There are things we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go. -Author Unknown
Very dear to my heart is a less-than-sexy but necessary dialogue that revolves around maintaining a healthy Power Exchange dynamic.
Now I know many reading this may feel like they would easily know if they were in an (emotionally or physically) abusive relationship. We are smart, capable lads and lassies, us s-types. We just enjoy the release of control Power Exchange offers in our lives.
The reality is that smart, capable people can get wrapped up in an abusive relationship, and it happens all the time.
Being a smart, capable woman whose self-awareness has led her to identify wholly as a slave, I have set up some checks and balances in my life that help me feel comfortable pushing myself further in my Power Exchange dynamic.
This isn't because I don't trust my Partner; quite the contrary. It's because I trust Him so fully that I am able to immerse myself this deeply.
This is my rope I left dangling as I jumped down the rabbit hole. My parachute as I free fall into the most breathtaking sky. My peripheral vision while I focus on what's in front of me.
Checks and Balances in Power Exchange
1. Read, research, and become fluent in the differences. There are of course differences between S&M and and physical abuse. Between D/s and emotional abuse. Do you know what they are? If your only response is "consent," you haven't done your homework. There are many signs of the differences between the two. I Google it often, read article after article, and really analyze whether what is happening falls on one side or the other. Stay objective if possible. Check in with yourself. If you're afraid to research the differences, you may just be afraid of hearing the truth. My favorite check in spot is Sir Bamm's BDSM vs Abuse article.
2. Stay close to "that person." No, not your owner. That person in your life that knows you best. The one that can gauge your emotions without you speaking a word. The one who will speak up without fear of offending you. For me, it's my parents. I have an incredibly close relationship with them. And even though they don't know the inner workings of my marriage, they do see us together, they see me alone, they pay attention to me. I am confident that if something were to start going sideways into an unhealthy direction, they would notice and say something.
3. Stay close to others, too. Particularly other s-types. People who you can say, "this happened... what's your feelings on it?" They can be real life friends, virtual friends, vanilla friends. If you isolate yourself, if your Partner is isolating you, that is a huge red flag. Friends should enhance your Power Exchange, not seem like a problem or intrusion.
4. I have a way out. Do you? Now I know, I know. You're gonna last forever. Us too. This isn't about not believing in your relationship. This is about having a realistic plan in place if you do ever want to leave. Logic vs. emotion. Many people are stuck in unhealthy relationships because of the physical or financial inability to leave. So I do have a way out. If I wanted to, I have a place to go, a way to get there, and some financial ability to start over without his help.
5. Pay attention to drug/alcohol abuse. In researching, over and over again drug and/or alcohol abuse listed as a red flag for abusive relationships. I believe this is doubly important in a PE dynamic. If you are seeing a person who continuously cannot control themselves with these substances, is it really a good idea to give them control over your mind and body? Probably not. Of course this isn't knocking appropriate, controlled use, like a beer at the end of the day. Are they abusing these substances? If so, use caution.
6. Yes, you're owned. Yes, your opinion matters. In emotionally abusive relationships, the abuser fights by manipulating words and feelings. Ask yourself constantly if the course of your relationship leaves you feeling heard. Do you have a chance to respectfully offer feedback, opinions, suggestions? Are you validated? Do you feel built up by exchanging power or do you feel torn down? Do you matter as much as your partner?
7. Living with intimidation vs. fear. Tricky line here. So much of my personal dynamic exists because of the sexy, lovely level of intimidation I have always felt for my husband. But I have never, ever been afraid of him. The intimidation that I feel is an "overawe" of him. His unending goodness, his ability to be stoically in control of any situation, his logically tuned brain. He is like living close to the sun, in the greatness of brilliance, knowing that he could create a grand fire so he dutifully remains at bay. But fear him? Never. Fear is a wholly negative feeling, one that conjures up threat and terror. Intimidation can be positive. Analyze your feelings around your Owner.
8. On punishment. I know many don't have a punishment dynamic as part of their Power Exchange, but because we do and because others do as well: Know the difference between discipline and punishment; you should only be being punished for direct, inappropriate disobedience - you should not be punished for rules that have never been explained or brought into expectation; punishment should always fit the crime and intend to teach/enforce a lesson; punishment should serve as penance - once served out, the infraction should no longer be held over the s-type.
9. The "signs of abuse" in vanilla relationship that you see in your Power Exchange dynamic are both consented to and make you feel fulfilled. In doing the research, many of the "signs of abuse" actually are reflected in my marriage. Things like his choosing my clothing and hair style, his desiring me to check in throughout the day, making decisions in my social calendar. For the first time I'm mentioning consent but pushing it further: Ask, constantly, "Did I consent to this AND is this still making me feel happy and fulfilled?" Power Exchange is a broad scale and every relationship goes through a settling-in period to find that exact comfortable point of PE that works for the individuals involved. And it can change over time. You should be feel able to go to your Partner and say, "I'd like to be able to wear underwear again. May I explain what is going on in my world that makes that important to me?" and feel good about the conversation.
10. The encouragement of these. Not only does my husband know of these checks and balances, he encourages each and every one of them. He wants me to be close to my family; to be around friends. He knows I will reach out to others in the community to bounce ideas off of them and instead of being offended he gives me time away from serving to do so. He'll ask me when was the last time I checked in with myself. He listens to me, really hears me, and drops the ego that he could do no wrong. He admits mistakes, applauds my learning more about myself, and pushes me to learn even more. Not only does he know about my exit strategy he's made me financially capable to do so. He doesn't want a slave that stays because she has to. He wants a slave that stays because she loves being there.
And I do. Boy I do.
"If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello."-Paulo Coelho
In the US: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247. Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.