An Ultimatum Is The Last Resort

Many comments on yesterday’s post “Fat Wives Demanding Unconditional Love” are prompting me to make a minor clarification for those new to reading the blog, or who haven’t read the book…
I have long advised that the use of an ultimatum is a last resort that may or may not work. If you follow my general advice to stop trying to change the other person and self-improve, frequently the other spouse starts pulling themselves together. Often you don’t even have an argument about it, the other spouse just becomes interested in changing. This is one of the basic principles of The MAP.
Classic example: I don’t nag Jennifer to exercise. If I start exercising, she tends to follow suit fairly shortly after I do.
You get forced toward having to make an ultimatum when the self-improvement and kind approaches have failed to work. There is always a chance that the relationship will fail because of it, so ultimatums can only be used for the most critically important matters. The book spells out a seven step process that is worked through – but can stop at any point if the spouse starts making changes for the better.
I also remind readers that the other options available for a spouse wanting a sexual improvement are (1) Just suffering through and tolerating the lack of sex / terrible sex partner, (2) Cheating on the spouse to get the sex you want and (3) Divorcing so you can try and find a new partner. Option (4) is my advice; self improve until you are more attractive than your spouse and leverage the possibility of the loss of you being worse than the loss of their enjoyment of their negative behavior. Just understand that it may or may not work.
I can also assure you that the husband in question was distraught with the entire situation. He’s by no means a bad guy and was actively turning down two other women for sex despite having no sex with his wife for over a year. Seeking my advice was his last hope before filing for divorce. Some readers may not like the ultimatum approach, but at least this way she can make a choice about staying in the marriage or not.
I am looking forward to the responses to my next post tonight, where the roles are reversed and a wife runs The MAP on her husband. It will be interesting to see how many people change sides and suddenly think ultimatums are a really good idea… or such a cruel lack of love and support.


  1. You know, Athol, at first when I read "Fat Wives…" I was surprised and offended. I have really enjoyed reading the comments from the more civilized posters.

    I can't wait to read your next post. I want to see what it would take for me to give my honey an ultimatum. :)

  2. Athol – I appreciate your clarification (again).

    On the choices for a spouse wanting sexual improvement, leaving out talking with each other and perhaps seeking counseling is just…strange. I understand that your construct assumes that has already happened, but from the stories you have shared, it is clear that it not always the case. That said, self-improvement is always a good thing, and if your spouse follows suit, even better.

  3. Athol Kay says:

    Kat – it often goes as far as needing an ultimatum to even get them into counseling.

    Even then, counseling isn't actual change. Counseling is also expensive. I'd be more impressed that change was happening if a heavy wife got a gym membership than wanted to go into counseling.

    Also I'm curious why you didn't choose the counseling route and instead chose the cheating option.

  4. Athol – I agree that counseling isn't actual change, but it can help people talk about things that are difficult to talk about without hurting each other unnecessarily. I wasn't suggesting that counseling is a solution for weight loss, but as an alternative to an ultimatum.

    I can also understand what you mean about sometimes needing an ultimatum to get to counseling….but only as a completely last resort. Even then, as I commented recently on the "Fat Wives" post, I'm for staying married no matter what.

    As for counseling, we did try it years ago. And we're about to try it again as I've said.

    Why did I choose to cheat? Are you *really* interested? I'm currently having a serious email conversation with one of your readers on this very topic. I know I should answer with something cute like, "It was all about that darned Girls Night Out," but I respect you too much for that. ;-)

  5. Athol Kay says:

    Kat – Helping people's marriages is my mission in life and you know it.

    I'm not convinced that you actually want help though. If you do, email me.

  6. Crowhill says:

    I don't believe in certain kinds of ultimatums for the simple reason that I am committed to my wife. I will do what I can to move her in the right direction, but come Hell or high water I'm still committed to her. Whatever that implies.

    I want to move her towards physical fitness, more sex, etc., and I am happy to take the lead — realizing that my actions are key in all these issues.

    But when push comes to shove, I am committed to her unconditionally.

  7. Robertson says:

    My wife gained 100 pounds in the space of a year, due to constant binging, and as she became less and less attractive to me, I spoke up. And I received the "you sould love me unconditionally" speech, word for word. I remember telling her that only a parent's love could really be unconditional, although I didn't give some of the examples listed to turn that around on her. I remember so much the helplessness, and the embarassment. I also remember the Catch 22 of having sex with someone who physically repulsed me, but that I, as a decent guy, didn't cheat on. That was another shit test … "I'm so fat, but you still want to screw me … you're treating me like a piece of meat…"

    I would suggest that weight gain like that is almost necessarily a symptom of other things going on. And we did go the counseling route. And it was very helpful too … it removed all doubt about the next steps. This is my first wife I'm talking about, we divorced 13 years ago. Thankfully I have a wonderful wife now, and with Athol's help I'm making a good thing even better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Question from a female reader (unrelated to this post, but I didn't know where else to ask it). I know you and your wife started out in a long distance relationship. I have been in an LDR for two years now with a man I've known for 25 years, but started dating two years ago (we are both in our mid 40's). We have another three years before we can realistically be together full time. He suggested phone sex recently. I've never tried it, but I am game if he is. After thinking it over, though, I am worried; would he suggest this option because he is dissatisfied with the long distance nature of our relationship, or is he wanting deeper intimacy? What is your male perspective? Am I overthinking the whole thing? The relationship is solid, other than we see each other only 2 times a year, on average. Another question for the men…what do guys like to hear during phone sex? I'm clueless!

  9. Stephenie Rowling says:

    I would say that is normal for a guy that has a normal libido to try and fulfill the needs by phone if the woman he likes is not physically available(the other option is to do with a local woman and not telling you so I'm sure you agree this is better)
    I did the webcam sex with my now hubby because he is more of the visual type so I wouldn't know what to say.
    Athol probably has better ideas for your particular case.

    Maybe you should ask him to sent you some pointers by email so you can start thinking on ways to do it.
    Hope that helps and don't worry is very fun and you will keep a sexual link even if you are far away.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Copied from previous entry's comments:

    AK: "I can also assure you that the husband in question was distraught with the entire situation. Seeking my advice was his last hope before filing for divorce. Some readers may not like the ultimatium approach, but at least this way she can make a choice about staying in the marriage or not."

    Athol, I have to disagree with this. If he phrases it like an open ultimatum, he gives her the chance to file for divorce before he does. The person who files first gets to select venue and "frame the story," and it cannot be stressed enough how important those two points are, especially for men who are already at a disadvantage in the family court system.

    IMHO the husband in question should not make an open ultimatum, and should instead make preparations carefully and quietly while not only making his unhappiness known (mostly implicitly, some explicitly) and – important – documenting it. If, unfortunately, it does ultimately head to the divorce courts, then he needs to be the one to file, and not her.

  11. Looking Glass says:

    Marriage Counseling pretty much doesn't work. Individual counselors can help, but only for a small number of people. Just "doing" counseling likely won't do much of anything.

    It's the truth, sorry to say.

    If you want to do something like a 12-step recovery program, those *do* work, but you don't get there because you think things are just "not good".

  12. Marriage counseling does send a strong message to the other spouse or even to each other – that you really want this to work.

    I've been married over 20 years, we've been to marriage counseling. I honestly can't say the therapist helped us, but we sat up and took notice. This was it, work on it, fight for it, or our whole world was going to come tumbling down.

    Thankfully, that was 7 years ago. We made it through the other side and we are happy – probably happier. It does take 2 to make it work, it only takes 1 to kill the marriage.

  13. The ultimatum I’d make especially if there are kids is not to divorce her. I’d want that to be a sacred vow between us that we wouldn’t divorce if there are minor kids at home, and would work very hard not to otherwise.

    Instead I’d say that to avoid divorce, at some point I’m gonna have to talk to you about it being permissible for me to have a just or mostly just sex affair until you can lose weight and be fully physically attractive to me again. No I can’t allow myself to fall in love with another woman and if I am starting to I’ll have to break it off.

    What say you about that Athol?

  14. Athol Kay says:

    Doug1 – it's a variant on option (2) in that you stay in the relationship, but get sex outside the relationship.

    It is a far more honest way of doing things though, so let me think about adding it as a 5th option.

    The concern though is that falling in love has an element of "mind control" to it. So promising to not be "mind controlled" when you fall in love is a little dubious as when you're in love with someone else you start to like the mind control.

    Useful comment Doug1. Thanks.

  15. Athol–

    If the guy has only ever had sex with his wife, or with say three women in his life, then I think there's a much bigger risk that he won't be able to control his falling in love with another woman, than if he's more sexually experienced and has a good helping of alpha attributes.

    I think there's always a big risk of this with women having sex with other men, but probably less so with really promiscuous women. Most of those probably won't be so committed to remaining in a marriage though if they find a better sex partner, given the hugely lopsided way the laws and courts mete out divorce 2.0 to women and men.

  16. Athol Kay says:

    Doug1 – agree.

    It's really more of the way I've dealt with non-monogamy in a separate mental section (and part of the book) and had the four option matrix in another mental section (and part of the book) that's the very useful thought. There's more of a possible connection between the two.

    Hence very helpful. Thanks.

  17. Anonymous says:

    That's a useful comment from Doug? My God.

    Some of the advice here is in-between, Athol. All that crap about being a highr sex rank than your wife so you have more control..manipulative, calculating and shallow. Now, if your wife cuts off sex, I'm fine with ultimatums. But if you think I'll change my mind when you do a post on wives, that I'd agree with giving a fat husband an ultimatum, you're wrong. If worse comes to worse, spouses should be totally open with each other, at the risk of hurting feelings, about sexual attraction and their lack of it. But threatening divorce because of a weight problem is shallow and cruel.

  18. Anonymous–

    But if you think I'll change my mind when you do a post on wives, that I'd agree with giving a fat husband an ultimatum, you're wrong. If worse comes to worse, spouses should be totally open with each other, at the risk of hurting feelings, about sexual attraction and their lack of it. But threatening divorce because of a weight problem is shallow and cruel.

    Looks are a much larger component of male sexual attraction to females than the other way around. Even feminists backhand recognize this while deriding it, with their complaint of male "objectification".

    Sure fatness is unattractive in men too, but if the husband is a strong, confident, successful leader kind of guy, it's a lot less of a factor for most women.

    Though if the guy is really obsese — then yeah, a problem. He should lose weight as well.

    Though I prefer my solution of the guy announces he's going to seek sexual satisfaction outside the marriage if she doesn't start losing weight in a concerted fashion, to divorcing her. Esp. if kids are involved.

  19. Athol Kay says:

    Anon 10:34 – the husband in question did share his lack of attraction because of her weight. She cut him off from sex for over a year as a result.

  20. Anonymous says:

    "She cut him off from sex for over a year as a result"

    In which case I recommended taking some action. But automatically threatening divorce because of weight is cruel. Besides, in this case if he brought up divorce, it wouldn't be because of her weight but because she's being sexually cruel, which is a just reason to bring up serious actions.

    Doug, I couldn't be attracted to obesity either. But this whole case is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in always imagining how the other spouse feels: if I'm really overweight, I'd try to remind myself of how I'd feel with a really overweight husband. If he's really overweight, I'm very careful in how I bring it up because I know how I'D feel if I was in his place and he brought it up wth me.

    I will never, ever condone adultery, especially self-justified adultery. People really think these kinds of things, and divorce, don't affect anyone else but their own family. And apparently even the latter is something more or less easily recovered from.

  21. Don't misread me.

    Husbands are always better off being fit.
    They should be.

    Not the #1 priority, but it's a priority.

  22. Looking Glass says:

    @ Anonymous 12:46 am:

    You're actually kind of funny, but you're approaching "troll" levels of inability to read. Or you are just fundamentally misunderstanding human nature, take your pick.

    In the "Fat Wife" case, the husband was trying to help and trying to address the issue. If you'd actually have read the post, it's very clear she went nuclear when her weight came up. (1 year, no sex, if that's not "nuclear" response, I don't know what is)

    As for what Doug1 & Athol are discussing, let me give you a really big clue to the way humans work: if given the chance, a human will not let themselves stay miserable for years on end. Some will, most will not if presented an opportunity. Neither of us "condone" adultery, but that doesn't stop it from happening nor will it be stopped unless dealing with the reasons people end up in that situation are addressed.

    And the reason most affairs happen is that needs inside a marriage simply aren't being met. If they stay unmet for long enough, the party that's not getting what is needed (and they've likely said it's been needed, so don't bother with that response) will simply find alternatives. Athol is simply laying out your options that'll always exist. You might not like them, but those are the options and 1 of them *will* be chosen. Generally, these days, it's the Divorce option that's chosen.

    What Doug1 & Athol are discussing really a mix of options 2 & 4. It's the ultimatum of filling the needs until they're met inside the relationship. This is technically *always* the option at hand in a relationship, it's just not necessarily said. This is why raising your SMV (or Sex Rank, pick your term) implies to the other party. The more attractive you are, the more options you have, which is why people generally respond in an unconscious manner when their mate is showing improved "options" signs.

    Like Athol states, generally, when you start improving yourself, the spouse follows along. In the case of the "Husband That Needs A Job", he responded well to the truth of his relationship. In the case of the "Fat Wife", she responded in a very negative fashion and is going to reap a whole lot of negative consequences for her children & herself. But, Athol gives a way to provide a choice & a chance, it's up to the parties to take it.

    Oh, and one thing I do need to point out. The line: "[b]ut this whole case is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in always imagining how the other spouse feels". While understanding the feelings of someone else has it's uses, for the most part, it's a waste of time & actively detrimental. If you aren't willing to tell someone the truth because you don't want to hurt their feelings (no one wants their feelings hurt), then you're lying the whole way and you'll end up in disaster regardless. No one likes their feelings hurt, but it doesn't matter if there is a problem. At the end of the day, it's either you address the problem or your don't. There's no middle ground on this. The "softer, softer" approach rarely works and nearly always leads to failure. This doesn't mean you need to swear or curse at the person, but taking into account their feelings will just make dealing with reality a whole lot harder.

    But, hey, it's the "easier" approach, minus the fact it's generally disastrous and a rationalization for lying.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I think it's funny how you ignore the fact that I never condoned not speaking up at all, nor did I approve of that wife's ridiculous actions, which I clarified on the post about her. I'm painfully aware what he needed was clear and had been communicated; in her case strong measures had to be taken. But in general, if you don't want to badly damage matters, bringing up weight is best done in a careful manner; perhaps you didn't understand my clear point that it should be brought up, cautiously and without ultimatums at the outset.

    "Neither of us "condone" adultery"

    No, one of you just suggested it as a viable alternative if she didn't lose weight.

  24. Athol Kay says:

    Trying to be 100% clear here… I've said it so many time before and in the book that I thought I said it in the post…

    The "options available" are not so much a menu to choose from, but simply logical outcomes stemming from the natural consecquences of being denied a sex life.

  25. Anonymous says:

    You did say it in the post, Athol, and I knew already that you didn't support adultery from your other post on cheating, where you said what it would have done to your family. My comment about condoning adultery had to do with Doug's comment, which he already responded to.

  26. “I married my husband fourteen years ago. He had a gut that kinda shocked me, never having been with a man with a beer belly before. Now my husband’s gut is HUGE and hangs over oddly. He is a good person basically…good provider, etc.. I love him. Other than concern for his health, I am not turned off by him. After reading this blog and the comments, it appears that I am being abused by his fatness, that he is trying to control me and purposefully trying to turn me off. He says he loves my cooking and just has to have that third helping, but I now know it is just him wanting to be fat so he can make me nausous in bed. He didn’t have any body hair on his torso when I married him. Now he looks like a bear skin rug. Huh! Another of his plots to mock me. I will file tomorrow.”

    Best reply on this thread. Speaks to the difference between LOVE and LUST . To the one who contributed this…how did you escape becoming a body-image obssessed and entitled narcisisst in our self-abased superficial culture? and (God forbid) learn how to practice unconditional love? This just won’t do. It might destroy some men’s delusional images of themselves as Brad Pitt.

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