Every so often we have a topic on this blog where my initial response is, “Oh, boy, I hope I will have something personal to talk about when we get to Friday’s blog. I really don’t have a problem with this one!” And it seems like every time, I have some horrible failure during the week that reminds me that I do indeed have something personal to say about this topic. This week was one of those weeks.
Truth is, I came very close to issuing an ultimatum this week. It was the worst possible type of ultimatum, too, the type where you don’t tell the other person about the ultimatum, but they are still screwed if they don’t meet the conditions. You know the type: “If my husband doesn’t say thank you for dinner tonight, I am just going to stop making dinner for him entirely,” etc.
The person who almost fell victim of my ultimatum was my brother. Over the years, I have put up with a lot of bad behavior from my brother, especially on the big events of my life. At my graduation from college, he came wearing a t-shirt that said something along the lines of, “Just because I’m here doesn’t mean I care.” At my wedding he didn’t show up for family pictures, and when he finally showed up right before the wedding, he was in jeans and a ratty t-shirt, and didn’t even stay for the reception. Not only that, but for the past several years he would often ignore me completely when I came to visit my mom, who he lived with.
Anyway, based on his previous behavior, I wasn’t expected a whole lot when I let him know that I was pregnant, and I was not disappointed. His first reaction was, “Why?” He eventually said, “Well, congrats and good luck, I guess,” and I was mostly able to laugh off his reaction because my expectations had been so low. A few days later, though, he did one more thing, and I almost broke off relations with him entirely.
What happened was this: I posted a pregnancy announcement on Facebook that included an ultrasound of the baby, and I tagged everyone who I thought would want to see the picture, especially family members, including my brother. Instead of throwing in his congrats, or even just liking the picture, my brother wrote me a message asking me not to tag him and wrote a message on his page complaining about people tagging him in posts and saying people should just “leave him out of it.” In another relationship it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was just one more example of him failing to care about my life.
I was livid, and decided that unless he made an effort to contribute to our relationship, I was done. Fortunately, he did a little something later that was just enough to pull me down off the ledge, and that’s when I realized that I had almost given in to an ultimatum.
What I Learned
Generally speaking, I’m not someone who uses ultimatums a lot. My tendency is to put up with bad behavior rather than addressing it because I have a strong dislike for conflict and would rather just cover my eyes and hope the problem disappears. Ironically, when you avoid conflict, frequent ultimatums are unlikely, but over time holding things in tends to lead to the type of emotional explosions that lend themselves to ultimatums.
Sometimes what leads to ultimatums is a lack of good boundaries. See, I wasn’t completely wrong in my reaction. The truth is, his behavior was rude and self-centered. Unfortunately, he is the sort of person who blames everyone else for his problems, so talking with him about it directly is unlikely to help anything. This whole situation made me realize that I do need to step back emotionally from the relationship and not blame myself for his bad behavior. By setting up boundaries, I have hope that my relationship with my brother can be better, or at least not allow it to bring me down.
So if you are feeling a need to issue an ultimatum, it might be work checking to see whether you have been failing to set up healthy boundaries. Fixing those boundary issues may just be the trick to getting you back on the right track in your relationship without needing to result to an ultimatum.