I used to warn people not to give ultimatums because they were often just empty threats that caused more harm than good. But after years of watching long term relationships and marriages ending, I have now changed my mind. I have lost count of the number of people who have not only been devastated when their relationship ended, but they’re in complete shock. Their partners on the other hand, are shocked by the surprise.
This is a common scene that plays out in my office:
Person 1 – I can’t go on in this relationship any more. It’s over.
Person 2 – You can’t be serious. We can work it out. I’ll do anything.
Person 1 – It’s too late. I have been telling you for years that I’ve been unhappy and nothing has changed.
Person 2 – When did you tell me? I had no idea that you were that unhappy.
Person 1 – I can’t believe you didn’t know. You never listen to me.
Person 2 – Well if you’d said it clearly then I would have heard it. Why didn’t you say that if things don’t change, you’d leave?
And there it is ….. the ultimatum. In other words, an ultimatum would have done the trick. And that’s why I’ve changed my mind.
Obviously, it’s terribly destructive to continually threaten to leave a relationship. But if you’re becoming more and more unhappy and you have tried to explain what’s distressing you, it’s time to speak in a way that will be heard. Tell your partner that you are seriously contemplating ending the relationship if things don’t change. In other words, give an ultimatum before it’s too late. If you wait too long, you risk emotionally checking out of the relationship and nothing your partner does at that point will be enough.