Q: I've been seeing someone intermittently for six months. I enjoy our time together, but I am always the one to arrange everything.
On the one hand, I would like to tell this person that the fact that we only see each other if I do all the calling and planning makes me feel like I'm the only one interested in getting together, and that this will eventually sour me on the whole idea.
But I'm wary of trying to control another adult's actions, and this feels like it's on the edge of an ultimatum: Could you help me clarify when something is an ultimatum versus when it's a statement of need?
A: Ultimatums — "Start initiating some contact or we're through" — are bad for relationships because they mess with a person's natural motivation. In good relationships, both parties are motivated not just by their own needs, but also by the needs of the other person and of the relationship itself. Both parties work to keep these in balance.
When one of you lobs an ultimatum, you essentially say, "Do what I want or it'll cost you." That forces the other into one of two bad choices: Cave, thereby acting in self-interest instead of remaining invested in the balance, or refuse to cave, thereby denying, just on a technicality, something the other person values or needs.
Ultimatums are particularly unfortunate because they're so easy to avoid. You need only say exactly what you're thinking and feeling, voice your specific request, then skip the part about the threat.