Is It Ever Okay To Make A Relationship Ultimatum?

Illustration for article titled Is It Ever Okay To Make A Relationship Ultimatum?

Boy and girl or boy or girl and girl or several of each meet and like each other and everything's all smiley and hunky dory until you bulldoze your way head-on into a big unmovable. What to do?


I don't mean to Carrie Bradshaw out on you; lord knows it's Sunday and I'm sure TBS is playing watered-down reruns of Sex And The City if you want your fix of Elementary Date Lessons involving copious amounts of consumerism. As a seasoned veteran of many a failed relationship, I've been thinking back lately to the times that one person has demanded something of the other- explicitly demanded- and am trying to decide whether or not that's ever acceptable. On one hand, people can't expect to control the person with whom they're romantically involved, but, on the other, sometimes a breakdown in communication occurs and the only way to express your disdain for a behavior is to call for it to cease if the relationship will continue. Sometimes you don't know that those behaviors exist until you're already neck deep in things.

I haven't demanded much of people that I've dated, but when I have, I've always retroactively questioned whether or not I've been in the right. Was it okay for me to tell that boyfriend who taught at a college that I wanted him to tell his starry-eyed former student that it was inappropriate for her to text him at all hours of the night, even though he thought she was just a harmless child? Was it okay for one boyfriend to demand that I stop responding to emails from a former fling who lived halfway across the country? Is it okay for a wife to demand her husband stop spending time with his best friend, a woman he's been close with for ten years? How about a partner demanding that his partner not go to dinner with an ex boyfriend who's only in town for the weekend?

These things seem like they should be common sense if you're the one making the demands, but often seem irrational and out of line if something's being demanded of you. If you're the collateral damage of a relationship ultimatum- like, let's say, for example, that your ex boyfriend's new girlfriend informs him that he can no longer talk to you, even though neither of you have any residual sexual desire for one another- it can feel like two forms of betrayal, and it fucking hurts.

Relationships are not easy or simple unless you're dating a real doll or one of those really disturbing sex teddy bears that I wish I had never found out about. They're filled with mystery and strange bodily smells and the taste of another person's spit and learning where someone keeps his towels and what his thoughts are re: leftovers and whether they should be tossed or saved. When things get complicated, when your partner starts asking things of you, how much should you bend? How much can you ask from them? Is it ever okay to say "do this, or it's over"?



The important thing about ultimatums is that you have to be prepared to actually walk away if your demand isn't met. Because if you say "stop drinking or I'm leaving you" and he keeps drinking, you have to leave or else you've proven yourself to be a doormat. Once you've shown that your ultimatum means nothing, you'll never have a bargaining chip in the relationship again. So if you're not ready to be really, truly done with the other person, find another way to make your wishes known.

On a personal note, I'm terrified that my current relationship is heading towards an ultimatum. He is the laziest man alive, and the part that kills me is that he's proud of it. It doesn't sound like a big deal, except that it permeates every aspect of our relationship, and no amount of gentle nudging or forceful prodding will help. We don't go anywhere unless I drag him out, and then he complains until we leave early. He doesn't clean his house unless his mother is coming over. He lets dishes sit in the sink for an entire month or longer, and when they don't fit in the sink anymore they just stay on the counter, covered in rotting food. We barely even have sex anymore, because after a long day of sitting at a desk, driving home, and sitting in his chair watching TV, he's too tired to play with me. We want to have children, but the fact that he's too lazy to even take care of himself makes me fear for his ability to help take care of our family. And it's not like we could have an Ozzy and Harriet agreement where the house and family are my entire job, because he's even too lazy to spend two years taking classes in the evenings to get the degree that would instantly double his income. No, I would still have to work, and I can see him coming home and parking his ass on the couch while I, who works longer hours than he does, would have to cook and clean and bathe kids and supervise homework and do all of it alone, and I CAN'T have that life without some goddamned help.

Ahem. Sorry about that. It's been building up for ages and I have no one I can talk to about it because everyone thinks we're a picture-perfect couple. Like I said, I think it's heading towards an ultimatum—he either figures out the root cause of his laziness and deals with it so he can be an actual partner with me, or I'm done. I'm just not ready to walk away quite yet...