Do Relationship Ultimatums Ever Work?

Your partner hasn’t been clear about your relationship future and you’re tempted to tell them that they either have to step up or step down for good. But can a relationship ultimatum work? Here’s the lowdown.

  1. Change how you view ultimatums. Although you might think ultimatums are basically a way to tell your partner that if they don’t do something, you’re going to leave, they don’t always have to be so negative.
  2. Ultimatums can be empowering. An ultimatum can be a great way to set some important relationship boundaries. For example, if your partner keeps negging you, speaking up and saying, “I don’t want you to say that to me ever again because I don’t like it” will (hopefully) put a stop to the behavior. At the very least, it’s good to stick up for yourself.
  3. Ultimatums can help you express your needs. If you know that you’re not going to accept a partner who cheats or doesn’t DTR for months, sharing your views is a great way to make your needs and expectations clear. You can tell your partner you’re not OK with those behaviors and won’t put up with them. This tells them where you’re at and can help you both navigate a healthier relationship. Best of all, it prevents you from ignoring what you need to be happy.
  4. Ultimatums don’t have to be about control. If you don’t like your partner talking to their ex, you might think giving them an ultimatum would include saying something like, “If you talk to her, we’re done.” That comes across as controlling. Instead of doing that, you can express to your partner that when he talks to his ex, it makes you feel hurt and insecure. This can open up a conversation in which you share your feelings and thoughts and learn what is okay for each other versus what isn’t.
  5. It’s how you do it that matters. Basically, as can be seen from the above points, when it comes to ultimatums what matters is how you approach them. If you focus on your feelings and wants, and find time to calmly talk about them with your partner, then ultimatums can benefit your relationship. On the other hand, there are things to avoid doing.
  6. You shouldn’t be controlling. If you approach ultimatums as a way to lay down the law with your partner, they can come across as controlling instead of empowering. No one wants to feel like they’re being cornered or told to walk the plank.
  7. They shouldn’t be done in anger. Be wary of avoiding ultimatums when you and your partner are in the middle of a hectic fight and emotions are overflowing. Screaming out “You either quit smoking or we’re done!” can make things even more hostile. You’re not going to get what you want from the ultimatum, which should be a healthier, more respectful relationship.
  8. They shouldn’t be an “either or” situation. Following on from the previous point, you shouldn’t think of ultimatums as being a way of telling your partner that if they don’t do something, you won’t stick around. This basically hinges the entire relationship on their behavior. Can you see how you’re giving away your power to their choices? If they’re doing something you don’t like, rather talk about how it makes you feel and be clear what you will and won’t put up with, but don’t threaten them.
  9. They shouldn’t be about having the last word. In your mind, you might think that telling your partner you want an engagement ring by the end of the year or else you’re leaving him might make you have the last word – and leave him with a big decision to make – but this type of ultimatum can lead to a full-blown fight, passive-aggressiveness, or other negative consequences you might not have thought about. Instead of seeing the ultimatum as having the last word, consider that it’s the opening sentence to a conversation. It’s therefore important to make it meaningful and positive!
  10. They shouldn’t be aggressive. Approaching an ultimatum in a gentle, calm, and honest way instead of aggressive way can make all the difference. Remember, there’s nothing empowering or confident about screaming and throwing threats around. That’s not strength, but insecurity.


Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.