Do Relationship Ultimatums Ever Actually Work?

Shockingly, the tactics used on the Netflix show are not therapist-approved!

Does Giving an Ultimatum Ever Actually Work?
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I have been watching the show The Ultimatum, where people who are at a crossroads about the next step in their relationship issue an ultimatum to their partner, and it has really gotten me thinking about my relationship. I have been with my partner for five years and I really want to get married. For the last year, he has been hinting that a proposal is coming... but nothing has happened and I am worried he is stringing me along. I'm starting to feel resentful and am thinking about giving him an ultimatum. Is that a terrible idea? —Sh*t or Get Off the Pot


First thing's first: It is perfectly normal, and even healthy, for two people who love each other in a relationship to arrive at the point of readiness for certain milestone events, like an engagement, at different times. It does not mean that things cannot work out for their long-term future.

Where things start to go awry though, is when one person is ready long before the other and resentment begins to build. Typically once that happens, their anger and frustration leak out into other parts of the relationship — and that can be poisonous. It is best to address the issue before it gets to that point. Express your need to take that next step in your relationship in a clear, mature, loving manner that creates boundaries and limits. It is also important to be able to hear your partner's honest reservations and reasons for not yet proposing.

Relationship ultimatums — where one person threatens to leave if they do not get something they want, whether that's moving in together, getting married, or having a baby — should be seen as a last resort. Before you take that step of issuing an ultimatum, here are a few things that you should ask yourself...

If You're Contemplating an Ultimatum, Here's What It Might Really Mean

1. It's not the right match.

Sometimes resistance to taking the next step is a sign that it is not the right match. Two people can love each other but if they are not ready to take the next steps, the relationship cannot grow and will ultimately not work. Sometimes people are resistant to taking the next step because there's a compatibility issue, they are not ready for more emotional intimacy, or they just don't want the same things.

2. You have bad communication.

Early on in the relationship did you let the other person know that marriage was important to you and you had a timeline? Did you nurture open honest conversations over time to evaluate if you were both on the same page? If things don't work out in your current relationship, strong communication is something to keep top of mind for your next one.

3. You are not patient with your partner's process.

What have you done leading up to this point to try to move the relationship in the desired direction? Have you given your partner the opportunity to grow into the same position that you are in terms of their goals? Have you been patient with their emotional process?

4. You both need to self-examine.

Have you explored why marriage is so important to you and what your partner's reservations are? Are there unresolved issues from the past for one or both of you that make this a more difficult decision to make? How are those issues being dealt with?

5. You need to have things your way.

Is this the only area in the relationship where it's your way or the highway? Are there other issues where you are making threats or issuing ultimatums? Is this a pattern of behavior or is this something that is heartfelt and important to you? Are you pushing your partner to do something they truly do not want to do or are really not ready for? Or are you just helping them to move past some fears?

6. It's time for some couple therapy.

If you are feeling stuck and conversations are not helping either of you move forward, it may be time to consult with a professional. Sometimes couples' inability to communicate well about hot button issues can prevent them from moving forward. Simply getting tips and insight from a licensed professional can make all the difference in the world.

7. You have hit your limit.

Contemplating an ultimatum can be a sign that you have reached the end of your rope. You may be at your breaking point and feel that you have waited as long as you are able.

How to Issue an Ultimatum — And What Happens If They Say "No"

If after considering the above points and having an open and honest conversation you truly believe this proposal is not going to happen anytime soon, you may decide the last resort is necessary. But if you issue an ultimatum, you must truly be ready to end the relationship. You cannot be the girl who cried "ring." Before you take that step, you must prepare yourself emotionally, logistically, and financially to walk away.

If that is the case, the conversation to have might sound like this, "I really want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I get the feeling that you are not interested in getting married anytime soon. Marriage is something that is very important to me and I don't want to miss out on it. I don't want to pressure you into marriage and therefore, I think it's time for me to move on."

Of course, there is the possibility that your partner will turn around and say, "I don't want to lose you. I did not realize how important this was to you and I would like to take that step." But, more likely based on my three decades of clinical experience, when things get to the ultimatum phase, he is going to let you walk out the door. But you will do so knowing that you showed enormous strength and will be able to walk away with your head held high.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

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