One of my favorite sex ed/sex related webcomics, Oh Joy Sex Toy, recently posted two awesome comics on BDSM Safety and the 50 Shades Series Erica Moen rocks my metaphorical stripey socks. In the 50 Shades post, she does an awesome job of explaining the more problematic aspects of the book, the reasons she likes the books anyway, and the ways people can put the book in healthy perspective. She astutely points out that unlike the fictional characters in 50 Shades, you’re a real person who can be hurt physically and emotionally, so make sure you don’t unintentionally damage yourself or your partner.
Understanding your capacity to hurt and be hurt is an important component of the 4th level of Gottman’s Sound Relationship House, and therefore the Sound Relationship Dungeon: positive perspective.
The Gottmans define positive perspective as the presence of a positive approach to problem-solving and the success of repair attempts. There are two basic components to positive perspective: Accepting your partner’s influence, and viewing your partner as a friend and ally instead of an adversary (Gottman calls this PSO, Positive Sentiment Override). The two components are, of course, interconnected. When relationship partners refuse to back down or take the others’ perspective into account, how likely are they feel warm and fuzzy about each other? How can they trust each other to have one anothers’ backs? Gottman’s blog discusses the importance of influence and positive perspective.
A fundamental principle of maintaining The Positive Perspective in your relationship is to let your partner influence you. In fact, in a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, we found that even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. This works both ways.
If you do not accept your partner’s influence, the chances of your Sound Relationship House collapsing increase exponentially.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, the optics of kink/BDSM do not necessarily reflect the inner workings of kinky relationships. Therefore, some of you who may not be familiar with the intricacies of kink may be wondering how it’s possible to have space to accept influence in power exchange relationships. If a Master has complete say over how their submissive is to act, dress, etc., where is there space for a give and take?
More often than not, a lot of thought goes into these questions for all parties involved. In Unequal by Design, Raven Kaldera’s newest anthology about counseling clients in power exchange relationships, R. J. MacAubrey, MSW, explains hallmarks of a functional dynamic:
In an ideal situation, consensual power dynamic relationships do several things. First, they consciously choose to engage in a power exchange, rather than letting these exchanges happen automatically. Second, they negotiate exactly what will go into this power exchange. Each partner expresses their desires, needs, and boundaries, and together they come to an agreement that is beneficial for all those involved. Ideally, this negotiation process is ongoing and continues throughout the life of the relationship, with continual check-ins to ensure the arrangement is still working for everyone. Third, all partners consent to this exchange of power, whether they are giving their power to a dominant partner or taking power from a submissive partner. This consent is paramount, and is what differentiates these styles of relationships from so many others.
In healthy power exchange relationships, self care for both partners is usually integrated into the fabric of the relationship agreement. The submissive is not only incouraged, but in many cases required to provide feedback to their dominants about their emotional wellbeing and do whatever they can to look after themselves and their needs.
In kink, Positive Perspective is also reflected in how a dominant frames a partner’s submission. An agreed exchange of power requires a lot of respect, risk, and vulnerability for all involved. Few effectively communicate the grace, responsibility, and beauty of dominance than Midori. Midori is something of a rockstar in the kink community. Her intensive Forte Femme workshops on the Art of Feminine Dominance tend to sell out months in advance. She shares some of her philosophies on feminine dominance in The Ultimate Guide to Kink.
She knows that the limits and emotional vulnerabilities of others must be respected. This includes respecting the limits of nonparticipating parties who may prefer not to have to deal with a wantonly splattered dominant attitude. It includes respecting the limits placed by the submissive, for this consideration allows the submissive to feel truly safe with her. Such a sense of safety often leads to deeper surrender. As a dear friend of mine, David V., says: “Always be respectful in spirit, even if the scene is not.”
Once again, the intention and impact of power dynamics in BDSM prove more important and more telling than the external trappings. This is not to say that conflicts never arise or that BSDM dynamics never go awry. In the next Relationship Dungeon installment, I’ll talk more about how conflict management, and how to mend relationships when things go awry.