“Safe spaces require that we appreciate and respect the vulnerability of others and grace it with our own.” – Christen Killick

Good communication is the cornerstone for a great relationship, whether in a Dominant/submissive dynamic or not. When you've been at this for a while, you don't have to think much about it because it is already in place. But when you are new, how do you set up a trusting environment in which you can talk and feel safe about what you have to say?

I've been in bad relationships, and in hindsight, they failed because of poor communication in one way or another. Seriously, though, we learn to talk as babies, but we only really learn to communicate later in life, and even those learned skills may be terrible. It’s not just our intimate relationships; good communication skills are lacking in all of our exchanges. If you’ve had similar experiences, going to the store can leave you feeling like everyone is rude, unable to pay attention or listen, or feels like just shouting at each other. Our addiction to our smartphones doesn’t help, especially texting. How many times have you had to explain that your words were not being interpreted how you intended because when we write conversations, they aren’t getting the complete picture?

Let's discuss how to build healthy communication skills in our D/s relationships and what a safe environment for difficult conversations looks like. I’ll give you the tools to develop a report with your partner that is full of trust, shared vulnerability, and compassion. You’ll learn that a safe environment for those challenging talks requires planning and mutual agreements to work as they should.

And you thought you just had to say, "We need to talk," right?

What is Healthy Communication?

Healthy communication relies on verbal and nonverbal communication to express one's thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs without hateful or undesirable responses that cause fear or harm. When practicing healthy communication, a person can convey their message clearly while listening to help the other person feel heard and understood.

Some of the characteristics of healthy communication in D/s relationships include:

  • Active listening
  • Maintaining a conversational tone
  • Keeping body language respectful, engaged, and open
  • Being willing to acknowledge when you have been wrong
  • Using “I” statements instead of assigning blame
  • Making eye contact
  • Using appropriate language for the situation
  • Having a willingness to compromise
  • Giving positive feedback and showing appreciation
  • Avoiding universal statements like “you always” or “I never”

We all have different styles of communication. Some of us are detailed and focus on facts. Others prefer painting a pretty picture and using descriptive language. You may be adept at finding the correct language to address what needs to be covered, or you may need help to express yourself accurately. Do you see yourself in any of these styles? The styles get more challenging to adhere to and can change when the discussion is difficult or emotional, so having a safe environment for these conversations is paramount.

Using good communication skills in D/s relationships is productive. By practicing and recognizing healthy communication with others, you will solve more relationship problems.

Why Good Communication Skills are Important in Power Exchange Relationships

When discussing communication skills in D/s relationships, they are often held in a higher esteem than traditional relationships. That’s for good reason. A lot of what we do in kinky or power exchange relationships requires that we are far more open with our thoughts and feelings. Being more transparent helps the relationship build trust and empowers both partners to feel confident in their roles, the activities they enjoy and strengthens the relationship as a whole.

Good communication skills bring an understanding of each other through expressing thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints. This mutual understanding is valuable to providing for each other’s needs and desires. Open and honest communication fosters trust, and trust deepens when people feel that they can express themselves without judgment. And if you can show active listening and respect for the other person’s viewpoints, you enhance mutual appreciation and respect.

Healthy communication in D/s relationships also helps with problem-solving. This isn’t just about negative issues but also when some new idea or activity comes up. You can solve all the safety challenges, ensuring the enjoyment is mutual and respecting each person’s role. It promotes an emotional connection and intimacy that many relationships thrive in, and the stronger the bonds, the more intense the power exchange.

Caveat - If your partner habitually reacts to the slightest hint of criticism from you by screaming and yelling at you for hours, or by threatening physical harm to you or themselves, or by punishing you with withdrawal or silence for days (or even longer), that’s not normal, you didn’t cause it, and you don’t deserve it no matter what they tell you. That’s an emotionally abusive relationship. You are worth more than that; please find a way out. You can only have a good D/s relationship with healthy communication and an open, safe place to communicate. Here are a few domestic abuse hotlines; please seek help.

US: https://www.thehotline.org/

UK: https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

EU: https://www.improve-horizon.eu/helplines

Build the Perfect Safe Space for Tough Conversations

Developing a safe environment where your thoughts and feelings can be protected takes time. You can’t expect to have one as soon as the relationship is created, and unsafe spaces make people feel insignificant and indifferent. You could even feel apathetic or quietly resentful. However, having a safe, trusting environment that fosters open sharing is like a gold mine in a relationship.

I recommend that you don't have talks like this immediately before or after sex or play, in the bedroom or playroom, and not while nude. You need to place yourself on equal footing for this safe environment, so do this while dressed and free of extra stress or distraction.

Emotional Safety

To build a safe environment, you will need to create emotional safety. Emotional safety is the visceral feeling that, in this moment, with this person, you don’t have to feel scared to be you. You should be able to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability can easily make you feel unsafe, so setting up a safe space can make that vulnerability easier for everyone in the conversation. With vulnerability, having empathy for the other person can go a long way in building bridges to deepening intimacy and connection with our partners.


Safe spaces invite varying viewpoints and foster respect for them. You’re less hesitant to volunteer your thoughts if you feel what you share will be heard and appreciated. You're more likely to open up when you are nonjudgmental while actively listening. In this environment, you can raise points for discussion without being shouted down or victimized for thoughts, feelings, or needs. It’s also important to acknowledge the possible discomfort participants may experience and reassure them that their feelings are valid and the discussion is valuable.

Supportive Encouragement

When you develop a supportive environment, you and your partner feel heard, listened to, and allowed to express your thoughts and feelings fully. This is especially valuable when the conversation is difficult, uncomfortable, or stressful. So, one of the best things you can do to encourage these kinds of conversations is to support and accept that each other’s viewpoint is valid for them and that their feelings are their feelings, even if they differ from yours.

Then, active listening demonstrates acceptance and understanding of the speaker without interruptions. When there is a natural pause, you can ask questions to gain clarity, but make sure they aren’t offensive or defensive. Remember, these are conversations that neither of you wanted to have, but you are braving the waters now.

When preparing for a conversation, have an internal discussion with your ego to find mature ways to respond to what you may hear instead of allowing your ego to speak for you. Your ego is a self-preservation tool and often a reactive, defensive response. This will start fights that might feel petty or stuck in circles of self-validation. This is not a healthy mechanism for building the safe environment you need. You don’t want to remove emotion but learn to manage your feelings so that you can still communicate effectively. It’s about not reacting emotionally but being more responsible with your emotions to handle difficult situations responsibly.

Consider Suspending Roles

Sometimes, things feel hard to express because you are submissive and they are your Dominant, and you might hesitate to talk about them. In those instances, suspending the Dominant and submissive roles might be best, and then deciding to come together as equals.

When you need to talk, using a talk totem is recommended. A talk totem can be a physical object or even a code word as long as everyone in the relationship understands its special meaning. There are examples of relationships using talking sticks or small pillows. When they are passed to someone, it’s their turn to talk, and all attention should be on them. This totem silences all others in the conversation and actively engages the person with the totem.

Treating the totem as this special object and suspending roles helps create an atmosphere that feels safer for the submissive and will likely allow you to express what you need to without fear of repercussions or the hesitations of being in the role.

Another idea is to develop a ritual before the talk starts to help affirm that roles have been dropped for the talk. It could be something as simple as a call-and-response phase before the conversation, “We are now equals for as long as this conversation lasts and I agree to listen without judgment and speak from the heart.” “I honor this space and agree to listen without judgment and speak from the heart.”

Utilizing any of these tools will give you a safe space to share anything difficult and necessary for the growth of the relationship and its dynamic. So take time creating emotional safety, respect, and supportive encouragement, and maybe have a talk totem so your more challenging conversations feel relaxed and open.

Having the Talk

Now that you’ve developed a safe environment within the dynamic, it’s time to prepare for the actual conversation. Let’s explore the steps to initiating a discussion using the infrastructure we’ve built.

**1. Know what you are going to say. **

If you are the one to request a time to talk, you need to think about what needs to be said. Have your topic and points in mind. Nothing can derail a talk faster than not having your words together and ready to share them. If you need to write your thoughts down, then do it. There’s nothing wrong with talking from notes so that everything you need to say gets said.

2. Set up a date.

Tell your partner that you would like to request some of their time to talk. Do it as respectfully as possible and wait until the appropriate time to gain their full attention. Set a date for it. This way, they will know you mean business and that what you have to say is important. Several couples I'm friends with have a weekly check-in for this purpose. It works because that time has been set aside for a safe talk.

3. Remove distractions.

The location you choose to talk in is just as important as the talk itself. Don't talk in public. It’s not appropriate for date night conversation or curled up in bed. You should turn off all music and television, silence your phones, and bring the children to a sitter. Try to avoid doing this when either of you is exceptionally stressed.

4. Use "I" statements.

Try your best not to attack the other person. One way to do this is to start your feeling sentences with "I feel." So, for example, instead of saying, "You make me angry when you..." you can say, "I feel upset when you..." This turns an accusation into an explanation of feelings.

5. Be honest.

We discussed this earlier, but it's important to remind yourself in power exchange relationships that honesty is the best, even if it's painful. Lying always leads to bad things.

6. Close the talk in a healthy way.

When you have a difficult conversation or talk about something that may feel tense and uncomfortable, ending the conversation can also feel challenging. These conversations can be tricky because people immediately jump to problem-solving, even though the person speaking may not be looking to solve their problem. They may just need someone to listen.

So, how do you end a difficult conversation without offering to solve a problem you can’t necessarily solve? Here are a few phrases:

  • You’ve given me a lot to think about. I would like to take some time to consider what you said.
  • I’m grateful for your feedback. But it may take some time to resolve your situation. Can I get back to you?
  • I’d like to take a break and return to this in a few hours after we’ve both had time to think.
  • I’m not prepared to discuss this any longer. Let’s take a break so I can collect my thoughts.

If the conversation has reached a decent conclusion, thank your partner for listening to you. You can then summarize what you’ve discussed and decide or arrange a new time to continue working on the topic. If a follow-up is necessary, stick to it. Keep the communication lines open, and ensure you can resolve every discussion to satisfy everyone.

If These Steps Don’t Work

There's nothing wrong with getting help when you need it. Sometimes, it's hard for two people to overcome conflict together, especially if your communication styles differ or you never learned good resolution skills. Try meeting with a couples therapist who can mediate your tough conversations. They'll also help the two of you discover new ways to talk to each other so you can have more productive discussions in the future. You can find kink-friendly and alternative relationship therapists in a variety of places. Here are a few directories:

In conclusion, good communication is essential for a Dominant/submissive dynamic where trust, vulnerability, and mutual understanding are key. Remember, creating a safe space for open dialogue takes time and effort, but it is the foundation for a healthy and thriving relationship. By fostering an environment of emotional safety, respect, and supportive encouragement, couples can navigate difficult conversations more effectively. Whether new to D/s dynamics or experienced, continuously working on your communication skills will deepen your connection and enhance your power exchange. If challenges persist, seeking the guidance of a kink-friendly therapist can provide additional support and strategies for improving your communication. Ultimately, the goal is to build a relationship where both partners feel safe, respected, and able to express themselves fully.

Do you have advice for building a safe environment for effective communication? Visit our Discord server and let us know! https://subgui.de/chat