Is It Ever a Good Idea to Give a Relationship Ultimatum?
Netflix seems to be churning out controversial, arguably exploitative dating shows at an alarming rate. After the huge success of "Love Is Blind," the streaming service has brought us its most deranged offering yet in the form of "The Ultimatum."
The basic premise is that several long-term couples who can't decide whether to get married temporarily break up and go through a "trial marriage" with someone from another pairing before finally deciding to "marry or move on." As host Vanessa Lachey explained in the first episode, she gave her now-husband Nick Lachey an ultimatum that eventually led to their marriage—after a short breakup.
The underlying idea is that you need to raise the stakes and give a clear-cut ultimatum if your partner isn't giving you what you need from the relationship, in this case, marriage.
While watching the show, it quickly becomes abundantly clear that almost all of the couples have many, many issues to sort out before even thinking about marriage. In most cases, the act of giving the ultimatum only serves to make matters worse.
What's really going on when you give an ultimatum?
An ultimatum is a request that one partner makes to another. Usually, if the request isn't or can't be met, the relationship is over by default.
"When you give an ultimatum in a relationship, you are demanding or warning that your partner act in a specified way—change—within a specified period or risk the breakup of the relationship," said Marie Fraser, a relationship expert in the United Kingdom and founder of the Boundary Queen, a boundary management service.
According to Fraser, having the urge to make an ultimatum with your partner tends to be a sign that something simply isn't working with your relationship. By making a high-stakes ultimatum, you may think your issues will be resolved, but this is rarely the case.
"Ultimatums are usually given as a last resort when all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed," she said. "They are a way for one party to try and take control over something they feel they have no control over."
An ultimatum is also a sign that you and your partner are not on the same page, according to Lisa Forde, founder of Tree of Hearts, a wedding stationery firm in Shropshire, United KIngdom.
'Ultimatums are usually given as a last resort when all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed.'
"Talking openly and honestly about your feelings and hopes and desires for the future is key," she explained. "If you get to the stage of giving an ultimatum without discussing beforehand what your partner also wants, that is where things can get tricky as you may be putting your own feelings above your partner's and not seeing their point of view."
While it may be tempting to give an ultimatum in an attempt to scare your partner into doing what you want, it can also have the reverse effect and scare them away.
"Perhaps by giving the ultimatum, the person thinks the other person will change or they will acquiesce to their demands," Fraser said. "That rarely happens without negative consequences."
In Netflix's "Ultimatum," we see numerous couples uncovering issues they didn't even know existed and breaking up rather than going through with their ultimatums. Even the couples who do decide to get married are left with unresolved issues in most cases.
In other words, an ultimatum is unlikely to solve any issues you may have with your partner, and if you think forcing your partner to make a decision about marrying you will push your issues down below the surface, the opposite is bound to happen.
What to do instead of giving an ultimatum
Ultimatums rarely work. What should you do instead of demanding your partner choose between marriage and splitting up?
"Relationships and marriage should be about working through any problems, so rather than giving your partner a final ultimatum such as marry or break up, which could be considered quite extreme, you need to make sure you've been through all your other options first," Fraser suggested.
"I do think it can be unhealthy to offer an ultimatum to a partner," Forde added. "Relationships and marriage should be about compromise, communication and working through any problems."
After going through all of your issues first, it might just be time to broach the subject of an ultimatum with your partner. Just remember that the deeper issues between you and your partner—issues that might be stopping your partner from getting married in the first place—are bound to come up, and you might just end up losing the relationship if you aren't prepared to work through them together.