is a too often, too common approach that too many people take when a loved one does not respond in the way that we want them to.  There is another approach which is Tempering Ultimatums may yield better results.

Can You Get What You Want Without Ultimatums?
I recently listened to a parent express the aforementioned technique of persuasion to their twenty-year-old child. I digested what was said, and decided to be honest enough with myself to admit that I may have, at some point, said something similar, if I thought that it was warranted.

But something was not setting right for me.  There was a reflection that I insisted on having. I couldn’t let the conversation go without giving a bit more energy to it. It was tugging at me.

I began to question this “my way or the highway” way of getting a desired result:

  • Is it possible to get what we want from our relationships with our children and partners without using such harsh language or ultimatums?
  • Why are many of us heavy-handed with those that we care most about?
  • Would using fewer escalating behaviors help our relationships?

Imagine, instead, if the parent said, “If you do not adhere to the rules that I have set forth, I’d like us to talk.” Or a few a few additional variations could be:

Parent: I want you to abide by my rules.

Children: Or what?

Parent: Or nothing. This is still your home, and I love you.
Parent: I’d want you to abide by my rules.

Child: Why?

Parent: Because I believe it to be the right thing to do and the best way to handle the situation.

Child: I don’t want to handle it that way.

Parent: OK.

Ultimatums Can Hurt All Relationships
Using ultimatums is not unique to parent-child relationships. Similar hard-nosed tactics often rear their heads in romantic relationships. One partner in the relationship may threaten or try to dominate the other in order to force a capitulation on an issue.

A partner may say to theirs a multitude of versions of, “If you don’t do what I want you to do, I won’t do what you want me to do.” “If I don’t get what I want, you won’t get what you want.” Or, “If you do something that I don’t want you to do, then I will leave or do something that you don’t want done.”

We are constantly flexing our power and our ability(ies) to make our partner uncomfortable because we are uncomfortable. Then they do the same thing to us. A cycle is created that few of us have the wherewithal to halt or to reverse. Perhaps this is occurring because we do not know how to deal with not getting our way in a constructive manner.

Ethics Offers Another Approach
Instead of escalation and punishment, there is at least one other option to consider — ethics. Yes, we can appeal to the ethical consciousness of those that we care about.

Imagine, instead of a parent or partner saying, “My way or the highway.” that they are able (and willing) to say, “My way (or this way), because it is the right thing to do,” then walk away. The child/partner may then be left to do what they believe to be best. And it may not meet the partner or parent’s preference.

It is worth noting that ethics is highly subjective. Translations, history and nuances can change the way people see things in ethical situations. Therefore, our children or partners may not land where we want them to land on given issues. They may not see things the way that we see them. However, the victory is found in them being in the conversation with themselves and others.

How Conversations Show Love
Ultimatums and heavy hands limit the conversations that we allow ourselves to engage in. They communicate what others must do or else they may face consequences. These requirements often lead to resentment and anger that is aimed at us (or the forcing party). When considering that we all want to be loved, even when we irritate the people in our lives or do things that they don’t want us to do, we are missing a valuable opportunity. We are missing an opportunity to show love.

Showing love is much different than saying that we love a person. Comparatively speaking, saying it is easy, being loving is more of a challenge. And just as ultimatums create a culture, so does being loving. Which culture do we prefer to create?

Loving Relationships Accommodate Differences
It is not suggested that ultimatums are never in order or effective. They have a place — mostly when dealing with children up to a certain age or temperament, when those we love are in a dangerous situation or depending on the systems that we have created in our families. However, what is suggested is that we be more accommodating and calm; and avoid only using ultimatums to get what we want when we feel strongly. To be more succinct, it is suggested that we temper our egos so that our children and partners are not forced away when we are not getting what we want.

Moving forward, instead of “putting our foot down,” let’s be more accommodating and sensitive. It can make a tremendous difference in the long-term health of any loving relationship.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

In the next blog post, “Go Far … Together: Building Parental Alignment Through Clear Decision-Making,” we discuss the importance of parents acting in unity when making decisions that involve their children.  Check it out.


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Frank Love coaches individuals toward creating a loving culture in their family. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.
Key Word Phrases

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