Stop Damaging Your Relationship: 3 Options Instead of an Ultimatum

Stop Damaging Your Relationship: 3 Options Instead of an Ultimatum

In your relationship, whether past or present, you may have found yourself overly frustrated and exhausted by your partners behaviors, feeling you only have one option: the ultimatum.  For instance, if your partner does not stop abusing drugs or alcohol, start helping around the house or with the children, or end a relationship that is impacting the bond you share, you will leave. The principle of your ultimatum implies that you are leaving the relationship unless your specified need is met.  However, with most ultimatums, you are actually asking your partner to change because you are not ready to end the relationship.  This is where the ultimatum falls through and ultimately damages your relationship.  Ultimatums imply finality.

When you do not follow through on your threat, you are teaching your partner that his or her behavior is actually okay, therefore suggesting the issue is no longer a problem for you.  However, if an ultimatum is declared and behavior does not change, you are left with the unresolved issue and feelings of resentment – resenting your partner for not changing and yourself for staying in a relationship that does not fully meet your needs.  Over time, these feelings of resentment, and possibly anger, will poison your relationship, ultimately compromising your bond.  Before reaching the breaking point where your partnership becomes irreparable, considered the following suggestions in lieu of an ultimatum.

Teach Your Partner How to Treat You


When you teach your partner how to treat you, you are setting boundaries.  Modeling to your partner what is and is not acceptable in your relationship, by simply respecting the boundaries you set, you are ultimately drawing a line that illustrates how you prefer to be treated and things you will not compromise on.  Through maintaining your own boundaries, your partner should be able to establish a sense of your wants and needs.  However, if your partner is not picking up on your subtle or overt hints, it is time to open the channels of verbal communication.

Clearly Communicate Your Want and Needs

Essentially, ultimatums are an effort to control your partner.  You are aggressively requesting your needs to be met – or else. Maybe you have communicated these needs numerous times before declaring an ultimatum, and maybe you have not. In your perspective, you have made your needs clear, but unless you explicitly communicated what you want or need in a relationship, your partner may be unaware.

Overall, ultimatums may result because of a breakdown in communication, leaving you feeling unheard.  Next time you feel forced into a corner and see an ultimatum as the only available option, try to clearly communicate your needs to your partner.  This can be as simple as saying, “I would like some extra help with the laundry.  Can you help me fold the clothes tonight?”  With open channels of communication, you are able to share your wants and needs in a calmer, more rational state of mind.

Work Toward a Compromise

If the behavior is something irritating, but not a deal breaker, use the newly open channels of communication to come to a compromise.  In a relationship there are two people who both have needs; taking your partner’s needs into consideration shows you value them.  As your relationship grows and changes, you need to be flexible enough to renegotiate expectations and rules.  Determine if you are comfortable bending your boundary and what that would look like for you.

However, if your partner’s behavior is absolutely something you cannot compromise on – working
long hours, drug or alcohol abuse, cheating, putting others before your relationship – it may be time for you to consider your own well being and exit the relationship before you find yourself becoming too resentful of your partner.

Remember, a true ultimatum involves you leaving the relationship.  If you and your partner have reached a breaking point and an ultimatum is your only option, you must be prepared to follow through if changes are not made.  If you are not ready to end the relationship, an ultimatum will only damage your relationship, and there are less aggressive avenues to venture down when asking for your needs to be met.


Lori Dougherty is a Marriage and Family Counselor and Intern for The Marriage and Family Clinic. As a marriage and family counselor, she helps couples navigate the many difficulties that arise in a relationship; simultaneously helping them cultivate happiness to maintain the fulfilling relationship they share with their partner. 

3 Responses to Stop Damaging Your Relationship: 3 Options Instead of an Ultimatum

  1. Good reminders! Sometimes setting boundaries in relationships can be hard, because we want to share and have things go smoothly. But this is not the case, and it's good to know how to communicate without becoming hurtful or defensive. Great post!

  2. I have never been a fan of ultimatums, it's the worst way of dealing with situations in your relationship. I love the tips mentioned because it involves working together and respect. Great post!! Everyone in a relationship or even working towards a relationship should read it!

  3. I always tell people that if they don't stop giving me ultimatums, I'll stop being their friend…. haha… Just kidding. It's such a horrible way of communicating to someone. I would say if you feel compelled to issue an ultimatum there is so much more wrong with the entire picture, than just the action of the other person you are trying to control.

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