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10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Someone an Ultimatum

Head and shoulders photograph of Suzannah Weiss
Upset couple lying on a picnic blanket in a park
When you’re dating someone who isn’t living up to your expectations, it’s common to want to let them know that there will be consequences if they don’t make certain changes. However, ultimatums can sometimes do more harm than good, and it’s essential to consider the implications of what you’re doing by giving one.

You might have heard the phrase “I gave him an ultimatum” or “it’s time to give an ultimatum” when people talk about relationships. Giving someone an ultimatum, generally, involves a declaration that you need something to change, or you won’t be able to stay in the relationship, at least not in its current form.

Ultimatums in relationships may include ending the relationship and finding someone new, moving out of a shared home, or refusing to get engaged or married until a change is made.

In one study that analyzed 22 proposals, eight resulted from the woman giving an ultimatum. The threat of their partner leaving was enough to convince the men to propose.

Ultimatums are best used sparingly, though—and here are 10 questions to ask yourself before giving one.

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1. Am I Prepared to Follow Through on the Ultimatum?

You should know how to give an ultimatum in a relationship if you want it to be effective. If you’re going to tell your partner that you’ll break up with them, move out, or do anything drastic if they don’t meet certain conditions, you should actually be prepared to do that.

If you aren't, you're actually giving them a dishonest, empty threat. Instead, let them know how their behavior is affecting you. Try not to say, “I’m going to move out if you don’t do your share of the chores,” when you know you actually won’t. Instead, try saying, “When you leave me to do most of the chores, I feel stressed out and taken advantage of.”

A considerate partner will care about your feelings whether or not you give them an ultimatum.

2. Is the Ultimatum Realistic?

Sometimes, when we want our partner to change, we really want a different person. For instance, if your partner is an artist who prefers pursuing their dreams over financial stability, it’s not realistic to pressure them to find a stable job. If that’s important to you, you are better off leaving the relationship without an ultimatum.

Are ultimatums controlling? It depends. A controlling ultimatum example is saying something like: “You need to get a 9-5 job, or I’m leaving you.” This imposes your own wishes and values on your partner, leaving you disappointed as you wait for them to meet standards they have no intention of meeting.

Instead, try saying, “It’s important to me to have a partner who is making a steady income. It doesn’t seem like that’s a goal of yours. Is that correct?” If that is something they’d like to change about themselves, they’ll let you know.

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3. Am I Acting Out of Anger?

If you have a partner with anger issues (or if you’re the one who does), they may say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t sincerely mean. An ultimatum might come out at a time like this: “I’ve had it! If this doesn’t change, I’m out!”

When speaking from a place of anger like this, we may express ideas more harshly than we need to. One study found that older couples who had been married longer argued less than newer couples. When they did argue, their arguments focused on finding solutions instead of attacking each other.

There are ways to control anger and handle stress. If you’re having trouble speaking to your partner with kindness, take some time to cool off before resuming the conversation. One way to do this is to go for a walk and come back once you feel you have regained some self-control.

4. Is My Partner Working On Themselves?

It’s important to know how to be a supportive partner. If your partner already knows that their behavior is bothering you and is working to change it, an ultimatum may be redundant and unnecessarily harsh.

For instance, if they have trouble keeping their commitments but have made efforts such as dedicating time to you in their calendar and answering their texts more promptly, it may be more helpful to support them in these efforts. As an additional option, online therapy can help you and your partner work on bettering yourselves and your relationship.

Acknowledge the effort they’ve already put in and suggest additional strategies to continue making progress. This may actually motivate them because they won’t be stressed or resentful.

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5. Why Do I Want to Give This Ultimatum?

Before giving an ultimatum, it’s important to examine your motivations. Some people give ultimatums to have a sense of power. You might think that if you put the relationship on the line, your partner will work hard to please you. However, you probably want your partner to be working to make you happy because they want to, not because they need to. Keeping them in a state of fear isn’t conducive to genuine intimacy and caring.

It wouldn't hurt to take the time to consider whether you may also have to work on a few things to improve yourself too. Giving ultimatums in marriage can also be especially tricky, which is why it’s useful to know how to give an ultimatum without giving one.

6. How Will I Feel if I Get What I Want?

What if your partner takes your ultimatum seriously and decides to make the changes you’re requesting? How would you feel? If you think you’d feel satisfied and happy, go for it. Maybe you imagine you might feel some guilt for pressuring them. Perhaps you're worried that if they do what you want, it’s not because they actually want to. In these cases, you may want to be careful what you wish for.

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7. How Would I Feel if They Left?

Someone giving an ultimatum may want to feel like they’re in control because they could end the relationship. But sometimes, people are surprised that their partners end the relationship when given an ultimatum. If you tell your partner that you can’t be in the relationship if they don’t change, their reaction may be to say, “OK, I don’t want to change, so let’s break up.”

If this happened, would you feel at peace knowing you are truly incompatible? Or would you wish you had not given the ultimatum? An ultimatum might not be the best choice if it's the latter.

8. How Long Am I Willing to Wait to Get What I Want?

If you’re frustrated that your partner isn’t ready to take the relationship to the next level—whether that’s moving in together, getting engaged, or getting married—ask yourself if you need that right now or if you’re willing to wait. How long is too long to wait for someone? That’s up to you. If it’s now or never, an ultimatum is appropriate.

But if you’d feel comfortable with things taking a little longer than you’d like, ask yourself whether your partner seems to be on track to becoming ready for this step. If they are, give it time rather than trying to force it now.

» Do things feel unfixable? This might be one of the signs that your relationship is over.

9. How Am I Really Feeling Right Now?

Sometimes, getting angry and giving an ultimatum can be a way of masking a deeper emotion. Maybe you’re actually feeling really hurt that your partner isn’t giving you the attention you need, and it would be more helpful to be vulnerable and let them know how you’re feeling.

Putting in the time to communicate with your partner will often get them to listen better than an ultimatum because you’re not putting them on the defense. Identifying emotions is a valuable skill here. Try using a “how am I feeling today chart” to identify patterns and emotional triggers. You can even try some meditation hacks to help make better decisions.

10. How Would I Feel in Their Position?

Whenever you’re experiencing a conflict with a partner, it’s crucial to know how to be more empathetic.

Put yourself in their position. Maybe there are aspects of the issue that you’re not seeing, or maybe allowing yourself to see things through their eyes will help you understand how an ultimatum might affect them. Whatever happens, try to maintain respect for their position, even if you don’t see eye to eye.

A Final Note

Giving an ultimatum is not something that should be done carelessly and is best used as a last resort because it could make or break your relationship. Take some time to think about it and consider discussing your concerns and frustrations with your partner first.

If you don't feel heard even after giving an ultimatum, it might be time to move on and find someone else who would be able to meet your needs. Finding a new partner is always possible, no matter your age. Be gentle with yourself and start slow by checking out a few dating apps like Zoosk or OurTime. Your perfect partner is out there somewhere.

» Maybe you're not meant to be? Try these Bumble alternatives to find meaningful connections.

Head and shoulders photograph of Suzannah Weiss
Suzannah Weiss is a feminist writer, certified sex educator, and Brown University graduate in Cognitive Neuroscience and Gender and Sexuality Studies. In addition to writing for Top10.com, Suzannah written for major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. Weiss' writing about feminist issues and sexuality has also been discussed on The Today Show, The View, and C-SPAN.