Forced to Settle?

Couple in conflict © Lorenz Timm |

Some of the comments on my Monday Stop settling! post said some have no choice because their spouse gives them no choice. Others suggested there are times when settling is the best of the bad alternatives. While I see these as sometimes valid, I am absolutely convinced strongly suspect a lot of settling takes place before reaching a point of inevitability.

If you feel you are being forced to the point of choosing settling or leaving, here are things I’d suggest trying first:

  • Check yourself: Is it possible you ignored her attempts to change things in the past, and what you are dealing with now is in part the result of her settling? If you contributed to the current situation, admitting your part is the best and possibly only way to see a change.
  • Decide what you want: Simply knowing you don’t like the status quo is not enough. Write out what you don’t like, and how you want things to change. Mull it over awhile, modifying until you have it all down. Next, prioritise the list, what you must have, what’s important, what would be nice, and what’s not a big deal. With this done, look at the things in the top two priority categories and see what you might do to start change. Then and only then, move on to …
  • Tell her what you need: Let her know what’s really a problem for you, and how, exactly, you want things to change. (Having this on paper for her would be a very good idea.) Then ask her for her list of thing she feels must change (giving her time to do what you did above) as well as her feedback on your list (again, giving her time to think). Ask her what you are doing that makes it hard for her to make the changes you want. Also ask what you can do to make it easier for her to change. Then work your butt off to make any reasonable changes she wants and do things she says will make it easier for her to change. Give it a few months. Then if you see no real lasting change, move on to the next step.
  • Decide the make or break issues: This is a subset of the previous list – the things you just can’t continue to live with (or without). Along with this is what will happen if the things on the list do not change. This is not about threats; it’s about giving her a last chance to choose between two possible futures. If things are really bad, like she is having her boyfriend stay over, then separation is a valid option. More often, what you are doing is spelling out what life will be like when you settle because she has left you no alternative. This is the “I’m done, I don’t have the energy to keep fighting for our marriage” point. This is letting her know you are going to throw in the towel, and letting her know what your marriage will become. Be very clear here what things will be like, and explain changes she makes after you throw in the towel may not have any affect. Give her a deadline, and then drop it.

What I am doing here is making settling a process you think about, and force her to think about. You may not be able to get her to change, but you can make it clear she is making a choice. At best, you will cause her to see why change is in her best interest, at worse you will have a defence when she complains about the results of you settling. 

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12 Comments on “Forced to Settle?

  1. Wow! I’ve been reading your blog for a long time. This is the first time I’ve seen you make such a strong argument for an ultimatum to change (or else). I agree that we sometimes get stuck in a quagmire where no one wants to move one way or another. There has to come a time when one person says “enough,” and makes an attempt to change things.

  2. TB – I have mentioned ultimatums a few times – and usually get chastised for it. I agree with you there has to be a line. What is on the other side of that line need not be divorce, and sometimes should not be divorce, but there needs to be a clear line and clear consequences.

    • Agreed. I believe, at least for myself, it doesn’t happen because I cave in to fear. I’m a peace maker by nature, so I don’t want to upset anyone, especially my bride.

  3. I have found it interesting to read, in David Schnarch and in various blogs on the web, that it is only when a Christian husband is willing to give up his marriage and his wife is clear that he mans this, that he will get the respect he needs and his wife needs to feel for him to make the marriage a thriving marriage. Basically, only when it is clear that you will not do absolutely anything to keep your marriage do you have a chance improving it.

  4. I’m not sure I’d say it’s an ultimatum or a boundary. I.E, I will not remain in a marriage where you are seeing another man. You are not saying she has to give up the OM, you are saying you will not be party to such a marriage.

    I.E. I will not remain in a sexless marriage. I will interpret the unwillingness to negotiate in good faith for a mutually satisfying sex life to be a betrayal of the vows I heard you speak at the wedding.

    You are not saying what she should or shouldn’t do, you are saying what you will or will not stand for.

    Seems subtle, but it is a very big difference.

  5. Too often, in my opinion, a couple will make the unconscious decision to settle. There may be some behaviors of a spouse that aren’t open to change or there is pushback. To keep the peace, the other spouse will, “go along to get along,” and makes a mental note to bring it up later. Well, life happens and it’s not brought up again. This happens over and over, then one day you realize you don’t know how you got here.

    I also think two individuals who are married are on different “cycles”, if you will. One is into a healthy lifestyle and the other still wants the freezer stocked with Ben and Jerry’s. Most of the time we’re not that opposite, but as Dr. Cory Allen puts it (I’m paraphrasing here), “on every issue, one spouse is high desire and the other is low desire.”

    I think the key to not settling is regularly taking an inventory of the relationship and coming to your bride and asking her to do the same. Hopefully you don’t come to the point of an ultimatum; maybe your garden just needs to be pruned a bit here and there.

      • And that’s a sure-fire recipe for resentment. Instead of put up with…, why not negotiate only for solutions that can be embraced enthusiastically by both?

        That means NOT settling, but insisting on a solution you both love.

        Of course, it takes someone who is committed to finding something she can enthusiastically embrace. Like most marriage tasks, this is one that cannot be accomplished solo.

        • Tony – Negotiating is certainly a better choice. Yes, it’s easier with both are willing to work on the marriage, but some action can be taken solo. You can give clear choices – “If you do A, I will do B. If you do not do A I will do C.”

  6. This is really good and thought-provoking. I think men (probably women too) tend to get trapped in their presumptions and don’t allow their wives to change. Or sometimes by looking for or expecting certain responses, they see it when it isn’t there.

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