I’ll just put this right out there: I am not good at handling conflict. I don’t like to feel conflicted and I don’t like discord with others. I don’t like disappointing myself or my superiors or loved ones. I don’t like fighting, arguing, debating. None of it. It puts my soul on edge.
That being said, conflict within a D/s relationship is a sort of different beast, isn’t it? I mean, in areas of our life that don’t have anything to do with sex or our relationship, I have no trouble saying no. No, I don’t want pizza tonight. No, I can’t do that errand today, I’ve got too much on my list. No, I don’t think that was the best way to handle this situation. No, I don’t think that shirt goes with those pants.
But when it comes to our sex life and relationship, I’m less likely to say no. And when I do, I often feel guilty. In the past, however, I’ve said no to quite a bit, either through my words or my body language. No…I don’t like pain. No…that toy looks scary. No…I don’t want to try that. No…that makes me feel uncomfortable…or silly…or any number of dumb reasons to say no that really only mean “This scares me because it’s new.” But what does that come out sounding like to the man receiving the message? “I don’t trust you.”
As a submissive, it’s important to frame your refusal properly. This isn’t the time for theatrics or over the top arguments. Instead, state your position politely, but firmly. Be ready to offer up an explanation. This isn’t the time to skirt the issue or to speak vaguely. Whatever the hang-up is, state it clearly so that your Dominant can either address the issue in order to move past your reluctance or, at the very least, be able to understand where you’re coming from.
I’ll admit…I’ve never been good about clearly explaining why I don’t want to do something sexual or D/s-related. Often, that’s because I don’t really know right then; the new thing just scares me, or I’m afraid of where it will lead next. I’ve usually got my head too far in the future and I’m already turning one simple act or demand into a lifetime commitment to a way of life that will “surely make me miserable.” If I do this…what will he want me to do next? What if he likes it and I don’t? He’ll be disappointed and I’ll be the reason. if I don’t like it, how will I tell him?
Sometimes, to avoid conflict, I’ve simply gone along with things I didn’t want. Other times, I’ve simply dug my heels in and made things difficult. I’ve put Mr. D in a position of confusion and frustration. Not good sub skills.
Laura goes on to say:
The first question is, of course, what is the submissive objecting to. If it’s a sexual practice, it may be a problem with her comfort either physically or emotionally. While submissives are generally more than happy to stretch their boundaries and move out of their comfort zone to please the Dom in their life, there are always limits. In some cases, these limits are temporary and can be worked through by dealing with the underlying issue as a couple. Other times, the issue may not be something the submissive can work past – or at least not in the near future. In these cases, dominants should encourage their submissive to reconsider at a later date and be willing to help her resolve whatever is holding her back.
I’d say that nearly all of the conflicts we have had in our D/s relationship have been over limits and boundaries, mainly because I’m much more reticent to change or explore and He’s much more adventurous. I let my fears hold me back, and He knocks those walls over like the Hulk in a doll house.
Dealing with Conflict “The D/s Way”
The only type of D/s relationship I have experience with is one that occurs within the confines of a marriage. We live with each other, have a child together, own a home, and have shared responsibilities. There are so many places that invite conflict; D/s becomes an added potential complication in that conflict collage.
It also provides an outlet for dealing with it that we might otherwise not have.
Let me explain. D/s entails shared expectations, consequences, and rewards. The participants need to spend some real time agreeing on those and committing to them. And when they don’t work, it requires that the participants go back to the drawing board together. There is an implicit agreement that both people will adhere to the negotiated “contract,” whether that be spoken or written, formal or informal. When one person does not, the agreement either falls apart (as does the relationship), or they discuss it and revise to proceed.
In marriage and in romantic relationships, it’s not that easy. (Though, believe me, I realize conflict resolution isn’t necessarily easy in a D/s relationship, either.)
Even though, in marriages, there is a written contract (or a sort), it doesn’t usually lay down the precise expected behavior from each person. Sure we get to know each other’s expectations (fair or not), and we learn just how to push each other’s buttons (and we can be ever-so-childish about that). But, we do not have a written process for dealing with disappointments and transgressions. I’d argue that if we went about all relationships like we do D/s relationships, things would go a lot more smoothly. We’d sit down before-hand, figure out our shared expectations and roles, rewards and consequences, plans for further negotiations and conflict. It would all be laid out in black and white. Less room for confusion.
In situations of conflict, I am pretty much at my worst. I either cry, get angry or irrational, or check out, none of which are effective ways to get to the communication stage necessary for resolving conflict.
We’re getting better at it, though, mainly because we’re just tired of fighting. There are lots of resources out there on resolving conflict. A simple internet search will uncover dozens of good ones.
Fort he purposes of this post I’m only going to discuss conflict in terms of D/s, but I think it’s important to know that if you are in a D/s relationship AND you are in a romantic relationship or are married, a D/s relationship (though it won’t save a marriage) CAN teach you a lot about doing your “regular” relationship better. It’s like a relationship microcosm that requires very focused planning, communication, and action. What you learn about conflict, decision-making, commitment, and communication within the D/s structure can be applied to other areas of your life.
So, here’s what I’d say about conflict resolution (admitting fully that while these are great in theory, they are hard for me to pull off). These are more like “guidelines I’d like to learn to follow better” rather than “advice for others,” because I’m not really in a position to be advising anyone on conflict resolution.
1. Choose a time and place to discuss the conflict. Some people need to time to think, process, or cool off before discussion. There are times, of course, that dealing with it right now is preferable or necessary. In that case, try to keep emotions in check and listen before speaking.
2. Listen actively before speaking. Often conflict arises because we misunderstand the motives or actions of others. Listening to their side first can sometimes diffuse the situation quickly and negate the need for further discussion.
3. Stick to the conflict at hand. When emotional, it can be easy to pull up past grudges or issues, making the current conflict bigger than it is. Things can get out of hand quickly and nothing will get solved this way.
4. Don’t attack others or name-call. Pointing fingers and explaining how others feel with statements like “you always” or “you never” are counterproductive and often untrue.
5. Let the other person know how their behavior makes you feel. Be specific about the behavior and the emotion. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
6. If the discussion breaks down, reschedule for a specific time to come back to the conversation.
7. Aim for compromise. This isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about keeping balance in the relationship and making sure all parties feel valued, respected, and heard.
Whereas in a marriage, there are dozens of potential conflicts, in a D/s relationship, I can see only a few: conflict over discipline (me not wanting to be punished & Him not wanting forced discipline to smack of domestic violence), me not wanting to follow the rules because I’m not in the mood, me feeling resentful about being treated like a child.
These conflicts can be averted by dealing with them up front. If rules and consequences are agreed upon, that’s it…I, as the sub, really just have to suck it up. I’ve agreed to it, for god’s sake, so it’s not my place to disagree with it or even make the Dom feel bad about it. If I’m sick or am in a place of poor mental health, I have to own up to that. The Dom is not a mind-reader and cannot manage His own behavior or expectations in relation to my needs if he doesn’t know them. Besides, D/s isn’t just about fulfilling a subs needs…it’s about the Dom’s, as well. I also don’t get to feel resentful about a punishment, when I’ve agreed to it.
Conflict will arise in any relationship. It’s human nature to annoyed with others and buck the rules from time to time. Conflict can also provide us with opportunities to build new understanding and to grow and change in positive ways. Even though it is my nature to avoid conflict, conflict can be helpful and necessary. Maybe if I could just wrap my head around that concept a bit more fully, I’d be able to embrace it as a good thing, rather than a negative thing to avoid. Maybe then I’d also be more capable of addressing that conflict like an adult, in a respectful and caring manner that is not counterproductive.
Yeah…if I can just practice following my own advice…that would be great. Add that to the self-improvement section of “my lifetime goals.”
(Disclaimer: The opinions in these articles are simply that…opinions. These are my personal feelings on issues of D/s. It is important to note that I am and always have been in a consensual relationship, and any activities I partake of, I have done so with full consciousness and willingness. Also, on the issue of pronoun usage, I use HE/she pronouns, with the Dominant being the He and the submissive being the she. This is for ease of writing and because it is what I identify with. Pronouns are interchangeable, so feel free to fill in with those that work best for your situation. Be nice in the comments. I’m not here to be berated or argue the issues, I’m just here to explore my own feelings and opinions and share them with those that may find benefit in doing so.)