11/15/2012 06:15 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2013

Khloe Kardashian: When Do You Give An Ultimatum?

After three years of marriage, it seems that Khloe Kardashian is sensing distance from her husband, Lamar Odom. It was reported in the recent issue of In Touch Weekly that she allegedly gave him an ultimatum to either seek help and head the difficulties off at the pass or throw in the towel. This raises the following question: Is it okay to give an ultimatum? When is it necessary to seek help? Do you wait for a crisis or do you nip it in the bud before reaching rock bottom and the issue you're facing becomes a monumental problem? And what if you want to, but your partner refuses?

Getting there together might be one of the biggest obstacles. When you are really pushed to your limit and are tempted to give an ultimatum to get your partner to change, be sure you are ready to carry out whatever actions you have in mind. The trouble with an ultimatum is that it can be experienced as not only a demand but also an "or else" because it is packed with the threat, "if you don't, then this will happen." It can come across as controlling and your partner might feel they have no real choice in the matter. That could lead to their refusing to go at all or their going resentfully. It can create a power struggle, having the opposite effect of what was hoped to be achieved. An ultimatum almost always seems like a negative warning, and often serves only to put the other person on the defensive. Instead of giving an ultimatum, make it a declaration of what you will do if things remain the same. So, for example, rather than saying if you don't come to counseling this marriage is over, say that if your partner refuses to join you in counseling, you may decide to leave the marriage. That way, the focus is on what you are going to do, not on what they have to do.

But before it reaches that point, try to focus on the positive. Talk about what you've noticed is missing between you lately. Maybe your sex life has dropped off, maybe you don't have as much fun with each other as you used to, maybe those long weekends or your weekly date nights have become a thing of the past. And then explain that you wish you could get that old feeling back. You miss being more connected. Tell your partner that you think it could help you to talk to someone together so you can figure out how to get through to each other. Make it clear that it's important enough to you that you intend to go with or without them, but that you would like them to join you. If that doesn't work, inquire if they are really happy and satisfied with the relationship the way it is so that you get them onboard with you in wanting to make things better.

If you've avoided getting help and are now faced with a betrayal, then seeking counseling to do some damage control is pretty much a given. If, on the other hand, you want to strengthen and energize your relationship, asking for help before the walls come tumbling down, how do you know when that time arrives? There are some specific indications that will let you know it's a good idea to look for outside support.

An obvious big sign that things are going awry is a change in your sex life. Have you lost your desire to have sex with your partner? Or is your partner always making an excuse to avoid having sex with you? If you are constantly feeling rejected or undesirable, not dealing with that and leaving it unresolved will only serve to make those feelings worse over time. Another sign is that you keep having the same fight over and over and can't resolve it. In my book, What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, I talk about the never -ending fight -- that one issue that keeps coming up again and again. She's always late, he doesn't make an effort to get along with your parents, she's always spending money, whatever that one issues is that constantly upsets you and around which you just can't seem to reach a compromise. If you are always feeling angry and resentful, talking to a third party might be a good idea. Finally, has your communication shut down? In other words, have you or your partner stopped trying to talk to each other about the things that bother you, saying, "What's the point?" Contrary to what it might feel like at first, sometimes that quietness isn't a sign that things have improved, but rather a sign that someone has given up. So if you're feeling resigned and have a sense of futility, it is time to get help. In the end, too much arguing or none at all can be flags.

If, like Khloe, you're unhappy in your relationship because your communication has shut down or for any other reasons, or if you're always feeling disappointed, or that you aren't important enough to your partner, reaching out for counseling would be a timely thing.

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