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The Truth About Ultimatums...

Ultimatums are typically used to demand behavioral change or action by dictating the consequence of inaction. In other words, ultimatums are demands, requested as a result of unwelcomed behavior in relationships that is hoped to trigger desired behavior. Ultimatums are often used/enforced in love relationships. And while I understand the desire to enforce ultimatums as a way of shifting relationship dynamics, "reinforcing boundaries" or "boundary setting", I believe what is often left unconsidered is the fact that when ultimatums are usually implemented, it's often too late, and not at a time where it could be most impactful.

Generally, however, as ultimatums are called upon to prompt desired behavioral changes, with all things, ultimatums are relative, and subjective, and therefore can be used in both negative and positive ways, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Thus, I want to use this post to not only define circumstances that support ultimatums but to discuss other factors to be considered before implementing an ultimatum.


As alluded to previously, what is not often considered is the fact that there are circumstances that warrant an ultimatum and circumstances that do not. Thus, it's important to first understand the state or condition of your relationship to determine the proper use of an ultimatum.

Considering the state of your relationship is important because the expectations of ultimatums are so definite, yielding both rewards and consequences. Therefore, if you are NOT ready to accept both the consequence and the reward of an ultimatum, then you should definitely not use ultimatums.


If your relationship is in the beginning stages, I can assure you that ultimatums are unnecessary! Feel free to argue with whom you see fit, but here's the rationale for this...

If you have to give someone an ultimatum after you've just met, or within three to four months of meeting, at least one of two things are true, first, you all may not be for one another, two (and here's the kicker) the problem could be that you are not doing a great job with communicating your boundaries, needs, and expectations.

When you first meet someone it should be a given to anticipate the growth and adjustments that come with learning people. And in the beginning stages of the relationship, both of you should be open and flexible in understanding this.

And where there is no flexibility there can be no compromise or change...

For those in more established partnerships, it's important to keep in mind that if your relationship is a situationship or conditional partnership, you're wasting your time here. The use of an ultimatum is contradictory because the concept of "situationships" prevents the relationship from evolving.

In order words, an ultimatum contradicts the defined situation that you have been operating in, so no point in trying to use ultimatums to force your partner into a relationship or marriage if the terms of your situation are "fun", "open" and "not serious".

Lastly, for those in a defined partnership or marriage, you must strongly consider the consequence and potential end of the partnership if deciding to use an ultimatum. Therefore, I would exercise extreme caution when using ultimatums unless you are ready to potentially end the relationship permanently.

Generally, however, it's important to remember throughout the life of your relationship that as you connect with your partner you are also setting the tone of the relationship, so if this is going poorly (or not as expected), it's highly likely that you are not communicating your needs and expectations well. And by continuing to stay in the relationship without communicating needed correction, you are denying the realities of the relationship; ultimately, enabling negative behavior. Therefore, instead of using an ultimatum, it would be better to have a thoughtful conversation about your individual growth and the role that growth has played in prompting needed behavioral changes from your partner. You'd be surprised how effectively being vulnerable, honest, and intentional with your needs may prompt more behavior change from your partner. But if you're willing to risk it, you definitely should ensure that you're giving proper consideration where needed.


Ultimatums come with a cost, so if you don't or can't accept the risk of losing, you must be thoughtful about the condition of your relationship before implementing. Similarly, you need to also consider what you use to justify the need for the ultimatum, before implementing. Because we tend to rationalize ultimatums in a very "one-sided" way. To help best determine the need for ultimatums, consider the following: 1) the goal or expectation, 2) the other party's likeliness to challenge, 3) your intention, and 4) whether there has been sufficient communication of needs/boundaries prior.

Now let's look at each individually.


I. What is your intention?

I recognize that intention can be similar to purpose, but for ultimatums, intention is more considered as one's motivation. Thus, when you operate in the world of psychology as I do, you begin to separate the two. Intent speaks to the motivation and attention to making something happen. In other words, your purpose could be to break up or get married, but your intention could differ, where it would be to prove a point or highlight to someone how toxic they are so that you can feel justified in your reason for establishing an ultimatum. That being said, I called this out to highlight that intention can be manipulative, and if that is your motivation, I would encourage you not to proceed with any ultimatum.

Ultimately, you want to be able to recognize if your desire to enforce an ultimatum is beyond helping your partner identify more with your boundaries and or reinforce positive behaviors and healthy patterns of interaction. If you merely want them to do what you want them to do at any point in time, without consideration of their capacity and needs, you are approaching the use of ultimatums all wrong.

It is toxic to use ultimatums as a tool to emotionally manipulate your partner.

II. What is the Goal or Expectation?

Ultimatums require a definitive goal or expectation of behavior. Essentially, the goal is a level of measurement, something that dictates whether implementing the ultimatum was successful or unsuccessful. Typically goals should attempt to result in a positive impact for all parties. Examples of goals include but are not limited to, break-up, marriage or higher level of commitment, participation in therapy, etc. Goals illustrate the desired future state of the relationship/partnership or connection.

Expectations illustrate the anticipated/desired change in behavior that is anticipated from the implementation of an ultimatum. But the expectation should by no means be a measure of success. And that is because the concept of success is relative to where expectations are concerned. Because although you can expect someone to act, be or do a certain thing, it doesn't mean that the individual will be positively impacted by that expectation, or that the expectation is regarded as "attainable" to that individual.

Ultimately, you want to know and be able to articulate the purpose of the ultimatum, via the expectations of behavioral change and the goal of the partnership sought, and where you cannot identify these, it's safe to say you should not proceed.

III. How likely is the other party to challenge?

Weird question for many of us I know, but this is important when considering ultimatums because if you don't know the answer to this question, you could very well be wasting your time trying to enforce an ultimatum that may have a non-desired reaction/response.

Fundamentally some partners are individuals who are not willing to take risks, and essentially when you are implementing an ultimatum you are challenging your partner to rise to meet your request or leave. Light bulb: there can be no expectation of compromise in ultimatums otherwise you wouldn't implement them. Therefore if you are seeking compromise, have a discussion, versus trying to implement an ultimatum.

I call this out because, for partners who fear risk-taking, this will not go over well, and they can respond in one of three ways, 1) they will likely walk away without even putting up a fight (not feel it's worth it). Therefore, you'd be putting yourself in a situation where the individual feels that the identified ultimatum is more of a "consequence" and is not enough for them to change. 2) They will advocate to keep things the way they are. 3) Create an opportunity to challenge you by also giving you an ultimatum.

Generally, you could risk them calling your bluff especially if you've failed to be consistent with reinforcing boundaries prior. If they don't trust that you will see it through and are serious, they could counter by walking away to take advantage of the fact that historically you have never stood firm or call your bluff by continuing negative behavior and countering your ultimatum to be manipulative. And if that happens that's a toxic response so run...

Ultimately, you need to know what you're dealing with to make sure you aren't wasting your time. You should not make any assumptions about your partner's willingness to change or anticipate your partner changing. And this is true whether your relationship is new or not.

IV. Has there been proper communication of expectations and needs prior?

Finally, the fifth thing to consider reminds us that there is an overall need for some prior communication of needs and boundaries before any ultimatum is successful.

To illustrate the point, think about this scenario... What if you were to just randomly one day say that you're requiring someone to take out the trash or you will leave them after 3 years of taking out the trash yourself, without ever telling the person that you don't like to do this and that you would like their help doing it at least once.

In this case, your ultimatum would be unsuccessful because you're setting yourself up for an unrealistic change in behavior. Even if that person remembers to take it out for 2 days, there's no guarantee that they will establish the change in behavior to your liking after so many years of not doing it. Communication and consistency are key! Where there is no prior communication and consistency, you risk being bluffed or manipulated into continuing to endure negative behavior patterns. Thus, clear communication of boundaries, expectations, and needs before the ultimatum gives it grounds for being perceived as "definitive" and your partner is inclined to have greater trust that you are serious and need action.

Final Thoughts...

It's always important to remember in relationships that each of our experiences is unique, so healthy conversation is typically the best way to get a fundamental understanding of the needs of you and your partner. But if you've continued to CLEARLY communicate to your partner your needs and they do not shift their behavior, then you have your answer. You don't need an ultimatum in that case, you more or less need to leave...

Conversely, however, also be aware of those instances where your partner communicates their ability or inability to meet your expectations. Or if they have told you that you're relationship goals do not align. If they've communicated something they can not do at that time or as you need them to, you have your answer. You don't need to use an ultimatum, you just need to listen...

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Audridom the blog created by author and blogger Audreyanna Garrett, stands to give birth to spirits of acceptance, encouragement, understanding and forgiveness, as well as help diminish spirits of fear, desperation, doubt and frustration, all while encouraging us to move forward in truth to something greater. 

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