When you’ve hit a relationship roadblock or you’re fed up with some aspect of his behavior, like the way he always blows you off for his friends, it can be very tempting pull out the big guns and tell him to shape up or you’ll ship out.
But before you pull the trigger on this major decision, you might want to know what’s at risk, what other options you have, and what it means when you feel that you have to take an all-or-nothing approach to your relationship. Our experts explain what’s up:
Why Ultimatums Don’t Work:
Sadly, giving an ultimatum is almost never a smart decision—that would be too easy, right? When using this strategy to deal with a relationship issue, especially when it comes to a big commitment like living together or getting married, you might not be giving your bond enough time to grow to a point where your partner feels emotionally ready to take that step, says Jill Weber, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy. Maybe you’re pushing them to propose before they’re as psyched about getting married as you are. If so, you could be missing out on an opportunity to learn about their values and strengthen your relationship by discussing your future without a threat, she says. Plus, don’t you want them to propose because they want to—not because you made them?
Why Being Single is SO Much Better Than Being in a Crappy Relationship:
But here’s the biggest problem with ultimatums: Even if it’s an empty threat, it can really damage the relationship. That’s because you essentially lose your negotiating power—which is important, since relationships require compromise—when you say you’re going to leave if something doesn’t change, and then stay even when nothing changes. “You really have to be prepared to walk away, otherwise they won’t take you seriously in the future,” says Jane Greer, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
That said, if you are willing to walk away, the ultimatum may not even be necessary. If the situation is so extreme and nonnegotiable that you cannot be with that person under the current circumstances, then it’s probably time to move on and find someone who does have the same values as you, says Weber.
So What Should You Do Instead?:
First, you can try to avoid an ultimatum situation by making sure the lines of communication are wide open and being honest with each other about what you see for the future, says Weber. When you know where each of you stands on the important issues, you probably won’t need an ultimatum to figure out if he’s willing to meet your needs.
But we get it, things happen, and an issue may crop up that you think needs the all-or-nothing treatment. But instead of threatening to walk away if he doesn’t comply, have a deeper conversation about your needs, his needs, and whether or not you’re on the same page. If you’re not seeing eye-to-eye, explain that these things are important to you in a relationship and that you may have to think about moving on if they don’t feel the same way—then let them think about it, says Hartman.
How to Stop Dating Jerks—For Good:
It sounds like an ultimatum, but it’s really giving you both the opportunity to think about what you need from the relationship, rather than saying it’s your way or no way. Your partner will be less likely to just agree with you out of fear (which is a good thing), and at the same time, the thought of losing you may make them consider what they want out of the relationship, says Hartman.
And if you’re still not getting anywhere, you can consider setting a deadline of when you’d like to discuss the issue, at which time you’ll need to decide if you can be in a relationship where your partner isn’t meeting your needs, says Greer. This way, you’re not committing to leaving, you’re only committing to having a discussion and then evaluating. And if you do decide that you are not getting what you want out of your relationship, you really might be better off leaving, she says.