Can giving your partner an ultimatum ever actually work?

Is an ultimatum a good idea? (Picture:

If you haven’t heard, Netflix is soon to release a TV show called The Ultimatum, in which we’ll see couples with misaligned commitment goals swap partners for three weeks before they have to decide whether to get married or split up for good.

Yes, it is wild, but it’s also brought to mind the fact that even more garden variety ultimatums are pretty divisive.

On the one hand, it’s important to be on the same commitment page in a relationship, to make your needs known if you feel like they’re not being met, and to know when to walk away.

On the other, there’s a worry that issuing an ultimatum can be akin to trapping the other party in a corner – after all, a make or break decision on whether your supposed beloved wants to commit isn’t exactly the most romantic story to tell the grandkids.

Understandably, expert schools of thought on this can vary.

Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn, says that giving a commitment ultimatum might not be the best idea.

‘In the confusing world of modern dating,’ she explains, ‘the “what are we” chat can feel daunting for many people earlier on in a relationship.

‘If the person you’re dating is giving you the run around about commitment, it can be tempting to issue them an ultimatum, however, this may not be the best strategy to get what you want. 

She adds: ‘Commitment means that both partners must be willing to build a real relationship and put the effort in to make it work.

‘When you’re dating, one of your goals is to look out for someone who is on the same page as you in terms of what they want. If someone is being evasive about commitment, or just isn’t sure it’s for them, pushing them to make a decision will probably wind up making them feel like they’ve entered into a contract that they never wanted to sign up for.’ 

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However, the issue remains divisive, with Counselling Directory Member Karen Schumann telling us that, while ultimatums can be ‘tricky’, if ‘done right with respect and good communication’ they can be an important way to set boundaries.

She explains: ‘If you feel that your requests for commitment or any issues around it fall on deaf ears, then an ultimatum, fully explaining what is ok and what isn’t, could be helpful.’

‘Ultimatums can be empowering for both individuals,’ she adds, ‘if used correctly.

‘It can be a way of truly valuing yourself, putting your needs first and acknowledging your worth.

‘Used positively, what you’re really saying is “I care about myself enough to ask for this for myself”, “I know that I am worth this change”, and “I know that this is something very important to me.”‘

With that in mind, if you want to give it a try, how can you try to issue an ultimatum healthily?

Karen says: ‘To communicate your needs effectively, you need to be able to express your feelings, and ensure the ultimatum is a request with a choice, not a demand or threat.

illustration of sad man and woman sitting back to backSometimes ultimatums are needed to establish a boundary (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘Some examples of this could be – “I really don’t like it when you’re constantly on your phone when I’m trying to talk to you, it makes me feel undervalued and that I’m not important. We’ve talked about this before and I feel you haven’t listened. If this behaviour continues with no change, it will continue to make me feel unhappy and I’m not sure I can continue a relationship with you”.

‘This clearly lays out your feelings, boundaries and expectations, to which your partner can choose to accept and change or not.

‘It’s important to note that you can’t control how your partner will react and be prepared for there to be no change and to follow through with your feelings.’

When it comes to commitment, Karen says these conversations need to be ‘you both feeling heard and being willing to compromise’.

‘Whether that is about the behaviours within the relationship that bring up difficult feelings,’ she adds, ‘or whether it is about defining the level of commitment that you are both willing to make.

‘It is important to be aware that if your partner is not willing to commit, compromise or value your boundaries in a way that you want, it may be time to walk away.’

But she adds that there are ways in which issuing ultimatums can be ‘controlling’.

Young people embrace each other and hold smartphone for textingBut never use them as a threat (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘Ultimatums should not be used as a threat as a way to get something you want in the relationship,’ she explains.

‘I.e. “if you don’t make me dinner every night by the time I get home, then I’m leaving.”

‘This is a very controlling way of trying to get what you want, with no regard for the other person’s needs or wants.’

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Meanwhile, if you’re less into the idea of commitment ultimatums, Hayley recommends a similar communication of your needs, just without putting the ball in the other party’s court.

‘A better move here is to recognise if you’re mismatched for the relationship style you want and to communicate where you stand,’ she explains.

‘I.e. “If I’m spending time and connecting with someone, it’s important to me to be building towards a long term relationship.”

‘Then really listen to what the other person shares and responds with. If they’re not on the same page, sometimes the best way you can demonstrate your self-esteem and self-empowerment is to walk away.

‘If they need a prompt to change their mind, opting out of your situationship is one of the most powerful ways to do it.’

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