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Ultimatums in a Relationship: Why They Don’t Work & How to Use Them

When your partner does something you don’t like, you want them to change. But, do ultimatums in a relationship work, and how should you use them?

ultimatums in a relationship

Differences in relationships crop up all the time. After all, we weren’t all created in pairs that perfectly mesh with one other. But what do you do about it? How do you resolve those annoying differences? Should you start dishing out ultimatums in a relationship, or are you playing with fire?

In most relationships, couples learn to understand each other’s likes and dislikes and work around them to keep each other happy. But every now and then, a few circumstances occur when one partner really doesn’t care about the opinions of the other.

And when that happens, ultimatums may become very tempting indeed.

[Read: 7 secret signs your relationship is starting to go bad]

What is an ultimatum in a relationship?

Have you ever been frustrated by your partner’s repetitively irritating behavior?

Perhaps, they keep falling asleep on the couch after watching a movie late into the night, or they shop like credit card bills never have to be paid. The reasons don’t matter, because they are far too many of them.

You put up with these annoyances for a while, until one fine day, one thing leads to another and you just burst out with an ultimatum. You tell your partner to avoid their obsession or you threaten them with dire consequences.

Have you ever done that? Chances are, you have.

When things start to get frustrating, it’s easier to give an ultimatum instead of talking about something that can’t be solved.

[Read: 9 relationship stages that all couples go through]

But, are ultimatums actually healthy? Aren’t you just forcing your partner into changing something when they don’t really want to change for the right reasons?

Why do lovers use ultimatums?

Giving ultimatums may not be the right way to solve differences in a relationship. But there’s a reason your partner is giving you an ultimatum. Your partner feels miserable and helpless.

If you’ve been given an ultimatum, try to look at things from your partner’s perspective too. While a string of ultimatums leads to nothing but feigning ignorance or a breakup, it’s still an aggressive plea for help.

You’re upsetting your partner over something you’re doing, and like a scared animal that’s trapped in a corner, your partner’s instincts force them to be aggressive towards you.

It’s a sad thing, isn’t it, when two lovers don’t understand each other or care enough to make each other happy?

[Read: 30 must-know relationship rules to live your best love life effortlessly!]

Common ultimatums many of us use

Ultimatums in a relationship come in all hues and shades. But here are a few common ultimatums we often hear, and do nothing about.

1. If you don’t stop speaking to her, I’ll break up with you.

2. Quit smoking or I swear I’ll leave.

3. You need to speak to your friend about it, or I will. [Read: Help! My friends don’t like my boyfriend]

4. Stop spending so much time on your phone or I’ll break the damn thing.

5. Lose weight or I’ll never have sex with you again.

6. If you don’t communicate with me, we’re going to end up leaving each other.

If you notice these ultimatums, they’re rude and painful. But somewhere deep within, it’s an insecure plea for a better relationship. [Read: 12 tips to be a happy couple that’s envied by all]

Are ultimatums really helping anyone?

If you’re the one shooting ultimatums at your partner often, stop. You’re killing the relationship.

And if you’re the one who’s been facing a barrage of ultimatums, stop ignoring them. Don’t you see you’re hurting the one who loves you so much?

Ultimatums in a relationship will never help anyone. If you yell an ultimatum at your partner, they may grudgingly comply with your request just to avoid a fight, but deep inside, they’d be angry and even hate you for it. [Read: Are you happy? Spotting the signs of resentment in a relationship]

You may feel like your partner’s not listening to you and that’s why you have to use ultimatums. But at the same time, your partner will definitely feel like you don’t understand them anymore.

Relationships work because of love, respect, and trust. You can’t arm-twist someone into loving you or treating you better.

For a relationship to work out, both of you have to take the time to build a connection that is based on relating with each other instead of confronting each other all the time. [Read: The best way to fight fair in a relationship]

Why ultimatums are actually quite damaging

It’s totally understandable when you’re frustrated with your partner that an ultimatum comes pouring out of your mouth. But, it’s important to know why ultimatums in a relationship, in particular, can be pretty damaging.

Now, for sure, there are some situations when an ultimatum is necessary. However, for the most part, ultimatums are just words of blind fury and frustration and they’re not used at the right time.

Here’s what happens when you give your partner an ultimatum.

Perhaps you tell your partner that if they don’t stop staying out late, you’re going to leave. You’re probably well within your rights to be angry about this, but is threatening to leave the right action? [Read: How to calm down when you’re angry & regain your composure quickly]

It’s not, because when you give someone an ultimatum, you’re making them choose. In this case, you’re forcing your partner to stop coming home late because otherwise, you’ll leave.

But, wouldn’t you rather they changed their behavior because they wanted to? Because the two of you sat down and talked about it and they realized how their actions were making you feel? If they stop coming home late because of your ultimatum, they may not actually understand the root of the problem and they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Over time, that’s going to turn into resentment and your partner might feel like you’re trying to control them. It doesn’t matter that you were right about them staying out late. What matters is that you handled it wrong. It all comes down to communication. [Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 14 steps to a much better love]

Communication is key if you want to solve relationship problems

Look at the problem through your partner’s eyes. In turn, you’re helping your partner see the solution through your eyes.

There are only two ways to deal with an ultimatum. You comply with it. Or you ignore it.

The only way to show your partner why you’re frustrated with their behavior is to sit down and have an open and honest conversation about it. [Read: Top 20 reasons for divorce most couples ignore]

Your partner isn’t a mind-reader. Unless you explain clearly and carefully why their actions are causing you to feel a certain way, how can they know that they’re upsetting you? Of course, communication means they get to give their side too. It’s vital that you take the time to listen.

It’s entirely possible that you’ll solve the problem this way. In fact, it’s highly likely. But, it’s important not to point the finger of blame and use language which causes them to feel like you’re attacking them. Steer clear of phrases like “you always”, “you make me feel”, “I hate it when …”.

Instead, use phrases like “I often feel …”, “I would like”, etc.

Be sure to see things from their side as much as your own and keep your anger at bay. [Read: 10 communication techniques to finally get them to open up to you]

So, when should you use ultimatums in a relationship?

Hopefully, never.

Ultimatums strain a relationship and over time, it may become irreparable. If you want to help your partner change, sit down with your partner and calmly and softly, ask them why they’re having such a hard time changing their behavior for the better.

Ultimatums and angry words create bigger egos in a relationship and these egos build a thick wall between both of you. And as long as you don’t drop your ego, you’ll have to live in a world of ultimatums.

But if both of you could learn to break down the ego and speak truthfully about each other’s feelings, both of you will feel more loved and can actually start avoiding ultimatums in love.

However, there are some situations when ultimatums may be the only way. If you’ve had several conversations and nothing has changed, using an ultimatum is a way of setting a boundary.

It’s important however if you set a boundary such as this, you stick to it. If you tell your partner that you can no longer take their behavior, whatever it may be, and that if they do it again, you’re going to take some time away from the relationship, you have to stick to your word.

By not doing so, you’re eroding the value of the ultimatum and your partner won’t take you seriously. [Read: How to set boundaries – 10 crucial steps to feel more in control]

What you have to understand is that the very fact you’re having to give serious ultimatums such as this doesn’t say good things about your relationship. In that case, do you really want to stick around anyway?

[Read: 15 signs of a bad relationship you should never ever tolerate]

Ultimatums in a relationship may, at times, be inevitable. But there’s always a better way if you can drop your egos and face it together. Learn to listen to each other and talk truthfully. You’ll never need any ultimatums!

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Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...