Marrying Because of an Ultimatum

Colleen Sheehy Orme
bride and groom near red carPhoto by Scott Webb

There's a new Netflix show called The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On. This is the trailer. Nick and Vanessa Lachey navigate the journey of couples on the cusp of commitment. It's a topic long overdue for discussion.

One person in the relationship wants more.

The other wants less.

That's clarifying, isn't it? I know, I just came up with it now. It cuts to the core. It's usually phrased like this. One individual is ready to get married. The other is not. This begins a conversation. One that usually ends in a breakup or an eternal commitment.

I'm not sure if the producers of The Ultimatum intentionally began the trailer with this dialogue but it stopped me in my tracks. It may not give the typical person pause. But the average gal might not have been given an ultimatum. I was.

"The only thing scarier than losing you right now would be to marry you," says trailer girl.

And I feel her. I am her. She's me.

We're just a few decades apart.

But the fear is real. Time doesn't alter it. We're not ready. Me and trailer girl. But people are trying to convince us we are. They are doing their best to pressure us. And we can't let go. We love the person enough to stay but not enough to commit to a forever. Let's be honest. That sorta tells it all. But we don't know that. We're too young.

It's an emotional dance.

One person has their foot in the fire and the other is hopping around it.

Here's the thing, as they say, the truth will set us free. One person loves the flames and the other is terrified of them. Do you want to marry someone spooked and not swatting butterflies? I know the answer.

It's not the correct answer.

It's the one people involved in ultimatums convince themselves of.

"They're just afraid to commit. Marriage scares them. Their parents are divorced. They're a free spirit. If they wanted to be with someone else they would have left by now. They just need a nudge. They're worried about money. They want to be farther along in their career. They don't feel good about themselves."

Yada yada yada.

On the other side, the non-commital significant other has other musings.

"I feel bad we've been together a long time. Maybe it's me, maybe I'm afraid of commitment. Maybe I'm not being fair. I don't want to lose them. But I don't want to get married either. Everyone else is getting married why aren't I ready? Is it me, am I the problem, am I a commitment-phobe? Maybe I need to be forced or I will never commit."

If you buy that last line just ask George Clooney.

There's no truth to it. Maybe he should be making a guest appearance. You will dedicate yourself forever when the right person comes along.

This Huffington Post article "Do Marriage Ultimatums Actually Work?" has experts weighing in.

"Generally, ultimatums don't yield a good outcome, but every situation is different," psychologist and dating coach Samantha Rodman said.

Is an ultimatum right or wrong?

The truth lies somewhere in between. It's two people in entirely different phases of their lives. They may be a couple but they aren't aligned. Neither individual is wrong. They are entitled to their vision of their relationship. It's okay one wants to settle down and the other doesn't.

They shouldn't be forced to catch up with one another.

Because either the timing is off or they aren't meant to be.

There are those who will say an ultimatum worked for them. I was once one of them. I foolishly believed had my husband not forced me I may not have married. I thought it was fear holding me back. The rationalization of a twenty-something girl with divorced parents.

I was wrong.

It wasn't fear. How do I know? Had he not said he would leave me if I didn't marry him I'm not sure I would have. He was controlling. I was susceptible to being controlled. My family history played a part. My apprehension weighed in.

I no longer think it was my love for him.

I did love him. I actually believed he was the love of my life. But I know the difference now. He was someone I couldn't let go of. He took an upper hand in our relationship along the way. Not only because he was controlling but because I can't let go of people. If I love you once, as a friend, or as a lover I bring you with me.

The ultimatum isn't an intersection of commitment.

It's an indicator that something is wrong with the relationship. If not, there would be no confrontational meeting of lovers' minds. They would be so sure they couldn't live without one another no line would be drawn.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a National Relationship Columnist, freelance journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, relationships, and self-restoration. She has spent more than a decade in research and counseling on the topics of divorce, relationships, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Reston, VA

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