Ultimatums get a bad rap more often than not, especially in the context of relationships. They’re considered unfair, unhealthy, and unjust. However, that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes, ultimatums, in some cases, can lead to healthy relationships.
For example, they can be crucial to setting necessary boundaries with your partner and ensuring your relationship is comfortable for both people. Some individuals find ultimatums to be confidence-boosting — by owning your confidence and respectfully communicating your needs and values to your partner, you’re laying everything out on the table for them. If they choose to work with you on improving a certain issue or behavior, then the relationship can move forward.
However, it’s important to recognize what is a fair and unfair ultimatum to give to your partner, and utilize that information before making any decisions.
According to relationship strategist Anna Gonowon, "The differences between healthy and unhealthy ultimatums are in when they’re given." For example, a positive ultimatum is given during a calm moment where both of you are listening to each other’s feelings and being respectful. A healthy ultimatum can also be based on what the actual intent of the conversation is: Are you threatening your partner? Or is the ultimatum given after multiple chances and conversations about the issue?
Here are seven ultimatums that can actually improve your relationship, according to experts.
1"I Need Time To Get Ready"
Even something as small as ensuring your partner understands your needs while getting ready to go out can cause a lot less strain on your relationship. Gonowon says she does this with her partner — because she needs 30-50 minutes to get ready, she asked her partner to start giving her more notice before going out. If her partner continues to limit the amount of time she has, she lets her partner know that they can go out without her. While not everyone will share the same priorities, it’s key to respect what is important to your partner, and vie versa.
2"I Will Choose To Do Something Else If You Stay On Your Phone"
Let’s say your partner is glued to their phone at all times, and refuses to put it away, even when you are trying get their attention regarding something important. It’s necessary to get the message across to them that their behavior is not OK with you, and that having their undivided attention at certain times is important to you. "Ultimatums can … be about setting boundaries," counselor Jordan Pickell tells Bustle. "It’s about knowing what you want and deserve … [and] communicating what you will absolutely not accept."
3"That Makes Me Uncomfortable, Please Do Not Say That Again"
Instead of formulating your ultimatum as a threat to your partner, get to the route of the problem: What is bothering you, and why? How does it make you feel? "It’s healthier to start with how you feel so the person knows the pain you are in," psychiatrist Laura Dabney tells Bustle. Setting boundaries can be a vulnerable conversation, since it’s all about telling the other person how you feel and what it is they do that upsets you. "I give my patients the X / Y template, such as ‘I get hurt when you tease me about my spelling so could you please not do that,’" Dr. Dabney says.
4"When You Message Your Ex, It Makes Me Feel Hurt"
There’s always "gray areas" in relationships, and when things aren’t clearly stated, it can be difficult to tell or to know if you are upsetting your partner with your words or actions. "Sometimes we test each other’s boundaries so ultimatums reinforce them so that they are clear and understood by both parties," Lauryn Huang, CEO of Singapore-based dating agency Grouvly, tells Bustle. "It’s important to remind ourselves that people don’t hurt us on purpose even when they are breaking our boundaries."
When it comes to confronting your partner about contacting their ex, for example, Huang suggests saying, "I am not OK with you flirting or calling your ex. I feel that we’ve talked about this many times. When you flirt/call your ex, it makes me feel unvalued." From there, if your partner does not see your side, it’s up to you to decide if this is a dealbreaker. By explaining to your partner how their actions make you feel, you can address the situation from a place of genuine concern, as opposed to anger and resentment.
5"We Don’t Always Need To Watch TV Together If We Want To Watch Different Things"
Remember, when you’re giving an ultimatum for your partner, you can’t control how they will react and if anything will change. Instead, remind yourself that this ultimatum is for you — knowing your worth, how you should be treated, and what you deserve out of a relationship. "Think of an ultimatum as self-care, not trying not control another person. You are issuing one because it’s the only way you believe that you can take care of yourself," licensed psychotherapist Karen Koenig tells Bustle. According to Koenig, an example of a self-care ultimatum could be something as simple as coming to a compromise on your screen time. While it may seem unimportant to some, letting your partner know that you need to reach a compromise helps you stand up for your own boundaries that they may be crossing.
6"Either We Are Exclusive, Or I Have to Think About If I Want to Continue This"
Above all, the conversation should be about you and your partner coming up with a solution to improve your relationship, or defining the level of commitment you’re both willing to make. "If your partner won’t make the kind of commitment you want, you may be ready to move on," Dr. Edelman says. By clearly and calmly explaining to your partner that you want to be exclusive, you are laying your expectations out. While this ultimatum may be a tough one, it is a proactive way to stand up for what you want.
7"We Need To Be Able To Save Money"
Finances and money is a tricky subject to address, albeit an important one, which is why it’s so vital to ensure you’re addressing any financial concerns or issues in a calm way. "The way you do it is key. If you come off as loving, but extremely concerned about your problem, you may have a better outcome," Dr. Susan Edelman tells Bustle. By being upfront about your financial expectations — especially if you share bank accounts — you are starting a conversation about ground rules that will work for the both of you.
So next time you’re having any kind of second thoughts or doubts about your partner, it may be helpful to have a heart-to-heart conversation, express your feelings, and give them a fair choice on what they can do to salvage the relationship.