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Unbroken's avatar

What is the difference between a personal boundary and an ultimatum?

Asked by Unbroken (10279 points ) December 8th, 2012

Boundaries are in place to protect you. Ultimatum’s are used to either force a person into compliance with you or create some sort of negative consequence.

I realize the intent is different. Maybe not. Boundaries are for self protection, ultimatum’s are also a form of protection. I mean the methodology and execution is wrong. But isn’t the intent the same?

What is different about the execution? Meaning this is a non negotiable issue for the person its compliance or a change in the relationship. either diminished importance or walking away completely.

This could be in an established relationship you were never comfortable in or in new and budding ones.

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10 Answers

Shippy's avatar

I think one is a defense the other is simply a border one should not cross? Boundaries would be a daily thing, ultimatums a result of some sort of conflict. I am not sure I am reading your question correctly by the way.

marinelife's avatar

Setting a boundary involves protecting yourself in some way. Issuing an ultimatum does not have that restriction.

cookieman's avatar

One often involves a weapon.

CWOTUS's avatar

A border can be thought of as a type of policy to be enforced – and it may not always be enforced. There is no implied or explicit threat in a border (well, assuming you haven’t surrounded a literal property border with land mines, for example, or a mined moat). But the border contains no threat.

An ultimatum is a choice offered to another, containing an explicit threat to take some action (or to refrain from acting) if another party takes (or refuses to take) certain actions.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I’d say a boundary is an invisible line that you do not allow others to cross, and an ultimatum would be more of a warning of consequences.
Hmmm…come to think of it I issued an ultimatum today.
Told a company if they do not replace a defective item I will reverse the charges on my credit card and they can duke it out with amazon.

Yep, I think that was an ultimatum. haha

burntbonez's avatar

When you establish and enforce a boundary, it’s a protective thing. You tell someone they may not get any closer.

When you issue an ultimatum, you are threatening a person. Do this, or there will be a consequences of some kind. It’s a much more aggressive act.

Have you been issuing any ultimatums? Or receiving them? I hope neither is the case. That is a very uncomfortable situation to be in. Boundaries, if clearly denoted and posted, generally mean you don’t have to do anything. Ultimatums require drastic action, whether they are given or received.

Unbroken's avatar

@Shippy :( hope you come back. It was hard to word the question clearly.
@marinelife Yes the intent is different, but when setting a personal boundary in an established relationship aren’t you terribly close to an ultimatum?
@cookieman Lol, Now I know why you have such a successful relationship.
@CWOTUS but aren’t there consequences of crossing a boundary or what is the point of having them, or more to the point, what enforces them?
@Coloma Good luck with that.
@burntbonez Not so much I was reading a book that mentioned boundaries and or course this is an issue I need to work on with certain people. I just thought the distinction was unclear and this didn’t resolve any questions. Ultimatums seem innately unproductive for lasting relationships, imo. So how to set boundaries with out crossing the line. What is the line other then intent?

CWOTUS's avatar

We all have “personal boundaries”, for example, but with some we make specific exceptions. We not only “don’t enforce” that boundary, but we welcome and want some people inside it. With a stranger on an elevator, not so much.

To continue that example, with a stranger (on an elevator or anywhere else) we have our normal “personal boundary area” (not explicit, but for everyone there is an implied boundary). When it is crossed, the normal response is… to withdraw a bit. This is normal and natural, and it happens to us nearly every day. That simple action re-establishes the boundary.

At some point, when the boundary has been pressed and crossed (usually by a boor who won’t even recognize or acknowledge that he’s doing it), after a couple of repetitions is when you issue the ultimatum, “Look, if you keep breathing in my face I’m going to fix you so that you stop breathing altogether!” or something like that.

So the normal “enforcement” is to re-establish the boundary. When that effort becomes onerous or near impossible is when the ultimatum is issued.

burntbonez's avatar

Boundaries, at their simplest level, mean saying “no.” Let’s say you are dating someone and they want more details about your life than you are comfortable with. If you have poor boundaries, you have a hard time saying no, and you give that person details of your past that you wish you hadn’t.

Women who have been abused are particularly prone to this. They have learned that they don’t really count, because when young, they said no, and their abuser never paid attention. They may also have been manipulated so that they are taught if they don’t say yes, they will lose everything.

It can be very difficult to learn to say “no.” You have to just do it, and then ask them to leave, and expect them to do as you request. If you don’t want them to return, you close the door and never open if for them again. Never answer their calls again. This can be very difficult for some people to do.

The bottom line is deciding, in advance, what is acceptable and what isn’t. Then saying no to what is not acceptable.

It is also recognizing a need to please, and turning that down a bit. It is ok to please others, but not ok to run yourself over in your need to please. It means facing your fears of loss if you don’t please a person and they leave. It means realizing you will do fine without them. A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

Unbroken's avatar

@CWOTUS Interesting. And a very good description. I hestitate to give up all of my right to privacy though, so I don’t necessarily agree that we want people inside it. I mean I guess maybe we might want them in our front yard and not our house, and others in our house but not our bedroom. Or maybe perhaps in our bedroom but not our bathroom or closet or attic. Does that make sense? But then I guess I am splitting hairs. Thank you.

@burntbonez You were very tactful but you hit pretty much on mark. Oddly enough I don’t really have an issue with walking away or not returning phone calls, when a person clearly does something that I feel is out of line I may or may not talk to them about it. My problem is my need to please which isn’t based on a need for acceptance but seemingly a moral imperative or maybe just no clear delineations on when I am being too uptight or too sensitive creating problems by making nonissues issues, and where it is actually reasonable and healthy boundaries. Maybe in that respect is why I have issues maintaining boundaries with some and not with others.

But thank you for the advice much discovered and much to think about.

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