Ultimatums in Relationships

Couple fighting

An ultimatum is an “or else” option given to you by your partner that is followed by some type of consequence. Some people believe that ultimatums in relationships are a good thing, however, they are detrimental to your relationship and can leave you feeling pressured or trapped. When ultimatums are given, it forces you or your partner into a situation they aren’t ready for or do not want to do. If the choice given to them is agreed upon, they may start to grow resentment from it while adding more stress to the already tense situation.  

The common misconception about ultimatums is being assertive or standing up for yourself, but this is not the same as your needs being met. The difference is how it’s expressed. Typically, ultimatums are matter-of-fact. However, there is something couples can do to avoid getting to this point where ultimatums are given to one or the other. 


In general, communication with your partner is always a key priority. Although, not everyone knows how to effectively communicate their feelings to their significant other. To be able to understand your and their feelings, start by listening without interruption. The things they say may upset you, but it’s important that when your partner has the floor to talk they should be able to do so without interruption. There is a wrong and right way to respond. Getting angry will only make the situation worse, and may even discourage you or your partner from communicating. 

Set boundaries

When you and your partner sit down and talk about what has been an issue, you both can identify what the triggers are, and with this, you can set boundaries. This keeps not only their behavior in check but yours as well. Try to offer options to your boundaries. This rids the situation of a “take it or leave it” notion and your partner is more than likely going to respond more positively if they feel they have a choice.

The problem

This is the part where you reflect on your behavior and emotions and put out there what is bothering you. If you are feeling angry, sad, resentful, or withdrawn, recognize if you are feeling this way because your boundaries are being crossed. Ask yourself what’s really underneath your anger. Is it sadness, hurt, shame, or fear? When you know what the problem is, you can more easily decide your bottom line.

Positive reinforcement

It’s important to recognize your significant other’s efforts in respecting your boundaries and working on their part of the relationship. Don’t let them go unnoticed! You can pay simple compliments or give thanks to them as you notice them. By doing this you’re letting your partner know you appreciate them for trying to work with the boundaries you’ve set and vice versa.

Ultimatums in relationships overall are unhealthy and push you and your partner away from each other. There is a better way to approach your relationship issues and that is with an open mind, communication, boundaries, and positive reinforcement. If you feel you and your partner are interested in speaking with someone at Mountain Vista Psychology we are here to help you overcome those issues.


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