When using ultimatums Backfires
“If he doesn’t propose by Valentine’s Day, I’m leaving!”
“If you talk to her one more time, this relationship is over!”
“If you don’t come to therapy with me, I’ll know you don’t care, and so I’ll have no choice but to move out.”
As a therapist my role is not to give advice. I help my clients come to their own decision about where they want to go in their relationships and I like to think of therapy as a road trip where the client is in the driver seat, and I’m in the passenger seat with the map. They tell me where they want to go and I hear their input and direct them using the best route.
I undoubtedly get direct questions though when people are unsatisfied with their relationships like, “do you think I should give him (or her) an ultimatum?” and while I do my best to avoid giving my direct opinion, there are definitely times when I want to give a straight answer – no (but it depends).
It depends on the status and history of your relationship. It depends on what behavior you are looking to diminish by giving said ultimatum. It depends on how destructive said behavior is. Ultimately it really depends on your willingness to follow through with your end of the ultimatum, and that’s where, if it’s not carried out right, it can truly backfire.
If you’re in an unhealthy relationship where you just aren’t being treated the way you deserve, there really isn’t any reason to wait until your partner disrespects you one more time in order to force you to leave. Instead, check in with what’s going right, and with what’s causing you to have one foot out the door. Compare the pro and con lists; are the cons things that go against your values? Is there forward movement in repairing those issues?
Giving a blanket ultimatum and threatening to leave the relationship when things get tough doesn’t elicit trust or confidence. Some people threaten to leave over minor things just to get their partner’s attention, and this is really unhealthy due to the insecurity it elicits.
In many cases, having a true heart to heart conversation with your partner can be much more impactful than giving an ultimatum.
There are cases in which you can be totally invested in the relationship, and just not feeling the same from your partner, and so giving an ultimatum for them to work towards repairing a huge point of contention in your relationship as a last and final effort on your part can be beneficial. With that said, be prepared to follow through with your end of the ultimatum.
If you’re serious about getting over the hump and having your partner on the same page, and express this with an ultimatum it should be time sensitive and something you’ve truly thought out. Make your expectations clear and measurable, and do so in a respectable way – a conversation in which you’re clear headed and able to speak without letting your emotions take over is best.
Follow through. If you are considering an ultimatum, think about what it will be like to follow through. What will that mean for you and the status of your relationship? If you’re threatening to leave, do you have a place to go? Make plans ahead of time so that you are able to follow through in a reasonable amount of time.
Without follow through an ultimatum is useless, so consider other ways to repair the damage in your relationship before heading in that direction. Think about your goal, and reflect on other options. Counseling is a great option when things become stagnant in your personal life. Having a neutral party to help you to move in the right direction and provide that roadmap you need, can be extremely valuable. If it’s something you’re considering, I’d love to hear from you, and help you find a therapist that’s right for you (909) 226-6124.