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USA Insider Temptation Island

Is Giving An Ultimatum Ever OK In A Relationship?

Ultimatums happen on shows like "Temptation Island" and "Love Island" all the time.

By Tyler McCarthy

In almost every reality dating show, commitment becomes a major test for couples. Whether it’s focusing on seeing a longtime relationship’s strength on “Temptation Island” or seeing how far the spark between two new people will go on “Love Island,” there’s always at least one couple who finds themselves dealing with the dreaded ultimatum. 

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In relationships, ultimatums happen when one partner believes they’ve exhausted all other options to get what they want from the other person and tells them they’ll end things if they don’t fall in line. It’s a huge, high-risk, high-reward gambit designed to end what could often be months of squabbling over someone’s needs in a relationship. However, it also essentially lets one person hold that relationship hostage. 

Relationship expert and psychotherapist Rachel Sussman told USAInsider that, while reality TV shows are extreme circumstances, there’s almost always a healthier way to achieve synchronization within one’s relationship. 

“I'm not a huge fan of ultimatums. I'm a bigger fan of communicating and telling your partner where you're at and what you need over the passage of time. I think, if you look at a relationship and you start telling your partner what you need, you don't have to say ever, ‘I’ll leave if I don't get it, X, Y, Z.,’” she said. “But if you're asking for something you need and that doesn't happen, it can lead to a whole other conversation … I think there's a lot that can be accomplished by talking things through without saying. ‘And if that doesn't happen, this has to happen.’”

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The key thing to keep in mind, according to Sussman, is that an ultimatum hinges on the concept of a threat. It can be the threat of ending the relationship or withholding something your partner needs. So, everyone considering issuing an ultimatum, as desperate as they may be to get what they want out of their partner, needs to ask themselves if inviting threats into their love language is something they truly think will strengthen their bond. 

Instead, she feels that a lot of this kind of desperation and relationship headaches can be avoided by being clear with your partner early on in dating them about what you want and what you need from them to get it.

“I don't feel there's ever a time and a place to threaten someone, right?” she explained. “If you stick with it from the very first conversation, trying to feel the other person out, saying ‘this is what I'm looking for. Are we on the same page? Is this what you're looking for?’ you could get a lot of information from those early conversations.”

She added: “And then if you think you're on the same page. Great. So we're heading in that in that same direction that we're heading in this direction together. And maybe there's some benchmarks where this couple or these people check in with each other and then it doesn't look like it's going in that direction. That could be another conversation.”


Unfortunately, this strategy requires someone to know what they want going into the dating pool. That can be difficult because many people don’t know what they want until they’ve sampled a bit of what they don’t. As a result, it’s important to understand that, although two people may have chemistry together, that doesn’t make them compatible long-term, and that’s OK. 

“I just don't know many examples of ultimatums working, but I know a lot of examples of someone saying, ‘I think you're a great person. I really enjoy getting to know you. We're not at the same place right now. And that's OK. You do you, I’m going to do me,’” Sussman concluded. “That’s just so much better than that ultimatum conversation, which can lead to people really being ugly.” 

You can see how ultimatums have played out on shows like “Temptation Island” and “Love Island,” streaming right now on Peacock. 

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