What a great question!
I wish I heard more people asking it.
I want to explore the process of punishment. The process of punishment shows up in many relationships: couples, parent/child, employee/employer, friend/friend, as well as, the relationship you share with yourself.
In the olden days and, unfortunately still occasionally today, a parent might catch a child about to put their finger into a flame. The parent immediately slaps the child's hand and says, "No! Don't touch that!" The startled, yet curious child again attempts to put their finger into the flame and the parent responds with an even harder slap and a louder voice. This continues to escalate until the parent says, "I am going to beat you so hard that you will never put your finger in a flame again, and if you even think about it, the first ting you will remember is this beating!
How painful this is. And yet, I see people doing this to each other all the time. They don't physically hit each other, for the most part. They just use harsh, hurtful words. However, energetically it's the same process. They are punishing each other for something that was or wasn't said or done.
In primary relationships, this looks like one partner is scolding their "beloved" with harsh hurtful words over and over again. When I see this going on, I ask, "What's the lesson that you're attempting to teach your partner?" I usually get a look of wonderment and they say, "I don't know. I wasn't aware that I was teaching him/her a lesson. I was just letting him/her know how I'm feeling."
Yes, with intensity and repetition.
Most people are not aware of the lesson they are attempting to teach their partner. I often say behind every bitch or scolding there is a hidden "request for change." An example of this can be seen in the statement: "You are just a lazy jerk!" The hidden "request for change" or the "lesson to be learned" is: "I want you to participate in your life and I want you to be nice to me."
When I am sure everyone involved knows what the lesson to be learned is, I ask, "How will you know s/he has learned the lesson?" Another look of wonderment appears in their eyes and they say, "I don't know."
I say, "It's important to know when your partner has learned the lesson, because when you know your partner has learned the lesson, you can stop punishing him/her."
I am not suggesting that this punishment model is the best way to create change in a relationship; I am just describing what goes on in most relationships. However, if you are aware of this process, you can use it to get back to the loving much faster. For example, if you find yourself scolding your partner over and over again, or if you are on the receiving end of a scolding, ask: "What is the lesson I want you to learn or what is the lesson you want me to learn?" And, "When will I know you have learned the lesson, or when will you know I have learned the lesson?"
At this point, we can then negotiate a healthy boundary with the intention of creating a joy-filled, loving, and cooperative relationship that address our individual needs.