Ultimatums in Relationships and How to Use Them Right

It’s quite typical in a relationship to have some disagreements, misunderstandings, or points of conflict. Most of the time, the couples just try to understand the situation and avoid fights as much as possible. Simple things like not taking out the trash, always having friends over, or forgetting anniversaries are not argued about anymore.

But there are situations and certain actions of your partner that you just can’t tolerate.Circumstances like drug abuse, adultery, and commitment phobia. So how do you deal with serious issues like these in your relationship? It’s common knowledge that ultimatums in relationships are never good for any relationship. But sometimes you’re pushed to the wall and there’s no other option left.

How to give an ultimatum in a relationship

Make sure though that you’re prepared for the consequences and that you’ll follow through with your threat. If you’ve to deliver your ultimatum, here’s how:

1.Mull over your decision and purpose

Don’t let your negative emotions rule you. Don’t issue an ultimatum just because you’re angry, frustrated, sad, or insecure with your relationship. Seek out other options first – talk to your partner, air your concerns calmly, and communicate with him without making any demands. Or seek counseling first to sort out your issues. If all else fails, that’s the time to issue your ultimatum. However, giving an ultimatum is at the point of no return. So better be prepared with the outcome; this may be the beginning of the end of your relationship.

2.Prepare to take a risk

Delivering an ultimatum is a gamble – you’re not really sure if the person will listen to you or follow your demands. You should be prepared for the outcome as it can go either way. The person will either reject your ultimatum or give in to what you want.If there’s no other alternative and you’re really determined to issue your ultimatum, you should be prepared to take a risk and face the consequences.

3.Talk when you’re both ready

You shouldn’t give your ultimatum in the heat of an argument. You’ll only make matters worse and most probably, you won’t achieve what you want. Perfect timing is everything. Wait until both of you’re thinking clearly, focused, and not distracted by other matters. You’ll be able to express your needs and air your issues if you’re calm and cool. On the other hand, your partner will most likely listen to your side and see your point if he is sober and ready to engage in serious conversation.

4. Be realistic about your demands

When issuing your ultimatum, be sensible and reasonable with your requests or demands. Don’t ask for the impossible or something you well know that your partner can’t rationally achieve.For instance, it’s not possible to quit using drugs cold turkey. In order for your partner to end the substance abuse, he should seek counseling and rehabilitation. So you can’t really tell your partner to stop his drug abuse immediately. You have to give him the ultimatum to go to rehab or else you’ll end your relationship with him.

5. Clearly state the consequences

You should also tell your partner clearly and precisely what the consequences will be in case he won’t give in to your ultimatum so there won’t be any misunderstanding. The ultimatum should be direct and clear-cut like: “If you don’t get counseling for alcohol abuse, I will leave you.”Or “If you don’t stop your womanizing, let us end this relationship.”


Be prepared to do what you said and face the consequences of your ultimatum for both of your sakes. If your partner doesn’t want to give in to your demands, be firm in handing out the consequences. If he doesn’t meet your terms, be prepared to end the relationship or leave him if that’s the consequence that you stated. You’ll be better off leaving than staying in a relationship where you’re always sad and miserable.

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Giving ultimatums in a relationship should be a last-ditch effort. You should exhaust all options first before resorting to it. If there’s no other way, go ahead and deliver your ultimatum, but do it properly with a clear mind and purpose.

Determining the Necessity of Ultimatums in Relationships

For many relationship experts and professionals, setting ultimatums in relationships is unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. However, there are also an overwhelming number of people who swear by the efficiency of setting a deadline for their partner.

This is why making the decision on whether you should make use of this technique or not can be difficult. The good thing is that this task can become easier as long as you ask yourself the right questions. Here are some of the questions that you need to ask yourself when it comes to determining the necessity of ultimatums in relationships.

Who will benefit?

Having a feeling that you’re the underdog or that your partner has the upper hand can make you feel entitled to set ultimatums in relationships. When this happens, you lose sight of who will benefit once you set these deadlines. You start to forget that your partner should also benefit from these demands and that this should be the main driver for setting them in the first place and not to gain control of the relationship.

Always ask yourself if both of you’ll benefit from this move or if you’re the only one who has something to gain.

Will you be satisfied?

If your partner complies with the deadline that you’ve set and follows through with what you want, will you stop right there or will you create a new list of demands? Always remember that creating a list of ultimatums in relationships can put you in a position of power.

It can make you think that your partner should comply with everything that you say and that your partner will do so without any objections or questions. When this happens, you start having an idea of a perfect partner in your head and you’ll use this sense of power to achieve this kind of partner. This should never be a reason to set an ultimatum.

Are you prepared for the consequences?

Because of the fact that you’re basically demanding your partner to change or do something, getting ultimatums in relationships can cause permanent damage. Even if your relationship survives this step and your partner was able to comply with what you want, there’s no guarantee that your relationship will be the same.

There’s also no guarantee that your partner will see you in the same light again. If you think that these consequences weigh a lot more than what you may gain after setting ultimatums, then you may want to think twice.

When it comes to answering these questions, always give yourself ample time to think them through. It’s also a good idea to discuss them first with your partner when you’ve the talk regarding setting ultimatums in relationships. This ensures that you both understand the full picture and that both of you’ll have a say in this bold step. This is why it’s also a good idea to learn other questions that you need to ask yourself before making up your mind.

Factors That Affect Ultimatums in Relationships

ultimatums in relationshipsContrary to what most people believe, setting ultimatums in relationships is just as hard as complying with them. This is because in order to come up with the decision to set up a deadline for your partner, you need to admit to yourself that there’s something fundamentally wrong with your relationship and that everything isn’t going as great as you hoped it would.

This is why it’s best to learn about the factors that can affect the efficiency of this move to ensure that you only need to do this once and to assess if you as well as your partner are both ready for this bold move.

Here are some of the factors that affect the efficiency of setting ultimatums in relationships.


When it comes down to the wire, the efficiency of setting ultimatums in relationships in order to solve issues is greatly affected by the willingness that both you and your partner have. As the person who set the ultimatum, you should be willing to put your foot down and stand by your word no matter what happens or what your partner says.

This is very important, especially if the problem that you’re trying to solve is just as repetitive and serious as a drug habit.

Your partner, on the other hand, should be willing to change in order to save your relationship and to respect your decision. To ensure that both you and your partner are on the same page for this, have a long and open talk on why you’ve come to a point where setting ultimatums has become a must for your case.


As the person who is setting ultimatums, you may acquire a false sense of entitlement, which makes you think that your partner has to comply with your deadlines no matter how selfish or unfair they may be. It’s best to avoid this problem by ensuring that your goal is to save the relationship and not to be right.

Having an inflated ego may also lead your partner to think that he or she doesn’t need to follow the guidelines because he or she can always find someone who won’t set deadlines. One good way to avoid this problem is to lay down the rule that both you and your partner should check your ego out at the door before you’ve the talk.


Most of the time, you need to wait for a long time before good things can start to happen. This is why when setting ultimatums in relationships, assess your partner’s capacity to fulfill the deadline. Make sure that it’s realistic and fair. However, always remind your partner that you’re not willing to wait forever. This sets a more doable expectation for you and your partner.

By keeping these factors in mind, you’ll be able to get something good out of using ultimatums as a way to solve the apparent and underlying issues that you and your partner have.

The Bad Side of Setting Ultimatums in Relationships

Despite the fact that setting ultimatums in relationships is one of the best ways to solve relationship issues, especially for couples who’ve been together for more than a year, this doesn’t mean that this technique doesn’t have a bad side. There are times wherein setting deadlines can do more harm than good even if the couples who are involved have the best intentions in mind. Here are some of the bad sides that you need to remember.

Emotional Unpreparedness

According to Jill Weber, who is the author of the acclaimed and popular book titled Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, one of the most prominent negative points of setting ultimatums in relationships is that couples that are in a relationship may face emotional unpreparedness. This happens when you push your partner into complying with a deadline that he or she isn’t emotionally prepared for.

The most common example of this scenario is marriage. People often set deadlines on when their partner should propose or when they should get married in order to secure a future. What they don’t realize is that pushing someone to do something that they are emotionally unprepared for can actually cause them to harbor resentment towards their partner.


There are times wherein your partner is already willing to build a future with you or to make a decision. However, he or she is just waiting for the perfect time and setting. When this happens, setting ultimatums in relationships will produce more negative results instead of positive results.

This is because in these situations, your partner is already invested in making the big leap or decision. He or she just needs to execute it in his or her own time or when he or she thinks that the timing is more appropriate. By pushing people to go through with these plans at an earlier time by setting a deadline, your partner may think that your lack of patience is something that merits a breakup.

Permanent Damage

There are times wherein setting ultimatums in relationships can open a can of worms that you may never be able to close. This usually happens when your relationship has a lot of underlying problems that you may or may not have addressed before. Setting ultimatums gives you and your partner the urge or the need to air everything out before everything is set in stone or paper.

If you plan on creating a deadline for marriage, your partner may start feeling like they need to talk to you about your past infidelity issues or your lack of financial stability. There are times wherein the topics or problems that come out of setting deadlines are irreparable and unsolvable. When this happens, you and your partner may not be able to bounce back.

Considering that these are just some of the reasons why setting ultimatums in relationships may not be the best thing, you need to be careful when it comes to setting deadlines as a way to solve you and your partner’s issues.

Tips in Setting Ultimatums in Relationships

There are times wherein setting ultimatums in relationships is the best thing that you can do in order to save your relationship. When this happens, it’s important to follow a series of steps, which can increase your chances of success since making use of deadlines to salvage a relationship is a very delicate process, and one wrong move can ruin your relationship forever. Here are some of the tips that you need to remember.

Tackle how you got to this point

Most often than not, couples prefer to use ultimatums in relationships as a last resort to their problem since it has a high chance of backfiring. This is the reason why you and your partner need to be fully aware of how you got to this point to lessen the chance of this step doing more harm than good.

This is also a great way to possibly avoid this move in the first place. Just make sure that when you tackle these issues, both of you’re open to a mature and open conversation to ensure that no stones are left unturned and that all underlying issues are tackled.

Pick the right place

In movies and television, couples are often seen making or setting ultimatums in relationships in a public setting in order to set the climax or the conflict. However, this isn’t really advisable in real life since the pressure of being in a public place can stop you and your partner from airing everything out in a healthy manner.

Being with a group of people may also inflate your ego and increase your need to be right, which increases the likelihood of setting the wrong kinds deadlines with the wrong time frames.

Make sure both parties agree

Always get a clear answer from your partner if he or she is indeed willing to apply ultimatums in your relationships. This ensures that you’re not the only one who is honoring these deadlines and that he or she has a say on the other deadlines that should be set for you.

Don’t take unclear non-verbal cues as a guaranteed sign of affirmation as well, especially if you’re well-aware of the fact that your partner has something against setting ultimatums. Always consider your partner’s feelings to ensure that he or she also has a say in this big step that both of you’re about to take. ultimatums in relationships

Use positive phrasing

Positive phrasing or scripting has long been used to diffuse toxic conversations or to deliver undesirable news with the least impact. This is why using positive phrasing when delivering something that is less than desirable or something that may cause an argument to break out between you and your partner is a good tip to follow.

This is also a good way to remove the negative connotations of ultimatums and deadlines, which may be the only thing that your partner is seeing at this point in time.

5 reasons why ultimatums don’t work in a relationship

When something doesn’t work out in your relationship, you may think that an ultimatum may be the way to get what you want. You may believe that when you issue an ultimatum to your partner, he will respond accordingly or that your relationship will become stronger.You may say something like:“If we don’t get married within the year, it’s over between us…”or “Stop drinking, or else I’ll leave you…”

But beware! Demanding something from your partner with implied severe consequences might just destroy your relationship. Before you do something drastic, consider the following reasons why ultimatums don’t work in a relationship:

1. Ultimatums are implied threats

You should never threaten someone you love. When you deliver an ultimatum, it’s like intimidating an enemy and you wouldn’t want to do that to someone that you care about. Your relationship should be based on trust, understanding, patience, and love. Not on fear and insecurity.

2. Ultimatums may result to anger and bitterness

Suppose your partner gave in to your ultimatum and did what you wanted him to do, even though he was just forced into it to avoid any fights. But eventually he may realize that he was pressured into doing something that he doesn’t really want. Afterwards, he may feel anger and bitterness in his relationship with you. That’s not a good indication, and your relationship may be headed into disaster.

3. Ultimatums create a power struggle within the relationship

It’s ideal in a relationship to have a balance of power – both partners treat each other as an equal. There should be mutual respect and trust for any relationship to succeed. But if one issues an ultimatum towards another, it means that there’s an attempt to control the person and the relationship. This situation is similar to a master dominating a subordinate. Struggling for control in your relationship may just destroy it in the end.

4. Ultimatums breed self-doubt

If your partner caved in to your demands, sooner or later he may feel resentful towards you. You may sense that he regrets giving in to your ultimatum, or worse, that he regrets having a relationship with you. Consequently, your insecurities may surface. Your self-doubt may get the better of you. You begin to question your decisions and value as a person. And as you may know, having insecurities isn’t good for any relationship. So that ultimatum is an ingredient for disaster.

5. Ultimatums bring about unhappiness and negative vibes

Imagine if you were the one being threatened, pressured, and stripped of power in a relationship. Would you be really happy about your situation? Would you still stay in that relationship? No one wants to become trapped and forced in a relationship. Every decision and action taken should be made in your own free will. Otherwise, negativity sets in the relationship. What’s the point in staying in a relationship if you’re not happy anymore?

What can you do to avoid giving ultimatums?

Learn how to compromise.You and your partner should meet halfway. You may not get everything that you want, but at least, you tried to resolve your differences without sacrificing the dignity of your partner and the strength of your relationship. For instance, if you can’t stand your partner’s smoking, don’t threaten to leave him if he doesn’t stop his habit. Instead, negotiate with him so he will smoke cigarettes far away from you or only when you’re not around the house. But if you really can’t tolerate his smoking, give him the ultimatum with the understanding that there’s no turning back. You have to follow through with your threat.

Top 5 ways to avoid giving ultimatums in a relationship

There are times in a relationship when you feel like you’ve to deliver an ultimatum to your partner. Maybe you’re sick and tired of his rude behavior, or he drinks and smokes a lot, or you’ve been together for ages but still he has not proposed marriage to you. There are a lot of reasons that you may feel entitled to issuing an ultimatum. But before you do that, please consider that an ultimatum implies finality or closure. Unless you’re prepared to walk away, it’s never a good idea to give an ultimatum to your partner if you still value your relationship and you want to stay together. So before doing something radical, consider these tips on how you can avoid giving an ultimatum to your partner:

Assess the situation

You need to settle down first and clear your head. Don’t be too rash in your actions. Calm yourself and take deep breaths. Then, evaluate your options – are there any other alternatives that you can implement in order to avoid giving an ultimatum? Also, reflect on your motivations for giving the ultimatum. Is it really necessary, or are you trying to prove something and just power tripping? It’s important to have a reality check first so you can prevent a potential disaster in your relationship.

Sleep on it

Sometimes, all you need is adequate rest in order to relax and have a better grasp of the situation. Instead of rushing it, delay issuing your ultimatum. Try to get a good night’s sleep, and in the morning when you’ve sufficiently rested, re-assess the situation. You might surprise yourself when you realize that an ultimatum isn’t necessary as there are many options that you can try instead.

Plan your actions

Supposing you’ve realized that there are many alternatives to issuing an ultimatum, you should then make a plan on how you can implement your options so as to achieve your desired outcome. For instance, if you want your partner to lose weight because he’s becoming obese, don’t threaten to leave him. Instead, plan your activities such that he will be encouraged to exercise regularly and eat healthily. You may plan to jog around the neighborhood or enroll in a gym class, and buy only nutritious foods. By planning accordingly, it’ll be easier for you to facilitate the change that you want to happen.

Exhaust yourself physically

Engaging in physical activities will clear your head and release the stress that has built up inside of you. When you’re free from stress and distractions, you’ll be able to think rationally and decide competently. Is issuing an ultimatum really necessary? Do you still value your relationship or do you want out? These questions will have clearer answers once you’ve exhausted yourself physically. So have an intense workout, run for an hour, box at the gym…anything that will tire you out.

Communicate with your partner

Having a serious but calm conversation with your partner will work wonders in your relationship. If there’s something bothering you in your relationship, it’s best to talk to him about it without making any demands. Just express how you feel about the issue. If you both love and care for each other, he will understand your concerns from your point of view.

You don’t have to force him to do anything that he doesn’t want. It’s up to him to change his behavior if he really wants to continue with your relationship. It’s enough that you made him aware of your concerns and feelings. In the end, if he doesn’t make the effort to change anything, then maybe it’s time for you to walk away and move on.

Hopefully, these tips will stop you from giving an ultimatum to your partner. An ultimatum should be your last option, and should never be issued if you want to have a healthy and lasting relationship.

Ultimatums in Relationships: Reality and Hollywood

One of the most popular options for couples that are in distress due to an open or unsolvable issue is to set ultimatums. It’s their belief that through these ultimatums, their problems can be solved and the future of their relationship becomes more secured.

However, the truth of the matter is that setting ultimatums doesn’t always work as well as it does in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Oftentimes, it leads to horrible breakups with no closure or definite end. This is why it’s important to learn more about setting ultimatums in relationships before applying the same technique to your current situation.

Here are some of the things that you need to learn.

It isn’t a magic bullet

When it comes to setting ultimatums in relationships, one piece of important information worth remembering is that it isn’t a guarantee that it’ll solve all of your issues. If you’ve a very complicated relationship, you may need to employ other strategies in order to save what you and your partner have.

Also, there’s no guarantee that a single ultimatum will solve all of your problems. There are times wherein setting more than one deadline for different reasons, such as commitment and financial stability, is necessary in order to clear the air between you and your partner.

It requires a lot of hard work

In movies, couples only need to set a single deadline or go through a single ordeal, which leads to an ultimatum in order to solve their current conundrum. In reality, couples may need to lay the groundwork for more than one ultimatum, especially if they have a lot of issues that need to be solved.

After laying the groundwork, setting these ultimatums in motion and sticking to them is also necessary in order to save the relationship. All of these steps require a lot of time and energy from both you and your partner. This is why if you and your partner are pressed for time, setting ultimatums may not be the best thing for you.

It doesn’t always work out

Because of the fact that most TV and movie couples often resolve their issue by undergoing an impactful event or a breakthrough in the form of ultimatums, many couples believe that setting a demand of some sort in relationships is a magic bullet to solve their relationship woes.

What you need to realize is that it isn’t guaranteed to work as often as it does in the movies. This is because there are certain factors that greatly affect the outcome of setting ultimatums in relationships, such as the emotional backbone or basis of your relationship and the openness of you and your partner to changes and compromise.

As you can see, setting ultimatums in relationships may not achieve the same results as the couples who make use of them in movies and television. This is why it’s worth remembering that setting deadlines in your relationship should not be taken lightly.

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Ava Moore
BA, MA Psychology (and Conflict Resolution), University of Cambridge (2007). With a decade of trial and error in psychology and 33 years of navigating my own complex (that's one word for it!) relationships with family, friends, co-workers and men, I hope I have some useful knowledge and skills to share with my readers about making sense of relationships and trying to become a better person every day.

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