When it comes to bizarre dating shows, no one does it quite like Netflix. When we thought Too Hot to Handle was, well, too much to handle, Netflix gave us Love Is Blind. And then, just as we were getting used to couples literally agreeing to lifelong commitment without ever seeing each other, Netflix dropped what might be the most mind-boggling series thus far: The Ultimatum.
The show, which hit Netflix on April 6, follows six (v hot) couples who are 100 percent not on the same page re: marriage. For each duo, one person is ready to commit, while the other isn’t—hence ~the ultimatum~. And throughout 10 dramatic episodes and 8 kinda twisted weeks, each person couples up with someone else from one of the other relationships to test out whether they actually want to be with the person they came with or not.
It’s the definition of chaotic and maybe even toxic? And we weren’t entirely sure whether this was a healthy way for couples to get on the same page regarding lifelong commitments (we’re thinking not?!), which is why we reached out to two relationship experts to answer all our burning questions regarding The Ultimatum, aka The Dating Show From Your Nightmares. Below, marriage and family therapist Beverley Andre, LMFT, and relationship therapist Ashley Starwood, LCSW, discuss every haywire thing from the show your group text still can’t come to terms with.
Note: These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ultimatums seem pretty extreme, and in this case, it was either get married or break up. Why would these couples agree to something like this?
Beverley Andre: I think these couples really wanted to know for a fact what was going on. It was a test of commitment, like, “Do you really want to be with me? Do you love me? If you had the option to have a free pass to be with somebody else, would you pick them over me?” I feel like some of the partners in these relationships were actually looking to solidify that the commitment was real.
Ashley Starwood: The couples who forced the ultimatum appear to just want to be married, while their partners have legitimate reservations that seemed to be ignored. I think some couples were looking for a way to end their relationships in a more extravagant way. Breaking up can be hard, so what better way to do it than receive permission from your partner to date other people under their supervision? For example, Jake tensed up whenever April brought up marriage, making it clear she was not the woman he wanted to be with for the rest of his life. I think he struggled to end the relationship and used the show as an opportunity to date other women without having to say goodbye to April.
Despite all the drama that went down, Madlyn and Colby did end up getting married on the show. In fact, Madlyn agreed to the proposal and then an immediate marriage. What do you think happened there?
AS: The whole situation was extremely manipulative. Madlyn clearly had hesitations prior to the show starting, then Colby proposed and essentially forced a marriage on the spot. It’s a sign that he will probably continue to ignore her needs/wants for his own desires. The emotional weight of saying yes in front of cameras and a ton of people could lead anyone to make a rash decision. Colby essentially pressured Madlyn into marriage and did not take the time to genuinely listen to his partner, which is a huge red flag.
BA: It seemed very chaotic. There didn’t seem to be enough time, in my opinion, for Madlyn to logically think: Okay, what are the positive and negative consequences of saying yes right now? It seemed very planned on Colby’s end to take advantage of the moment, and it didn’t give Madlyn an opportunity to really think things through. I think Madlyn could have definitely gotten lost in the moment.
Honestly, none of the couples seemed super solid, but was this just a matter of clever editing, or was everyone as mismatched as they seemed?
AS: The relationships were flawed from the beginning. A huge red flag that I noticed was that no one listened to their partners. For instance, Nate completely ignored the fact that Lauren doesn’t want children. Even though he acknowledged her concerns, he still convinced Lauren to remain in the relationship. This is a major indicator of a relationship that might not work long-term.
BA: I think it’s both. No one is perfect and everybody has their flaws, but it’s all about what flaws you’re willing to be in a relationship with. It is important, especially for viewers when watching this, to know all the footage was intentionally designed for you to see. You’re viewing a speck of their relationship, not the fullness.
What do you think it’s going to be like for these couples to watch this season back?
AS: Having the world judge your relationship is not an easy experience, and the relationships were already struggling to begin with. It’s probably very awkward to sit and watch your partner flirt and court another person. Couples became intimate and shared space with partners other than the ones they started the show with. It can be really hard to see the person you wanted to marry be physically or emotionally intimate with someone else.
BA: On the plus side, I think when the couples watch this show, they’ll be able to see what their partner sees. Sometimes you need that external perspective to kind of highlight things back to you. But the intense exposure and critique they’ll get from the show will be a lot. If they’re not on the same page about how they want to navigate this as a unit, there’s a strong possibility of crumbling.
So…does that mean you think more breakups are bound to happen within this group of people?
AS: Most of the couples were doomed from the start. Setting an ultimatum for your partner is a sure way to create resentment. I wouldn’t be surprised if 90 percent of the couples break up permanently. Since the couples were already open to dating, I’m sure there will be people in their DMs promising everything they said they wanted on the show—that type of temptation is hard to ignore.
BA: I think there might be some breakups on the horizon because when you’re on the show, things are even more heightened. And I think once they’re back in real life and having conversations about what they did and didn’t see onscreen, there’s a whole different level of accountability.
One of the other “success stories” from the show was Alexis and Hunter. What did you make of their journey to engagement?
AS: Watching Alexis be rejected by Colby and then immediately tell Madlyn about his behavior is a testament to negative behavior. Alexis shows signs of spoiled and manipulative behavior on the show, which could have explained Hunter’s hesitation to marry her.
BA: Everybody has their opinion about Alexis, but I feel like when she stood at the table in episode 2 and said she didn’t want to see anybody else with Hunter, it was a true statement of her commitment. I don’t know if she was ever that clear with Hunter about her feelings, and he was clearly moved by it. I think he really had to sit with himself like, What am I doing? Like, this woman really loves me. I don’t know what the end result will be for them long-term, but I think that moment of emotional transparency really affected Hunter as opposed to the ultimatum.
Since season 2 of The Ultimatum has already been greenlit, are there any redeeming qualities of the show, or should we just give up on humanity now?
AS: If your partner is saying “marry me or it’s over,” you have to question how much the partner wants you versus how much they want to be married. There is a difference between someone who wants to be married to you and someone who views you as a placeholder for a goal they have in their life. Using appropriate communication tools and methods would be more ideal than an ultimatum, so the show gives some perspective.
BA: This show is inciting a lot of conversation among couples about what would happen if either issued an ultimatum. This is a good thing because now it’s coming from a point of curiosity. Conversations like: “Do you feel like an ultimatum would render you powerless in the relationship?” “Would it feel like you were being controlled?” Being able to have viewers watch this and see how it affects relationships is definitely interesting.
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