THE BLOG
03/14/2014 12:56 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2014

The Punishment Model

There's a process I see when I work with individuals and couples. I call it the "Punishment Model." As I listen to many couples sharing their issues, I often see one partner berating their significant other. They are just verbally beating them up. Wow! This is painful and it's not the most effective way to creating a loving relationship. These people are supposed to be "loving each other." And, here they are hurting each other. What's going on?

Basically, the berating partner is attempting to teach their significant other a lesson. Let me explain.

Let's say a child attempts to put their finger in a candle flame. The parent sees this and, with much terror and fervor, the parent slaps the child's hand. The parent says, "Don't you ever put your finger in a flame again!" To make his/her point, the parent again slaps the child's hand. The child being curious and wonders what all the commotion is about, so they attempt to touch this magical flame again. The parent sees this second attempt and totally loses it. Yelling, "I told you not to put your finger in that flame!" The parent slaps the child's hand again and again and again. Then the parent says, "I'm going to punish you so severely that you will never put your finger in a flame again. And, if you even think of putting your finger in a flame, you'll remember this moment!" The parent then slaps the child's hand again and again.

This is the "Punishment Model." Simply, someone does something "wrong" and a punishment is delivered. A lesson is supposedly being taught. And, the punishment continues until everyone knows the lesson has been learned, and until everyone knows that the behavior has been eradicated forever.

When I see this process occurring in a relationship, I frequently ask, "What lesson are you trying to teach your partner?" Their response is, "I don't know! I didn't know I was teaching a lesson." My next question is, "How will you know your partner has learned the lesson? This is important to know, because you will continue punishing your partner until you know they have learned the lesson." Their response again is, "I don't know."

This same process happens within ourselves. We beat our selves up for doing what we think is "wrong" and we keep beating ourselves over and over again, hoping we will never repeat the behavior.

The "Punishment Model" is not the most effective way to promote change and yet it does work. That's why we keep doing it. I'm not suggesting that we use the "Punishment Model" as a method for change, however, if you find yourself in the process, either as the recipient of the punishment or the deliver of the punishment, you could ask those two important questions.

"What is the lesson I want you to learn or I am to be learning?" and "When will I know I you have or I have learned the lesson?"

Stating the answers out loud often ends the punishment. Learning has occurred and we can return to a loving place.