Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Communication Within a Dom/Sub Partnership

Since posting my previous article I've done quite a lot of writing on BDSM, but it has been entirely in response to reader emails. I see a steady trickle of them, and do my best to answer the questions they pose. Far and away the most common kind of query I receive from readers is about their partners. One example:

My submissive tries to pull away from the D/s part [of] our relationship more and more. ... Which is strange since she [had] suggested we bring this into our relationship. Any advice?

Indeed, I do have some advice. Have you asked her how she’s feeling about your relationship and your D/s interactions? Have you asked her what her reasons are for the specific events where she appears to be pulling away? And if you have not asked her, why not?

Another example:

The more I am with him the more I want to be completely dominated and ... do ritualistic things every day... I would feel really weird telling him this though, and I was just wondering if you had any advice?

Advice? Absolutely! Does he ask to hear your thoughts and feelings about him? Do you ask him such questions? Curiosity about your partner contributes a lot to mutual understanding.

Sparks, intangible chemistry, are what ignite a romance. But constant communication is its oxygen, the wind that whips it into an illuminating, consuming fire that sustains and comforts the lovers. So the need for open communication, and the struggles that we have with it, is one of the key things you need to know about BDSM relationships. If you do not share your needs, desires, aspirations, fears, insights, and curiosity with your partner, and ask them to divulge theirs, you cannot have a fulfilling kinky romance. I tend to be reflexively inquisitive and transparent with people, but many have different instincts, especially when it comes to those with whom they are closest.

Here then are some talking tips to keep the embers of your romance flickering brightly.

Learn what inhibits you from engaging. If you're hesitant to share a thought with, or ask a question of, your partner, ask yourself why. Is it your own reticence that prevents you, or a legitimate fear of how they might respond? Many kinky people have discomfort or internal conflict or shame about their kinks. (I felt conflicted for years after my first D/s romance.) And many fear the judgment of a partner, due to a history of judgment in prior relationships or family. Knowing what stops you will help you move past it.

Be up-front about yourself. Many kinky people start relationships without knowing whether their partner is kinky themselves. Talking about one's D/s needs with an acquaintance can be scary, so people often put it off. But once in a relationship, bringing it up risks a breakup. There are ways to raise the topic of BDSM in conversation without laying yourself bare: ask what someone thinks about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, or whether they have thoughts on gender roles. And remember that what you say at the outset is not written in stone; you can always offer amendments!

Don't expect your partner to read your mind. There's a mythology about D/s: that a dom gets inside the sub's head and reads her deepest thoughts; that a sub tunes into the dom's channel, and anticipates his needs before he utters a word. These things don't happen. They may seem to happen at times, but what's really going on is subtle, non-verbal communication or common serendipity. When you have such synchronicity going, it's awesome, but you probably won't have it all the time.

Express your curiosity. You have to ask what’s going on for your partner, and perhaps ask in different ways until clarity emerges. You may have to ask them to rephrase their answers. And do ask follow-up questions, derived from what they say. When trying to satisfy your curiosity, don't head off on a tangent about yourself when something said reminds you of something else. Interviewing your partner is always illuminating!

Volunteer your thoughts and feelings. Pause to think about what you're about to say, and try to be clear and succinct. Take into account where your partner is at that moment when you begin to speak. You may have to try various ways of sharing your perspective; some terms may not mean the same thing to your partner as they do to you. So be willing to keep trying.

Share a balanced banquet. Don't restrict yourself in the sorts of things you choose to volunteer, but don't offer up every thought that pops into your head, either. Describe fantasies (with details!), fresh insights, recurring fears, authentic desires, life aspirations, personal obstacles, events that have made you especially sad or angry, pictures of hot kinky stuff, links to sites that fascinate or delight you, ideas for excursions or events, and so on.

Learn to interpret your partner's words correctly. This may be the hardest part of communication. We describe our inner lives in a huge variety of ways, and even mischaracterize ourselves by imagining that our thoughts and behaviors stem from sources which aren't actually a factor in the present situation. When listening, keep a relaxed mind, don't leap to conclusions (e.g. that it's about you), don't react judgmentally, and do encourage them to elaborate. Restating in your own words what you think you just heard (often called "active listening") can help you hone your interpretation skill.

Learn to read your partner. Most of us show signs of a change in mood through our faces or mannerisms before we articulate it vocally. As social animals, we're wired to pick up on such signs in others. Once you know someone well, you'll notice these signals clearly and usually understand what they mean. But when you aren't sure of the meaning, express your curiosity.

Understand your emotional vulnerabilities. They are a key cause of communication breakdown. See my article on this topic, Emotional Issues in Dom/Sub Relationships.

A little structure may foster clearer and more frequent communication. Here are some tools for structured engagement.

Speak every day. On any day that you don't meet in person, spend a little time voice-to-voice over the phone, or better yet, video chat. Simply creating continuity between you fosters openness and discovery.

Text- or instant-message. While it's terribly overused, and no substitute for voice- or face-time, keeping each other apprised of daily developments by short messages also fosters continuity.

Keep a journal. Recording your recollections and feelings about interactions with your partner, especially the intense or otherworldly ones common to kinky couples, can help you convey your experience of those events to your partner. You can keep a journal separately, in handwritten notebook or MSWord document, or send each entry by email after composing it.

Post to an anonymous blog. You can use a blog to create a written journal, and also to collect resonant writings, photos, art, and links from around the web. Tumblr is a user-friendly and popular blogging service, which happens to have a sizable contingent of bloggers posting kinky images and ideas.

Write a "contract". Some D/s couples create a document to enumerate and crystalize the pair's obligations and benefits to each other. You can craft this at any stage in a relationship, although I wouldn't recommend it before you've become well-acquainted and established mutual trust. It can be an evolving document, amended as your relationship matures and changes. Note well that such a "contract" is a mission statement and/or road-map, not a binding agreement; under no circumstances should you try to enforce its terms against your partner's will!

If, despite your best efforts, you have ongoing difficulty with open communication, I'd suggest you seek support outside your relationship — a wise friend or professional counselor — and possibly re-evaluate your relationship as well. Realize that at some point, there may be nothing more you can do to make communication work.

Good, continual communication yields intimacy, understanding, alignment, agreement. But while we are blessed with the power of words, communication is still one of the defining problems of humanity. It's so easy to speak, yet so often incredibly hard to be understood.
 

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18 Comments:

At May 28, 2014 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, in so many different ways & on so many different levels. I wish this was required reading before entering into any sort of relationship (kinky or vanilla).

 
At October 22, 2014 11:10 PM, Blogger Kdzcast said...

Hi will,
I am very new to this website. I have been reading your blogs all night. They've taught me quite a bit. I have some questions though. Am I able to email you? Wasn't exactly sure how to be able to ask you these questions. Your blogs are amazing by the way. Well let me know! thanks so much!

 
At October 22, 2014 11:20 PM, Blogger Will said...

You're welcome to post questions in a comment here, or message me on Fetlife, or email me. See the right sidebar blurb for the email address and Fetlife link.

 
At December 31, 2014 7:55 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

Hello Will again thanks for this blog. I have an on and off again man in my life over 2 years. I've been unsure about him. We seem to step on each other's toes. It takes time to find rhythm. After thinking about what seems frustrating and lost in communication sometimes. I may have been mistaken about him last year. It seemed he only wanted me when I had to sacrifice my well being social and career. That is not love. It's not love when someone completely sacrifices themselves. I'm much more steady as she goes. I'm giving it another try. My fingers are crossed that he's turns to gold. If not I'm sure with that my prince will come. Happy New Year!

 
At January 06, 2015 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband is a dom and i am a straight vanilla woman who is sexually adventurous and who exhibits submissive tendencies. My husband thinks that I am a submissive inside and I thought so too so I have been collared and we did have a contract. But anytime he did something I did not like during sex, I just could not submit. But I respect him and want to please him and I don't mind doing things like kissing his hand and sitting on the floor while we watch tv due to cultural upbringing. I really have a strong inclination of wanting to please him. But we have had many fights about our d/s relationship as we have come to realise, I am not a sub. He thinks I am a switch as I do have a naturally dominant personality in everyday life but I still think I a am vanilla with sub tendencies, but by being so, I feel like I am shortchanging him by being almost-a-sub but not quite. My question is, is it possible that I am a sub after all trying to break free? I have been trying for 10 years though. I guess my question is more for me than for you but it helps if you can give me your take things. And thanks for your blog. It is helping me to understand my dom husband better.

 
At January 08, 2015 6:00 PM, Blogger Will said...

There is a spectrum; on one end, bottoms enjoy specific BDSM activities for the sensations they incur, and on the other, they embrace almost anything the top wishes to do because it feeds them to delight their partners and/or endure an ordeal for the sake of bonding. Many people find they inhabit some range of that spectrum, or land on different points with different partners. Have you experienced any other tops in your explorations? That might be a way to open new horizons. Also there are often ways to get a bottom to enjoy things that didn't work in the past, by trying different routes to them which entail a series of techniques which are known turn-ons. Or more simply, a lot of things are hotter when you're about to come ;-)

A socially or professionally dominant personality really says nothing about one's romantic preferences. Plenty of executives are clients of professional Dommes!

 
At February 27, 2015 2:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need advice I am married and have a sub separate from my marriage and i am trying to explain the dynamics of our relationship to my wife and my sub doesn't like any of the tasks I give her any help would be appreciated thanks

 
At February 27, 2015 9:46 PM, Blogger Will said...

It can be challenging to explain D/s to a vanilla person, even an open-minded one who's close to you! However aspects of D/s do appear in many socially-accepted situations. Strongly hierarchical institutions such as the military are one example. Parent/child is another, and more abstractly we have state/citizen. I like to describe D/s in terms of service and sacrifice and authority, all of which are held up as values in other contexts.

As for your sub's dissatisfaction with your tasks, it's hard to have insight on that without examples. The tasks could be a mismatch for her abilities, your sub could be recalcitrant, or you could be miscommunicating!

 
At March 03, 2015 5:49 AM, Anonymous Ashleigh Z. said...

I stumbled across your blog by accident (thank goodness for google!)
and I just wanted to say I loved reading through some of your posts. They were so informative and helpful, and I really appreciate that.

Delving into the research of Dom/sub relationships has proven to be a bit daunting for me, but it seems like you've answered a lot of my questions all in one place.

Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.

 
At April 04, 2015 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Will i'm in a 24/7 D/s relationship. Sir & i have had traumatizing issues with communication. Where i am forthcoming, it isn't taken well, i feel rejected. Sir becomes angry because he feels badgered & unfairly subjected to my emotional torment, as i fall into a drop & i'm in a state of desperation. We are both trapped in this turning wheel. It's awful. My question is, (as i have read some about attachment theory) are all submissives anxious (ambivalent) attatched to their Doms? And is there any hope when Sir has an avoident attachment style? He cannot cope with complex communication and emotional stress, switching Himself off & causing me, close to unbearable emotional torture.

 
At April 05, 2015 4:22 PM, Blogger Will said...

I've written about common issues between partners in Emotional Issues in Dom/Sub Relationships and also Assuaging a Sub's Fear of Abandonment. Regarding your situation, you both have a role to play in breaking the cycle. As his 24/7 sub, it's your duty to adapt to his needs and modes, even those that challenge you, as much as reasonably possible. As your dom, it's his duty to show you how to behave around him, which may entail trial and error, and cheerfully enduring some baffling behavior in the process!

However if you are frequently running into hard issues that undermine your ability to think clearly and cause you to shut down or act up, you should consider counseling. A dom usually cannot be an effective therapist for long-standing vulnerabilities. And he, too, should consider counseling if he finds his own clarity of mind compromised within difficult interactions.

 
At April 09, 2015 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I hope you stay with it. I appreciate your viewpoints, not being in a public "scene" and being kinky as being innate standing out to me. I left a damaged marriage where we were not matched well with consideration of the innate. I have now been in the most grounded and beautiful relationship of my life for 2 years and we are getting married soon. I am content now and after learning to be honest with myself I am joyful in my kink. Yhsnk you for your writing which affirms what I know to be true. We are an intelligent lot with a desire for a uniquely complex and rewarding type of intimacy. Please keep writing!

 
At July 25, 2015 12:28 AM, Anonymous Emma said...

Hi Will
I recently found your blog and ive read all your posts and as a fairly new sub i found them really helping me understand things, and i wanted to thank you for that.
Im now finding myself in a situation that is really hard for me to handle.. about five months ago i met a master online and after alot of on and off from my part (due to it being completly new to me and really scary) i became his. Ive told him everything about myself and i trust him more than i trust me. Problem is, he lives on the other side of the world from me basiclly. He's in usa and im in sweden. But despite this and him being married, he became my daddy and i love him more than anything.
But latley ive been feeling more sad over our contact and ive had a hard time accepting his love since ive been so guilty over feeling that its not enough.. i love him and it makes me cry just writing this, but i want a daddy in real life too.. i want him in real life, but thats kind of impossible with me just being 19 and havnt even moved away from home yet, and him being married when im the jealous type.. i pretend his wife doesnt exist. But it all makes me feel very alone and its really starting to get hard to handle... so i really dont know what to do, cause i dont want any one other than him, and just thinking of having someone else makes me guilty and it just feels wrong...
I tried to figure out a solution on my own, the best i could come up with is if i could find someone serious here where i live and if that dom would be open minded enough to have contact with my daddy so he could get help understanding things, ive had a really complicated past but ive managed to tell my daddy everything, wich makes him understand me better than anyone.. also it would feel better that my daddy knows about the whole situation and talks to the dom and knows who he is and daddy is really good at knowing if its a serious dom or just another asshole (you know the type i mean).... it would just feel better knowing daddy would be involved but i dont think he would want to... i dont think he likes the idea of me with another guy, at all. And at the same time im thinking that no dom would sign up for that, thats alot of trouble to go through just for me.
so i really dont know what to do... im sorry for the long post, i dont even know if youre active here anymore, but if you are, i could really use some advice if you got any
I really think you should continue writing, i think it helps people

 
At August 23, 2015 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

I wanted to thank you for writing these blogs, first of all. They have helped me come to terms with many feelings of confusion and shame, as well as being quite informative and insightful otherwise. I particularly liked how you stated that being a dominant or submissive was innate. I have a few experiences throughout my childhood and adolescence that would prove that claim, and they were quite scary at the time.

I am now sixteen, and of course too young to start experimenting with BDSM. However, do you have any advice for me when I do begin? Particularly on where I start? I also have a few specific questions. Excuse me for my ignorance, but will many doms desire to control me outside of the bedroom? Can I have an equal relationship? I'm sorry if these questions sound rude, but I really do not know much.

Thanks,
Lea

 
At September 02, 2015 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lea,
not every dom, will rule you outside of the bedroom. There are subs women, who are managers and bosses in their public life, but in their core they are subs.

 
At October 05, 2015 11:29 PM, Blogger Edward Van Zyl said...

A very informative article I have referenced it and placed a link to the article in the BDSM Social network at www.one44.net BDSM South Africa

 
At May 15, 2016 11:16 AM, Blogger daydreamdirty said...

Hey I really like this alot and would love to follow up more so would you be willing to email me at davidread1986@yahoo.com ?

Most of my experience lies with doing all of this online and never in real life. So alot of my questions pertain to how to take what I've learned online and to bring it in real life.

 
At February 16, 2017 5:18 AM, Anonymous Sorkado said...

I wanted to thank you for writing these blogs, first of all. They have helped me come to terms with many feelings of confusion and shame, as well as being quite informative and insightful otherwise. I particularly liked how you stated that being a dominant or submissive was innate. I have a few experiences throughout my childhood and adolescence that would prove that claim, and they were quite scary at the time.

 

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