Is it Okay to Punish Your Spouse? 

When your spouse does something that hurts you or that you don’t like, is it okay to punish your spouse? Although many people might initially say that they wouldn’t ever punish their spouse, if they looked more closely at some of their behaviors, they may discover that they have in fact, attempted to punish their spouse at one time or another.

There’s lots of different ways people attempt to teach their spouse “a lesson.” It’s important to examine the motives behind your behaviors and to look at how your behaviors are impacting the marriage. Punishing your spouse is likely going to do more damage to the relationship rather than motivate your spouse to change.

Damage Caused by Punishments

If you punish your spouse, it breaks down the idea that the two of you are partners working together. Punishment means that one person tries to gain the power and control over the other. Instead of an equal partnership, punishment creates more of a parent-child dynamic where one spouse is teaching the other how to behave. No one wants to be married to someone that acts like his mother. And it isn’t healthy to be married to someone that you think behaves like a child either.

When people are punished by another adult, they sometimes grow angry and resentful. Your spouse may feel manipulated by you. It can cause the partner who feels punished to begin acting more like a rebellious child. It is important that the two of you can talk openly about your feelings and work through problems together without developing power and control issues.

Types of Punishment

There’s lots of different ways people punish their spouse. Withholding physical affection, such as sex or even hugs and kisses, can be a form of punishment. Another way people punish their spouse is emotionally. Giving the silent treatment can be a punishment. Some people avoid their spouse by sleeping on the couch or leaving the house whenever their spouse is home.

Sometimes just not doing what your spouse asks of you can be a form of punishment. For example, “You didn’t do what I wanted, so now I won’t do what you want.” Refusing to do things out of spite to make your partner feel bad on purpose is a form of punishment.

There are more passive-aggressive approaches to punishment as well. For example, a wife who purposely makes her husband late because she is angry that they are going to his mother’s house for dinner. To punish him, she secretly tries to sabotage his efforts out of anger. Another form of this may be pretending to forget things that are important to your spouse, such as a husband who says “oops I forgot to pick up your dry cleaning today” because he is angry at his wife for working long hours.

Punishment Versus Natural Consequences

There is a difference between punishing your spouse and allowing for natural consequences. For example, Janie disliked her husband’s drinking. She told him that whenever he came home drunk, it was not enjoyable to spend time with him. She warned him that in order to meet her own needs and take care of herself, she would not spend time with him when he was drunk. And when he returned home after drinking, she left the room. When he was sober, she chose to spend more time with him.

If Janie had wanted to punish her husband, she could have used something like withholding sex for a week or refusing to go with him to his mother’s the following day. Punishments often don’t have much to do with the behavior. A natural consequence directly relates to the behavior that your partner exhibits. Allowing for natural consequences sometimes can be very effective in creating change. Where punishments can damage the relationship further, natural consequences can help someone take more responsibility for their behaviors.

Alternatives to Punishment

You certainly don’t have to tolerate behaviors that are unhealthy and you have a right to take care of yourself. If your partner is doing things that you don’t like, talk about it together. It is important to express your hurt, anger, or sadness in a direct manner.

Also, tell your spouse what you need. Effectively communicating your needs and wants can be a good first step in creating change. If your partner refuses to change, determine what steps you can take to take care of yourself.

If you have developed a habit of punishing your partner, it can be a difficult habit to break. Learning new skills can help improve your marriage. Marriage counselors can help the two of you learn how to resolve conflict and solve problems together. Counseling can also assist you in learning new ways to deal with unpleasant feelings, such as sadness and anger.

One Response to “Is it Okay to Punish Your Spouse?”

  1. If I have a problem in my life I always try to put a system in place and the simpler and more intuitive the system, the better its chances of working.
    In the marriage workshops I teach we learn many systems. Punishment is not an effective system when it is arbitrary. Like Amy Morin states in her article, “Punishments often don’t have much to do with the behavior.” The woman with the drunk husband set up a system that is directly related to the undesirable behavior and it worked.
    Thanks for the great advice, Amy!

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