Is it Okay to Punish Your Partner?

So your partner has done something wrong – is okay to punish them?   You might want to “teach them a lesson” but is that the right thing to do?  Can you punish them and still enjoy the teamwork of your relationship?  It is a slippery slope for certain, let’s talk about what could go wrong.  The notion of punishing your partner is a tricky subject, often muddled by cultural, religious, or personal beliefs. However, when we examine this issue from the lens of psychology, communication, and respect, it becomes evident that the concept of spousal ‘punishment’ can be deeply problematic.  TLDR – Research shows it is usually a bad idea – here’s why:

Damage Caused by Punishing Your Spouse/Partner

Punishing your spouse can lead to a bunch of negative things that can seriously harm the foundation of your relationship.  Here are some of the problems:

  • Erosion of Trust: Punishment often creates a sense of fear, leading to an erosion of trust. Instead of feeling secure and loved, a punished spouse may feel anxious and insecure in the relationship.  Instead of changing, they may start thinking about how to get out of the relationship.

  • Power Imbalance or Dominance: The act of punishing someone inherently involves an assertion of authority or control, a dynamic that can be particularly problematic within a marital or romantic relationship. In this context, the one who punishes effectively places themselves in a position of power or control over the other, determining what is acceptable behavior and administering consequences when those standards are not met.   Your partner might start looking for books on how to deal with a controlling person.

  • Decision-Making Imbalance: When one partner assumes the role of ‘punisher’, they might also monopolize decision-making, based on the premise that they know what’s best. The other partner may feel their opinions, desires, and needs are devalued or disregarded, creating an imbalance in decision-making power.  At the end of the day you should be a team.

  • Manipulation and Coercion: Punishment can often take the form of manipulative behaviors like silent treatment, withholding affection, or guilt-tripping. These tactics can control a partner’s behavior and restrict their autonomy, creating an unhealthy power dynamic.  Nobody likes a manipulator in the long term.

  • Fear-Based Compliance: If one partner fears punishment, they may modify their behavior to avoid it, even if it means suppressing their true feelings, needs, or desires. This fear-based compliance further emphasizes the power imbalance, as one partner’s actions are governed by fear rather than mutual respect and understanding.  Do you really want your partner to fear you?



  • Less Communication and Intimacy: Punishment can hinder open, honest communication. The punished spouse might start hiding things to avoid punishment, leading to dishonesty, secrecy, and a lack of genuine understanding between partners.    
    Punishment can also create a distance between partners, affecting emotional and physical intimacy. The punished spouse may start to withdraw affection, either as a form of self-protection or as a counter-punishment. Nobody wants this.

  • Setting a Bad Example for your Kids: If children are present, they learn from your punishment. Witnessing punishment might normalize punishment – teaching them that it is normal partner interaction.  They are more likely to do this when they get married.

  • Escalation into Abuse: In some cases, what starts as seemingly minor punishment can escalate into more severe forms of emotional or even physical abuse over time.  You start out with good intentions but could things get out of control?

  • Breakdown of the Relationship: Over time, continual punishment can lead to the breakdown of the relationship. The constant tension and negativity can make the relationship unsustainable, leading to separation or divorce.

Communicate instead of Punishment!

The healthiest relationships are founded on effective, open, and respectful communication. Instead of resorting to punishment, expressing feelings and needs constructively can lead to a better understanding and stronger bonds.


Let’s say, for example, your spouse habitually forgets to do their share of household chores, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated. Instead of punishing them by being passive-aggressive or angry, effective communication would involve explaining your feelings, the impact of their behavior on you, and discussing potential solutions together. This method recognizes the autonomy of both parties, fosters mutual respect, and addresses the issue at hand in a constructive way.


What Should I do Instead of Punishing Them?

A marriage should be a partnership, a safe place where each person is respected, heard, and valued. Resorting to punishment can undermine this balance, causing harm to the emotional health of both partners. It is critical to remember that the goal is not to control the other person’s behavior, but to work together to create a shared, respectful life.


Addressing issues in a relationship can be challenging, especially when a partner does something wrong. Here are several strategies that can help you show respect and empathy while still addressing the issue effectively:

  • Choose the Right Moment: If possible, avoid addressing the issue when you’re feeling angry or upset. Give yourself time to cool down and gather your thoughts, and ensure your partner is also in a receptive state when you start the conversation.
  • Use “I” Statements: When expressing your feelings, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to avoid sounding accusatory or confrontational. For example, instead of saying, “You never help with the dishes,” say, “I feel overwhelmed when I end up doing all the dishes alone.”
  • Acknowledge Their Perspective: Even if you’re upset, try to understand their point of view. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but acknowledging their feelings and perspective demonstrates respect and empathy.
  • Avoid Blaming Language: When discussing the issue, focus on the behavior or situation, not the person. Avoid phrases that blame or criticize your partner’s character, as this can lead to defensiveness and conflict.
  • Offer Constructive Feedback: Instead of criticizing what they did wrong, suggest alternative actions they could take in the future. Be sure to phrase this as a request or suggestion, not a demand.

Respect and empathy are vital in any relationship, especially during challenging times. Approaching difficult conversations with a commitment to these values can help ensure that both partners feel heard and valued, promoting healthier communication and a stronger relationship.

Help With Couples Counseling in the Denver Area

The concept of partner punishment is a contentious one, and the dynamics of every relationship are unique. However, evidence strongly suggests that punishment does not facilitate a healthy, respectful marital relationship. Instead, communication, empathy, and problem-solving are the cornerstone of any successful partnership. Remember, the goal is not to ‘win’ or exert control but to build a nurturing, mutually respectful relationship where both parties can grow together.


If you are having relationship problems you probably have questions. This is normal and we would be happy to help you find the answers you seek.  Take a look at our Couples Counseling Specialty Page for more information. Then we invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a marriage specialist. You can schedule your appointment via phone, or the contact page on our website.  We look forward to hearing from you.


Self Care Impact Counseling envisions a new age of counseling for adolescents, adults, couples & groups that makes a REAL difference with core values of GROWTH | BALANCE | COMPASSION | INNER HARMONY.