October 16, 2013 in Features

Try to stop short of ultimatum

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been seeing someone intermittently for six months. I enjoy our time together, but I am always the one to arrange everything. I’ve tried just not initiating contact for a few weeks, but that just means I don’t hear from the person. When I finally do contact them, I’m told they missed me.

On the one hand, I would like to tell this person that the fact that we only see each other if I do all the calling and planning makes me feel like I’m the only one interested in getting together and that this will eventually sour me on the whole idea. I’d like them to know the likely result so they can decide whether to keep behaving the same way.

But I’m wary of trying to control another adult’s actions, and this feels like it’s on the edge of an ultimatum. Could you help me clarify when something is an ultimatum versus when it’s a statement of need? – Mike

The “why” explains the “when.” Ultimatums – “Start initiating some contact or we’re through” – are bad for relationships because they mess with a person’s natural motivation. In good relationships, both parties are motivated not just by their own needs, but also by the needs of the other person and of the relationship itself. Both parties work to keep these in balance.

Ultimatums are particularly unfortunate because they’re so easy to avoid. You need only say exactly what you’re thinking and feeling, voice your specific request, then skip the part about the threat: “The fact that we only see each other if I do all the calling and planning makes me feel like I’m the only one interested in getting together.” Period – no mention of the eventual souring.

Why? Because, just by leaving that little bit of room, you stop short of backing the other person into the “I do this or get dumped” corner. That corner is responsible for so many “changes” that last only a few desultory days or weeks or however long it takes for the impact of the threat to dissipate.


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