“It’s me or the dog! ”

21 Feb 2011

If you’ve been with an abusive partner for any length of time, you will have been subjected to a lot of ultimatums.  Abusive men LOVE them – and they know just how much you hate them.

So, let’s look, for a moment, at the language of ultimatums; why abusive men use them so much, and what that really means for you.

One of the defining moments in my abusive relationship – although I didn’t know it at the time – was when my wasband shrieked at me:

“It’s me, or the dog…”

He had a curious sense of occasion and often delivered his ultimatums in shirt tails and socks, and he did so then.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  But his voice and body language would be so intimidating that I didn’t dare laugh.

His tone of voice made it pretty clear: he needed that decision urgently from me.

What kind of dog do you think I had at the time?

A Rottweiler with a very bad attitude?

A St Bernard with a long standing dhiarroea problem?

A Pit Bull terrier with a man phobia?


I didn’t even have a little rat catcher of a dog that could be snappy by day and yappy by night.

I had a Shih Tzu, 12 lbs of loving, sweet-natured fur.

At the time of the ultimatum, my Shih Tzu was bouncing around my feet trying, in her best little lap dog way, to kill my dressing gown belt.

And she was making me laugh with spontaneous delight.  That was important.

Because I was happy in the moment, I didn’t think before I answered.  Instead I just opened my mouth and, “The dog, obviously” tripped off my tongue, said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

The wasband duly stormed out of the room, but he didn’t leave.  Instead, he issued many, many more ultimatums before my flashes of clarity became longer lasting.

The language of ultimatums

Abusive men speak the language of ultimatums.  They can find an ultimatum for every occasion, such as:

  • “You’ve got to choose between them and me…”
  • “If you don’t have sex with me – whether you want to, or not – then I’ll find someone else who will…”
  • “You have to choose between me and the children – I’m not going to come second to a child…”

and, of course, the laughable:

“You’ve got to choose between me and the family pet…”

Why do abusive men use ultimatums?

  • To wrongfoot you, certainly.
  • To frighten you.
  • To oppress you.
  • And to make you very unhappy.

It’s a playground manoeuvre.  It’s a reworking of the old, old line: “If you don’t do what I tell you to do, you can’t be my friend.”

All those years later, abusive men still push that same old button… and abused women still fall for it.

Let’s look for a moment at the misery piece of the ultimatum.

I’ve known for a very long time that abusive men like you to be miserable.  You’ve known it, too, whether or not you’ve been in denial about it.

(In case you’re wondering: “Why does he hurt me like that?”,  and similar questions are, actually, denial of the fact.)

Your misery is his power over you.  That’s something else we all know, at an intuitive level.

But there is more.

“Feeling good is highly practical”

There is another piece of the puzzle that I’ve just, consciously, put in place, after reading Richard Carlson’s wonderful book: “You Can Be Happy No Matter What”.

Abusive men like to keep us in our lowest moods because, as Carlson observes: “It is in our lowest moods, when we are least equipped to do so, that we are tempted to try to solve problems or resolve difficulties with others.”

When the wasband issued that “It’s the dog or me” ultimatum, he miscalculated.  Because I was feeling good, instead of obsessing about: “How can I hold on to my dog and my husband?”…  I simply made the obvious, emotionally intelligent choice.

Carlson also says: “One of the keys, then, to solving problems, is to know that ‘feeling good’ is highly practical.  Feeling good comes first.  Solving the problem comes later.”

In terms of how you break free of an abusive relationship, feeling good certainly makes the whole process much, much easier.

Of course, it will be terrifying to break away if you feel worthless, empty, and burnt out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I work with women to give them the insights, information, and clarity they need to move on.

I also work with women to foster their sense of self-worth, and happiness, from Day 1.  That makes a massive difference.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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