Why Ultimatums Rarely Work In Relationships (+6 Times They Might)

Making it clear what you will and won’t tolerate is called setting clear boundaries.

An ultimatum, on the other hand, means that you’re ready to walk away from the relationship if your partner doesn’t do what you say.

But are you truly ready to do that?

This is just one of the questions that you should ask yourself before giving an ultimatum.

Giving an ultimatum can have many negative consequences for your relationship. It’s always better to communicate your needs honestly.

There are, however, some situations where an ultimatum might be the only choice you have.

Let’s explore all the reasons why it might be a bad idea to give your partner an ultimatum. Then we’ll discuss those times when it might be a good choice.

10 Reasons Why Ultimatums Don’t Work Most Of The Time

It’s good to set healthy boundaries in a relationship and refuse to settle for poor treatment. However, threatening to leave if you don’t get what you want puts your partner in an impossible position. Most often, it doesn’t work out well, and here’s why:

1. Your relationship is already in trouble.

When you give an ultimatum in a relationship, it means that you’ve run out of patience and your needs aren’t being met.

But if your relationship is in trouble, an ultimatum is unlikely to fix things. Ultimatums are usually made in the heat of the moment when your patience is running thin. This is not a great time to resolve issues.

It’s a much better idea to talk about the problem once you’ve calmed down. You could still let your partner know what you’d like to be different in your relationship. But, it doesn’t have to be an ultimatum.

With an ultimatum, you’re telling them that you’re ready to leave the relationship if things don’t change soon. You could instead request that your partner works on the things that bother you for the sake of your relationship, without threatening to leave it.

It’s important to remember that people don’t change overnight. And ultimatums often require them to. If your relationship is already in trouble, you shouldn’t risk ending it right away by forcing your partner to choose.

2. Your partner can feel trapped.

When you give your partner an ultimatum, you’re forcing them to choose. They can either make the changes you want them to make or watch you walk away and give up on the relationship.

If they want to stay with you and don’t try to call your bluff, it’s actually not much of a choice at all. You’re basically telling them that they have to do as you say. They have no other option. This can make them feel trapped in the relationship.

Even if they make the changes you want them to make, they aren’t going to do it because they want to. They’ll do it because they have to do it. Because you’ve made them do it.

This could lead to resentment, and it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll change to begin with. They need to understand why you want them to make those changes. They should realize that those changes would be good for them and benefit your relationship. They should want to make those changes without being forced to make them.

3. Your partner can feel threatened.

Ultimatums usually come with a deadline and a threat. If your partner doesn’t make the changes that you want them to in a specific amount of time, you will end your relationship. This is clearly a threat that can make your partner resent you.

Maybe they would like you to change something about your behavior. But have they threatened to leave you because of it? No, I thought not.

You should generally not threaten them with ending the relationship unless you are very serious about ending it. Even then, it might be best to get that message across through a calm and honest conversation.

No one likes to feel threatened. And, even if the threat works and they do what you want, they’ll resent you for making them do it. Your partner might already be afraid of losing you if they care about you. Threatening to leave them is not going to improve your relationship, even if you get your way.

4. Your partner could shut down.

It can be difficult to communicate with someone who’s giving you an ultimatum. Your partner could shut down and fear opening up to you.

When you want things your way or the high way, it leaves little to discuss. You’ve made your point without giving your partner a chance to explain themselves or offer a compromise.

Refusing to meet them in the middle can result in negative effects on your relationship. Try to see things from their point of view instead of giving them an ultimatum. Maybe there are some compromises that could be made or actions that could be taken to show there’s progress. You don’t leave much room for discussing things like that when you threaten to end the relationship.

Maybe what you want isn’t even what you really want. You might be upset about an issue that’s just a symptom of an underlying issue that will stay unresolved. When you’re demanding big and fast changes in your relationship, stop to consider the process of change and how long it might realistically take.

5. Your partner can feel manipulated.

Are you really ready to end the relationship, or are you just trying to get your partner to do what you want?

Giving someone an ultimatum is much like manipulating them into doing what you want. Once the person figures out that you’re not really ready to end the relationship, they won’t change.

It’s never a good idea to give ultimatums if you can’t stick to them. Even if you can, leaving your partner because they failed to do a specific thing in a specific time frame isn’t the best way to end things. If they do what you want, they’ll probably feel manipulated into doing it.

What’s more, for the change to be long-lasting, it needs to come from them wanting to change. Your partner might just do what you say for a little while and go back to their old ways. Why? Because ultimatums don’t work. They might make your partner take some sort of action, but they don’t cause long-lasting healthy improvements.

6. Your partner might not want to change.

What if your partner doesn’t choose you? What if they choose the other option from the ultimatum?

Even if they care about you, they might be tempted to do that. If they don’t want to change, why would they try to be someone they’re not to keep you around?

Maybe you’re not requesting changes in their personality but in their behavior. But this still requires them to do something that they don’t want to do just so they could be with you.

What if they are willing to lose you just like you are willing to end the relationship? What if you are both bluffing? When you reach the point that you’re giving someone an ultimatum, in most cases, it is because you already wanted them to change, and they didn’t.

Why would an ultimatum work if nothing else has?

What if your partner doesn’t want to change to the point that they’re willing to lose you?

7. You might break up.

You have to accept that an ultimatum might result in a breakup regardless of who does what.

Don’t forget that ultimatums come with a deadline, so they are like ticking bombs. Your partner probably can’t make real changes in such a short amount of time and under that kind of pressure. Even if they try to meet your needs, the ultimatum could cause an early breakup.

When you’re threatening to end the relationship, you are creating the possibility of it actually ending, and you can’t escape that. Any situation where a person is forced to choose one or the other outcome has only two outcomes.

Are you ready to lose your partner over this, or are you bluffing? Even if it’s a big issue, it’s better to try to solve it with time and communication.

8. Your partner could resent you if they change.

It has already been mentioned that your partner might resent you if they change, but you need to understand the extent of this resentment. After all, it could ruin your relationship.

When you’re making someone do something, they could later hold it against you. If your relationship has long-term potential you have to consider the consequences of such resentment.

Even if your partner makes the changes you want, you might not get what you want. You could get someone who just does what you say without actually being the person you want them to be. That’s not fair to either of you, and it makes your relationship unhealthy.

It’s okay if you want your partner to meet your needs. But do you really want them to do it just because you’re threatening to leave them? There are many other ways that you could use to inspire change and help them understand your perspective.

9. Your partner might not change.

What if your partner doesn’t manage to change in the set time frame even if they try to? You’ll be forced to stick to your word and leave them, or your ultimatum was just a way of manipulating them.

People don’t really change when they are forced to. They change because they want to and get the proper support and motivation to do it.

Is there a way that you could make your partner understand why they should make these changes? Can you accept being with them if they stay the same?

These are very important questions that you need to ask yourself before giving them an ultimatum. If you could live with the way things are now without ending the relationship, consider other ways you could motivate them to make changes.

10. Your partner might not take you seriouslyif you stay.

A very important part of threatening to leave is actually being ready to do it. If you give an ultimatum and stay with your partner even if they don’t make changes, they aren’t going to take you seriously from that point in. Even worse, they might take you for granted or refuse to change even more.

Don’t give ultimatums if you don’t intend to stick to your word. After all, your partner might call your bluff. And if you are ready to leave them, consider whether the ultimatum is your way of giving them the last chance. If it is, it might be a serious heart-to-heart conversation that you need to have with them. Don’t use threats that you blurt out in anger.

6 Times When An Ultimatum Might Help Your Relationship

Even though most of the time they cause more bad than good, ultimatums are sometimes the only thing you can do. They can occasionally be the right choice and even help your relationship. However, in order for it to be so, here’s what needs to describe your situation:

1. The problem is a deal breaker, and your partner hasn’t changed.

Maybe your partner crossed some boundaries. Maybe there are some deal breakers that you’ve made perfectly clear from the start.

For instance, if they refuse to meet your other loved ones, you might want to put your foot down, but only as the last resort.

Whatever the problem is, you should first try resolving it through honest communication. Be willing to wait for signs of progress and encourage your partner to keep moving in the right direction.

Also, be willing to make compromises. For instance, if your partner isn’t ready to meet your parents, they could start by meeting your friends. If you don’t like some of their friends, they could limit spending time with them instead of stopping all contact.

Make room for suggestions and be flexible. Only when these things don’t work should you give an ultimatum.

2. You reallywant to leave if things don’t change.

If you want your ultimatum to be taken seriously, you should take it seriously too. Be prepared to follow through on what you said you’ll do if you see no progress. If you can’t really do it, don’t threaten to.

When you reach the point that you’re truly ready to leave a relationship, an ultimatum might help. However, make sure that you have tried other things and that you’re not giving an ultimatum in anger. It should be a decision you stick to, not something you yell at your partner during a heated argument.

For the ultimatum to work, it has to be more about setting boundaries and less about threatening to leave, but more on that later.

3. You are willing to give your partner one more chance to change.

Giving a last chance implies that you have given chances before, so have you? If you haven’t, give your partner an opportunity to improve without being forced to.

Only when you can’t wait any longer should you consider giving an ultimatum. But, keep in mind that it might result in a breakup. So, this is something you do when you’ve already tried everything and pretty much given up hope.

If it’s that serious, your partner should understand that you did everything you can to tolerate the behavior so far. They should realize that they have to change in order for your relationship to work.

If you are prepared to leave them and just want to give them one more chance, you can give an ultimatum. Still, keep in mind that it might not work, so you’ll maybe have to break up.

4. You are setting a boundary through honest communication.

Sometimes, the way you phrase things could make all the difference. While an ultimatum might not work, there’s something similar that can.

Sometimes it’s enough to rephrase what you want to say. Don’t tell your partner that they have to do what you say or you’ll leave. Tell them how their actions make you feel and what kind of behavior you are unwilling to tolerate anymore.

Explain why. Listen to their perspective. Be honest with each other and acknowledge the danger your relationship is in. Discuss whether you’re both willing to work on it together. Think of ways you could notice progress during a certain amount of time.

Talk about these things calmly instead of during a fight. It’s not exactly an ultimatum, but it sends the same point across, and it has better odds of working out for you.

5. You are ready to stick to the ultimatum.

It’s important to stick to your word when you give an ultimatum. If you instead often give ultimatums and don’t stick to them, your partner is not going to take you seriously. They won’t change, and they will stop reacting to your ultimatums altogether.

Once you are truly ready to leave, they won’t believe you. They might even start acting like they don’t think you’ll ever leave no matter what they do. As already mentioned, this is why ultimatums often don’t work.

When you’re ready to stick to your word, and your partner understands the seriousness of the situation, the ultimatum might be effective.

6. Your partner’s behavior is harmful or dangerous.

In some cases, an ultimatum might even be necessary. This is especially true if your partner’s behavior is harmful or dangerous. In the case of addiction or similarly harmful behavior, an ultimatum might help your partner realize the seriousness of the situation.

Again, it’s important to try reasoning with them first. Try helping them in many ways, but if they don’t change, give an ultimatum.

If your partner persists in dangerous behavior, leaving them might encourage them to snap out of it and work on their life. They probably don’t want to lose you over their addiction, and it’s a problem that could very negatively affect you and your relationship.

In the end, there are some cases when you must give an ultimatum. The important thing to remember is that it should be taken seriously by both of you in order for it to work.

Before considering an ultimatum, try communicating with your partner honestly about your needs. Encourage them to get help and talk to someone about their problem. If you want your partner to choose you, don’t make them choose between you and something that might even be a part of who they are. Let them work on their issues.

They might consider getting the help of a certified therapist and taking steps in the right direction at their own pace.

You could even talk to a relationship therapist together and find more ways to improve your relationship without using ultimatums.

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About The Author

Ana Vakos enjoys writing about love and all the problems that come with it. Everyone has experiences with love, and everyone needs dating advice, so giving these topics more attention and spreading the word means a lot to her.