Is it ever a good idea to issue an ultimatum? Relationship experts weigh in

You've likely binged 'The Ultimatum' on Netflix, but does this approach to love actually work?

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Allow us to introduce you to The Ultimatum, our latest Netflix indulgence. 

The exploratory concept is not for the faint of heart, but it does keep viewers pinned to the couch. In this new release, fans witness couples at a crossroads—one party is ready to move forward, the other is ready to move on. 

It sounds like a fairly common romantic occurrence. However, most of us are not usually placed in a situation where our love is tested...with the help of a temporary S.O. Oh, and did we mention actual partners are all within striking distance, keeping company a test lover of their own? 

Needless to say, we shuffled our TV schedules accordingly for this one, but the show did get us thinking about our love lives. What happens if we cannot quite get on the same page with our S.O.? What if there are sexual discrepancies? How should lifestyle differences be approached? 

In true Carrie Bradshaw fashion, we couldn't help but wonder if it's ever a good idea to issue an ultimatum to our other half. Well, much like love itself, the answer is complicated.

"Ultimatums are often either empty threats or forcing someone to do something that will end in resentment," says Michelle Elman, life coach and author of The Joy Of Being Selfish (opens in new tab). "Instead, set boundaries and set consequences to those boundaries."

Adding to that notion, Elaine Parker, founder of Safer Date (opens in new tab), says: "There are healthy and unhealthy ultimatums. Some are all about setting boundaries, and some are examples of controlling behavior. It's important to recognize which is which."

Embrace your heartache, one tune at a time

(Image credit: Halfpoint)

Why do we need to enforce said boundaries? In certain cases, it's necessary. 

"If your significant other’s behavior is destructive to your peace, damaging to your reputation and hurting themselves or anyone else physically or emotionally, something has to give," says relationship coach Lee Wilson (opens in new tab). "If the ultimatum benefits both of the partners, then the ultimatum serves a greater purpose in effecting change."

If you feel as though your union has come to the point where serious matters need to be addressed, here's what you need to know. 

How to set an ultimatum in your relationship

1. Be careful in your approach

Your tone and your delivery are incredibly important. Reveal your concerns with compassion and willingness to work through issues. 

"I only recommend ultimatums when one partner has clearly expressed their dealbreakers—without hostility, judgment or blame—and the other says they will change but they don't," says relationship and dating expert with Seeking.com (opens in new tab)Jeanne Sullivan Billeci (opens in new tab).

2. Prepare for the outcome

There's a chance things might not go your way, as difficult as it might be to admit. 

"In extreme situations, I’d encourage people to really consider the outcome first," says Ipek Kucuk, dating and trends expert at happn (opens in new tab). "Ask yourself, 'Am I sure that, if this doesn’t go the way I hope, that I’ll be able to handle the likely breakdown of my relationship?' If the answer to that is no, then an ultimatum isn’t the way forward."

3. Don't lose sight of your desires 

Yes, relationships are about compromise, but you are a factor in the equation who deserves the proper treatment. Do not be afraid to let your expectations be known—and don't make excuses for your partner when those wants are being ignored.

"Boundaries are about you and your needs and you having the self-esteem to know those needs deserve to be met," Elman says. 

Likewise, Kucuk adds: "You know what you deserve and what you want from your partner, so don’t be afraid to go there. Sometimes, and especially in relationships, we need to take control and give ourselves what we deserve."

Though a "yes" or "no" answer to the ultimatum question is not really possible, relationship experts will tell you listen to your gut, do what makes you happy and be honest with yourself and loved one. 

Dealing with these issues can never be easy, but at least you don't have to watch matters unfold on a streaming platform! If you need a little extra TLC in the relationship department, explore how to use tarot cards for love (according to the pros), get in tune with the five love languages (particularly yours) and trust that what is meant to be will fall into place.

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, covering all-things news, lifestyle and entertainment. 


The heart of her time at Future has been devoted to My Imperfect Life, where she's been attuned to the cosmos and honed in on astrology coverage within the Life vertical. She's partial to writing pieces about the next big TV obsession—anyone else impatiently waiting for "Conversations with Friends"—and keeping you up to date on new trends like the latest must-have from Zara. 


Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, amNewYork and Newsday, among other outlets. 


When Danielle is not working, you can usually find her reading a new book, coffee at hand, or attempting a new recipe. (Recommendations always welcome!)