What An Ultimatum Can Really Do To Your Relationship

Two relationship experts throw in their two cents.

We’ve seen the trending Netflix reality dating series The Ultimatum all on our timelines about how one person should’ve done this, another shouldn’t have done that, or even critiquing a couple for being on a show in the first place. The truth of the matter is no matter how a relationship or a person is perceived on television, ultimatums in relationships are a real thing. Maybe it was lack of financial stability, maybe it was fear of commitment, but ultimatums can be the make or break point in any relationship – romantic, platonic, etc. – that can determine the next turn that the relationship can take. But what is an ultimatum, anyway?

“An ultimatum in a relationship is when you’re fed up with how things are going and you’re ready for a change,” explained actress and relationship coach Natasha McCrea. “You give your partner the option of giving you what you want, most often a proposal, or it’s time to break up. Ultimatums should only be used when you’re willing to accept the alternative of what you want.”

Despite the success of the trending new reality show, ultimatums are real and couples come to these crossroads more times often than none when it comes to establishing their futures together. Ultimatums don’t necessarily always have to look like marriage at the end of the tunnel. “Delete the app off your phone, or I’m leaving you,” or “If you don’t stop communicating with your ex, then we’re through. Her or me?” are both small examples of ultimatums you can give to your partner without even realizing it.

Ahead, we got expertise from McCrea and relationship expert Tennesha Wood about how ultimatums can present themselves in a relationship, the pros and cons of giving one to your partner, and how Netflix’s The Ultimatum seemingly impacted dating culture overnight.

Why Are Ultimatums Even A Thing?

In The Ultimatum, a group of couples are given the option to “marry or move on,” as suggested in the tagline, after one of their partners gave them the task to make a life-changing black or white choice. Matchmaker and relationship expert Tennesha Wood explained an ultimatum as something that “[is] generally given at a point where one partner feels that they’ve reached the end of the rope,” which can, in turn, create consequences if a behavior is not swiftly changed or adjusted.

As a result of their partner’s behavior to not commit to a lifelong marriage, the other person in the relationship presented the ultimatum to them. In this case, the ultimatum for some couples are to give them a timeline to walk down the aisle as husband and wife, start a new life with a new partner, or walk away alone. Sounds intense, right? That’s because it is. “I am hearing ultimatums being used more and more in relationships.  In my opinion, two reasons ultimatums are used. One,  personal value is in question and, two, the culture of commitment has definitely changed. There’s no guaranteed path to commitment these days,” added McCrea.

The Most Effective Way To Bring Up An Ultimatum

“The word ultimatum puts the choice in a negative light in which there is little room for compromise. Having consistent and clear communication about the status of your relationship and your goals as a couple can prevent the need for an ultimatum,” said Wood. She further expressed a better, more effective way to approach the topic is to outline your needs in the relationship and suggest your partner to do that same in an effort to “understand the roadblocks” that may be impacting your partnership. “Ask yourself and your partner if these are roadblocks that can be worked through promptly. If the roadblocks are not negotiable, then a decision has to be made. In that case, you have to prepare yourself for the fact that your partner cannot give you what you want.”

McCrea noted that being straightforward may be your best approach to giving your partner the real about your relationship status and where you mentally stand. “Tell your partner what you need and that you will move on if they aren’t willing to give it to you within a specific time frame. There’s no need for arguments or long-drawn-out discussions. You aren’t in negotiations for your needs to be met,” she explained firmly to Girls United. “You want what you want and there is always more than one way to get what you want.”

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Presenting An Ultimatum To Your Partner?

“There are plenty of people who are still together based on an ultimatum so it’s working for some,” McCrea said. When it comes to weighing the positives versus the negatives of an ultimatum, she noted the obvious thumbs-up outcome of an ultimatum – you get what you want. However, McCrea also said, “The cons are that you’ll always be begging for what you need and it can taint the relationship.  No one wants to feel pressured to make decisions and if they don’t feel they made the decision on their own there’s a possibility for resentment.”

For Wood, while she vouches that the benefit of an ultimatum can include the demonstration of how serious you are about taking your relationship to the next level, she urges readers to understand the risks that it can lead to. “You risk losing the trust of your partner because the ultimatum creates insecurity in the relationship. They may start to feel as if they risk losing you if they don’t comply with your present and future demands,” she explained. Moreover, Wood said that your partner can possibly feel like they no longer have autonomy over their decisions and you hold the power in the relationship.

In Conclusion….

In her professional opinion, McCrea suggests alternative methods of healing in your relationship before jumping right into an ultimatum. “I would recommend my clients to go on a self-love journey first before giving an ultimatum. They may even get to a point where they realize they don’t want to be with that person or, the ultimatum can be given from a place of power versus a place of desperation,” McCrea said. “Ultimatums seem to be used when boundaries haven’t been set to begin with. If you have clear boundaries you won’t ever have to give an ultimatum. You should never have to get to the ultimatum stage.”

Furthermore, McCrea suggests that if a couple does get to that point, she suggests being retrospective, doubling down on what you need in the relationship, and being realistic if your needs aren’t being met. “It sets a precedence of how you’ll continue to navigate the relationship. You should never have to beg for your desires to be met,” she added.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

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