top of page

Does Giving Ultimatums Really Work to Improve ADHD Marriages?

Does Giving Ultimatum really work to improve ADHD marriages?

Want to listen instead? Just click 'Play'!

Navigating a marriage where one partner has ADHD can be challenging and often requires unique strategies to foster understanding and cooperation. One of the contentious strategies sometimes considered is giving ultimatums. Ultimatums, often seen as a last resort, can indeed prompt change but must be approached with great caution. In this post, I share my experience and the results I have observed with ultimatums.

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Ultimatums

An ultimatum is a firm demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which may lead to the end of a relationship or significant changes within it. In many ADHD relationships, ultimatums could be about a singular issue, but often there are multiple issues that culminate over a period of time. as the ultimate consequence if drastic changes aren't made.

When used effectively, ultimatums can catalyze desired changes in the relationship. However, they have significant drawbacks, including short-term compliance, increased tension, and the potential for resentment and resistance. Without a well-devised strategy to overcome these challenges, ultimatums can do more harm than good.

My Experience with Ultimatums

In my experience, ultimatums provided clarity and highlighted the seriousness of issues. They sometimes motivated immediate change and helped establish boundaries. However, I also observed several drawbacks:

1. Ownership and Execution:

The responsibility to comply with the ultimatum often fell on my ADHD spouse, who struggled with executive function skills necessary to figure out the steps and sequence for successful execution.

2. High Expectations:

The bar for successful compliance was often set too high by me. This stemmed from my frustration with repeated boundary violations and not clearly understanding my own boundaries. Therefore, I set the bar way higher than really needed.

3. Resentment and Resistance:

Over time, resentment and resistance built up as my spouse perceived the ultimatums as controlling and unfair. This led to a reluctance to continue performing the necessary tasks to comply.

4. Lack of Follow-Through:

I was often unwilling to follow through on the consequences, hoping that the fear of them would be sufficient to motivate change.

Trading Ultimatums in with Communicating Boundaries

These are the reasons why I no longer use ultimatums. Instead, I have found that communicating my boundaries is far more effective for several reasons.

Foster Mutual Understanding and Respect

Clear communication fosters mutual understanding and respect, allowing my ADHD spouse to see where I'm coming from without feeling attacked or controlled. It also reduces tension and resentment on both sides, as I typically share the importance of the boundaries, followed by what behaviors are crossing those boundaries. Together, we discuss agreed-upon prompts we both could use to communicate when boundaries are crossed or about to be crossed.

More Effective Because Less Information to Process

By focusing on boundaries rather than ultimatums, I have found that I get more of what I need and want from my ADHD spouse. Furthermore, when communicating my boundaries, I often just share one boundary, not a long list of problems. This singular focus prevents information overload for my ADHD spouse, allowing us to concentrate on solving one challenge at a time.

Together, we've been able to build a stronger, more empathetic partnership that encourages personal growth and cooperation, ultimately leading to a more harmonious and supportive marriage.

Read my framework for communicating boundaries here.

Recommendations Before Using Ultimatums

However, I totally understand there are times you must use ultimatums. The last ultimatum I use did definite work. It worked because I committed myself to these 5 steps before, during and after I deliver the ultimatums to ensure it doesn't become empty threats:

  1. Consider Alternatives: Explore other strategies such as open communication and counseling. Professional guidance from a therapist familiar with ADHD can provide unbiased perspectives and help find solutions you might not have considered. One of the things I have come to realized in retrospect is that I could have mitigated many of our ups and downs if I would have gotten help and support for myself much earlier.

  2. Examine Boundaries: Understand what boundaries have been crossed and their importance to you. This can surface alternative solutions that both partners can accept. For example, from time to time, my spouse would wake me up in the middle of the night, wanting my attention because he couldn't sleep or had a bad nightmare. While I don't mind it happening once in a while, I do mind when it happens over consecutive weeknights, leaving me tired the next workday and in a bad mood. So my boundary of having a good night's sleep is important, but I allow exceptions.

  3. Be Specific and Realistic: Ensure that any ultimatum is specific, realistic, and focused on behavior change rather than personal criticism. Following my above example of being disturbed during sleep, I could be specific about what is acceptable—weekends and only one week night —and what is unacceptable, which is two or more weeknights. Without understanding my boundary, I might have communicated that my spouse can't disturb my sleep any night at all, which is very extreme and highly unattainable.

  4. Maintain Empathy and Support: Approach ultimatums with empathy and support. Understand the daily challenges faced by your ADHD spouse. As a reader who has ADHD wrote to me recently, he felt that it is hard for his non-ADHD spouse to walk a mile in his shoes. I agree. It really took me over 10 years after my husband's ADHD diagnosis, reading countless articles and books, before I began to connect the dots the challenges he faces daily. And yet, I am still learning and understanding more each day. While you might be frustrated and angry, try your best to show empathy and support. I often equate having difficult conversations with my spouse to playing tennis with a player at a lower level. In the US, we use the NTRP rating system. If you are a NTRP 4.0 player, playing against a NTRP 2.5 player, you can't expect the person to serve, return the ball, and volley at your level. Find an example that works for you to help you understand the challenge your ADHD spouse faces. It will help you find that empathy you need before engaging in the conversation.

  5. Follow Through: Ultimatums should be a last resort. If you plan to use one, be prepared to follow through on the consequences if the ultimatum is not met.


Ultimatums in ADHD marriages can prompt necessary change and set crucial boundaries, but they also carry significant risks. Effective use of ultimatums requires clear communication, realistic expectations, and mutual support. Always consider alternatives and proceed with caution, seeking professional advice to navigate these complex dynamics successfully. By understanding your own boundaries and effectively communicating them, you can foster a healthier and more cooperative relationship with your ADHD spouse.

44 views0 comments


Avaliado com 0 de 5 estrelas.
Ainda sem avaliações

Adicione uma avaliação
bottom of page