The Dos and Don'ts of Ultimatums

Six tips to help you successfully solve your biggest relationship dilemmas.
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The Dos and Don’ts of Ultimatums

Six tips to help you successfully solve your biggest relationship dilemmas.

-Maureen Dempsey

Couple in bed

We’ve seen the headlines over and over: “Brad issues Angie a marriage ultimatum! Marry me or else!” No one knows for certain if it’s truth or lies (we’re guessing something closer to the latter), but it is, in fact, a situation that many individuals find themselves in. After years of pent-up hostility, fed up with the current scenario, one half of a couple lays down the law. Whether it involves getting her to say “I do” or picking up his dirty socks, most of us have given an ultimatum at one time or another. The big question: Is there a right way to do it?

When she was in her 20s, Susan was happy to be with guys she loved but weren’t “the one.” But by the time she turned 34, she knew she wanted to get married and have a family. Soon after meeting 26-year-old Trevor, she realized that he shared those goals. However, their timing was different. He wanted to wait a little longer. She decided she’d been flexible enough and couldn’t afford to continue waiting. She delivered an ultimatum: “I will not live with you until we are married. I want to have children and I would like you to be their father, but I have to have a commitment from you now.”

Trevor was being transferred to another state and Susan said she wouldn’t go with him unless they were married. When faced with this choice, he was able to get clearer on what he wanted, too. After a few conversations, some tears (hers) and some patience, he proposed to her within the month.

Read How to Get Over Mr. Wrong and Find Mr. Right

Psychologist Pam Lipe related this story to BettyConfidential to prove that, in some cases, an ultimatum can have a positive outcome. “He proposed without feeling like he’d been coerced because she delivered her ultimatum in a clear and calm manner,” the St. Paul, MN relationship therapist explains. “She gave him time to think about it, and they had more conversations – but she was ready to walk away if he decided to reject her ultimatum or ignore it by making no decision and telling her she’d need to wait ‘just a little longer.’”

“I think the constructive way to deal with situations like commitment, substance abuse, infidelity, obnoxious behaviors, etc. is to honestly explain to your partner why it’s important to you for him or her to change this particular behavior,” says Lee Crespi, a New York psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience in relationship and marital conflict. “This means being clear about the extent to which you find it harmful or painful, and asking your partner to offer you his or her plan to deal with it.”

Both Lipe and Crespi agree that ultimatums can help resolve certain relationship impasses, but there are some key principles to keep in mind:

1. Don’t try to convince him he’s wrong/bad/misguided/ lazy/irresponsible by not going along with you. If you do, he’ll likely react in a defensive and uncooperative manner. “Instead of telling him what’s wrong with him, focus more on what you need,” Lipe explains. “It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for what you want. On the other hand, it’s also reasonable that the other person doesn’t want to give you what you want.”


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0 thoughts on “The Dos and Don'ts of Ultimatums

  1. citymouse says:

    I alway thought ultimatums were a bad idea…but after reading this, maybe I need to reconsider?? But it’s so true — ultimatums really only work if you’re ready to walk away at the end.

  2. FBNYC says:

    This is good advice. Ultimatums can be so tricky. It reminds me of Bradley Cooper’s relationship in He’s Just Not That Into You, where he married his wife after she gave him an ultimatum, but really, he wasn’t ready, which is why he cheated. If I gave a boyfriend the marriage ultimatum, and he eventually said yes, I think a part of me would feel like I made him do something he didn’t want to do – and wouldn’t that come up later on?

  3. moonbaby1o1 says:

    I gave my boyfriend of 5 years the marriage ultimatum 2 months ago but I gave him a large time frame to think about it. I’m 24 and I gave him a year to propose and 3 to be married. If he doesn’t propose in a year then I walk away. He actually took it pretty well, but we will see how it goes from here

  4. aliceglass says:

    Committment ultimatums are a bad idea- You don’t need to corner someone until they have no choice. How would you feel if he said to you before you were ready, “Marry me or else!” Smacks of disrespect and NOT the way to get a guy to propose. Ever heard of reverse psychology? Worked for me. I agreed to move to a different state before being engaged and wow did that work!
    If you feel the need to give him an ultimatum, maybe you should reevaluate yourself and figure out why you need to push someone into something they’re not ready for. If you really want to get married, propose yourself and if they say no, than reevaluate the relationship or give them time! Especially if you’re only 24!

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