For whatever reason, ultimatums have a bad rap—probably because people presented with ultimatums are usually pissed about it. They feel they’ve been unfairly backed into a corner, blaming the ultimatum giver for leveling threats at them.
But fuck that. An ultimatum is a choice between two courses of action as defined by the ultimatum giver, along the lines of “If you do or don’t do this, I’m going to do this.” There’s usually some kind of major consequence involved, hence the term “ultimatum.”
Life is a series of choices—note that failing to make a choice is also a choice—and an ultimatum is no different. The problem is people often mistake ultimatums for threats. A threat is using fear to force someone to act in a way they normally wouldn’t, ex. “Sign this document or I’ll kill you.” An ultimatum is forcing someone to take responsibility for their actions, ex. “Get help for your drinking problem or I’ll leave you.”
An ultimatum can seem like a threat, but the key difference is the ultimatum receiver’s fear is irrelevant; a person giving an ultimatum is stating a fact about how they will act, not about how the receiver should act. For instance, in the above ultimatum example, the receiver can decide to do nothing to curb their drinking. It’s the ultimatum giver who then acts to change their own behavior by leaving as they said they would, which may or may not affect the ultimatum receiver.
I see to many people stuck in crappy relationships because they think issuing an ultimatum is a shitty thing to do. It’s not! Remember, an ultimatum is about forcing someone to accept responsibility for the things they’ve already done, and you are being forced to act, not them.
So go ahead and issue an ultimatum if the situation warrants it—that is, if you’re ready for a change no matter what. Because you absolutely must follow through on an ultimatum; otherwise, it’s just an empty threat.