Or we give friends advice to give ultimatums. We say, You need to tell them they better do X or Y, or you’re not going to put up with that. They better come home earlier. They better stop nagging you. They better start calling more. They better get a job. Or else, you won’t come home either. Or else you’ll leave. Or else you’ll get a divorce. Or else….
But ultimatums are actually destructive to relationships. For starters, “an ultimatum is a demand,” which is expressed as a deal breaker, said Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in working with couples in New York City.
It’s essentially a threat with consequences, said Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships in Orange County, Calif. An ultimatum is usually drastic and all or nothing. Nickerson shared these examples: “Stop drinking or I am going to make sure you never see the kids again.” “Marry me or I will find someone who will.” “Have sex with me more often or I am going to start cheating.”
Ultimatums are destructive because they make your partner feel pressured and trapped, and force them to take action, she said. “Generally, we don’t want to force people to do anything, because they’ll do it, and it won’t be genuine, and resentment will form….[I]t’s hard to feel loving towards someone who is making threats or demands.”
Plus, “By forcing your partner’s hand, you are raising the tension level even higher in a situation that presents an important opportunity to nurture mutual understanding and trust,” Fitzpatrick said. “And if you win, it’s not a win for the relationship.”