Honesty sometimes feels like manipulation

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest without feeling manipulative.

Sometimes I know what the outcome of honesty is going to be, so it feels like I am manoeuvring that outcome by *being* honest. That can be a hard mindset to let go of.

I suspect that more submissives have experienced this dilemma than dominants.

Submissive [honest statement]: “I really like it when you just tell me what to do without asking me.”
*cue your dominant doing that more*
*you feel vaguely guilty, like maybe they don’t really want to do that, and are just doing it for you*

Right? Right.

I get it from the dominant side also.

Me [honest statement]: “I was sad when you didn’t text me on your way home today.”

Now I *know* what the outcome of that statement is going to be: he is going to strive to do it faithfully from now on. Which is really lovely. He *should* be trying to do things to please me. But it feels kind of manipulative because of the way I’ve expressed it, even though the expression is honest and is exactly what I wanted to convey.

Earlier in our communication, bambi missed sending me a morning email, which had become a sweet habit, and which I enjoy. He didn’t *owe* me that email, and it was too early in our relationship to demand that he do it, but I was still disappointed when it wasn’t in my inbox, so I shared that with him.

I struggled not to feel manipulative when I told him that I was disappointed by it, but the other option (to swallow it and say nothing) felt dishonest and destructive.

If I wanted to make it an order, I could have. That would have made it EASIER for both of us (and I know he really *wanted* me to do that). It would have removed doubt, disappointment, and ambiguity, but for where we were in the relationship, it was overstepping the boundary to demand things of him.

I didn’t want to make it an order, I just wanted to tell him how I was feeling. Still, it made me feel a bit like a passive aggressive arsehole because I knew very well how he would react. And he did, of course, work to make sure that that email was in my inbox every day after we talked about it.

Yesterday he forgot again. We are further along now. This time I made it an order going forward, so if it happens again, he will have failed to do what I told him to do, and there will be consequences. No ambiguity. That felt better, felt right, felt more solid, had a satisfying clarity and sweetness to it. And all of those are reasons why D/s works for me.

Note to self: Must do more of that.

The difference between ‘honestly communicating my feelings’ and ‘honestly communicating my feelings and doing something about it’ is big for me. The first can make me feel manipulative and a little impotent while the second makes me feel as if I am taking control of the situation and taking steps to manage it going forward.

For submissives who struggle with feeling as if honest communication is manipulative, there is no real ‘doing something about it’, so I understand why it can be difficult for some to share things (especially negative things). Saying ‘I didn’t like that, but it’s okay really! I don’t expect you to fix it. I really don’t mind!’ doesn’t quite get rid of the feeling of being manipulative. I think the level of trust in their dominant has to be such that they know she will take that information on board and decide for herself what to do with it.

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61 Comments

  1. I hear you!

    I’ve had to really struggle to be upfront about what was going on with me and what I wanted in previous relationships. Recently, I’ve been congratulating myself on changing the way I talk to my lover.

    I thought by being able to say what I was feeling was enough. Now I see, being upfront isn’t enough; it’s a loaded statement. There are still a few blanks I’m hoping to be filled in.

    I’ll fill in the blanks I’ve previously left and we’ll see what happens.

    1. So much of this is internal. When the email thing happened with bambi, I told him that it felt manipulative (I raised it to put it on the table) and we talked about it.

      He *wants* to know, I *want* him to do things that I like. To all intents and purposes, it works great.

      How it *feels*, though is interesting.

      I was thinking that maybe the difference for me is in making negative ‘I don’t like it’ statements. I *don’t* feel manipulative when I say “I really like it when you…” and he then does more of that. That’s expected.

      People are complex!

      I hope the ‘filling in the blanks’ you are going to do helps you and yours!

      Ferns

  2. You are quite right, Miss; as a sub, I have a very difficult time expressing truly negative things, and I feel the need to fix everything Mistress has an issue with.

    One thought I would offer is that it takes two to manipulate; the other has to cooperate, to a very large degree, in the manipulation. It’s not all on you to make sure he isn’t manipulated–he is a sub, not a child (unless that’s your dynamic, which I doubt.)

    There is also a lot of truth to the cliche, “Your wish is my command.” My guess is that he was delighted to know that you missed his email, and felt not manipulated, but flattered and honored (and, yes, guilty–but that’s not always bad) when you mentioned the first incident to him.

    Better to be given the order and know there will be consequences for disobeying? Oh, absolutely! But you are quite right to have waited until the time was appropriate for that.

    Respectfully, Étienne

    1. “One thought I would offer is that it takes two to manipulate; the other has to cooperate, to a very large degree, in the manipulation.”

      *smile* That’s true, though I think it’s very different from the sub-side.

      Most submissives don’t *want* their dominant to be manipulated into doing what they want by knowing their preferences. They want her to take it in as ‘information’ and then use it as she sees fit. As a Domme, it’s a little more complicated because I DO want him to change his behaviour based on my preferences.

      I think ‘manipulation’ gets a bad rap overall, frankly. I manipulate my submissive all the time. Re my comment above, when I say “I like it when you…”, I fully expect him to pick it up and run with it. That’s pure manipulation.

      For some reason, the “I don’t like…” feels more like passive aggressive bullshit and ‘bad manipulation’ to me, even though it’s just as valid.

      “My guess is that he was delighted to know that you missed his email, and felt not manipulated, but flattered and honored (and, yes, guilty–but that’s not always bad) when you mentioned the first incident to him.”

      Yes, you are right about all of that *smile*.

      And sometimes, I just overthink things.

      Ferns

  3. Interesting conundrum. It strikes me that you may be a tad over-scrupulous.

    As usual, Shakespeare has the last word, even if he does put it in the mouth of a foolish old man:

    “This above all, to thine own self be true.
    And it must follow, as the night the day
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

    1. I think I *am* overscrupulous, and believe me, I’ve had many experiences where potential submissives find that frustrating in a “PLEASE PLEASE JUST DO IT ALREADY!!” kind of way.

      That’s not my problem though. It’s theirs.

      I know pretty well what works for me, endless introspection notwithstanding (cue Shakespeare). Sometimes it’s just interesting to hold it up to the light to take apart how things play out and how they feel.

      Ferns

    1. There is a difference between lying and withholding information. The former is about deliberate deception and the latter is more about choices. Figuring out what information to share, what’s important, what impact it has etc and then choosing to share (or not) is part of what we do a hundred times a day.

      To me, deliberately withholding information that you *know* is pertinent or important is an issue, but there are many (often perfectly valid) reasons that people do it.

      Ferns

      1. Thank you Ferns,

        I was just kidding.

        You are right about a difference between lying and just withholding.

        Nor is the world as simple as I was making out.

        1. Dear Ferns,

          Thank you for your thoughts.

          I see reasons why to give an order is necessary. A conductor gives an order to his players. Pharaoh gives an order to his slaves. Are the 2 orders of the same kind? Well the first is cooperative. The second is, partly at least, predatory. The 2 kinds can meet and overlap or merge but are clearly fudamentally and scientifically different. Then of course you can use orders of this kind or of that kind for fun kinky thrills and more.

          There are orders and then there are orders. I could say that also for manipulating and withholding. What about lies? Yes lies too. Did you know that lies come in different kinds too? Did you know that different lies are different colours? The most pure and forgivable lie is the see-through-lie. A child lies that he is scared of the dark. He really just wants a kiss from his mother. You are meant to see it comming. You can see straight through it. White lies flatter. Yellow lies just slightly over or under estimate. Red lies are whoppers. Green lies are illicit intrigue. Blue lies are sex lies. Dark purple and black lies are slander and treachery…

          I don’t know anything about any of that dark stuff.

          I only heard.

          Your honest Satan

  4. ” I think the level of trust in their dominant has to be such that they know she will take that information on board and decide for herself what to do with it. “

    This is the rule I try (and am directed) to operate under with Jalan.

    But more generally I try to interact with people, at least adults, under the principle that my deciding what information I want them to have when they make decisions is disrespectful of their autonomy.

    Sometimes I do intend to be manipulative, admittedly, in certain situations. But in social settings, and of course as Jalan’s pet, I try to keep to that respect for autonomy.

    1. “But more generally I try to interact with people, at least adults, under the principle that my deciding what information I want them to have when they make decisions is disrespectful of their autonomy.”

      I love this way of putting it.

      It puts me in mind of situations where people cut off contact with someone who might like them *more* because “I don’t want to hurt you”. It always seems to me to be disrespecting that person’s right to make their own decisions. It seems much more honest to say “Nothing more is ever going to happen between us”, and let THEM decide what to do with that information and support them in whatever decision they make.

      Ferns

  5. The difference between ‘honestly communicating my feelings’ and ‘honestly communicating my feelings and doing something about it’ is big for me. The first can make me feel manipulative and a little impotent while the second makes me feel as if I am taking control of the situation and taking steps to manage it going forward.

    Does communicating and doing something about it ever make you feel petty or resentful? Asking for this sort of thing (a little thing in the grand scheme of things, and yes, I read your post on compromise) makes me feel equally 1) petty for allowing something small to disappoint me, and 2) angry that I have to ask at all.

    Anyway, just wondering if it makes you feel anything other than in-control and proactive and how you handle that.

    1. I love this question in all sorts of ways, and I reward a great question with endless rambling (natch)!

      “Does communicating and doing something about it ever make you feel petty or resentful?”

      And hell yes! I DO feel petty to get bent out of shape about some little thing and resentful in an ‘I shouldn’t have to raise this! Why doesn’t he just DO IT, the selfish bastard!’ kind of way. But I get bent out of shape about it anyway *even when I would MUCH rather let it slide because, ‘come on!’*

      I feel stuff and it’s not always pretty, but D/s gives me the tools (and responsibility) to handle it in a way that makes me feel better, and that improves the relationship. Out there, in the open. And he *wants* me to feel better (about him, about the situation etc). So win-win.

      I often think in terms of principles to get over the ‘ugh, just let it slide, it’s not worth it’ voice that tells me to swallow that bad feeling and stop being such a whiny baby.

      A morning email is no big thing. But I like it. It doesn’t even matter what’s in it. It’s a petty little thing. That I want. If bambi forgets now that it’s a rule, I’m not going to say ‘Awww, you forgot, what a shame’. I’m going to be talking about the principle of doing things that I asked for because that’s a foundational part of how D/s works for me. I’ll be asking him what he will do to not let that happen again. He will feel bad about it (good, he should!). We will talk it out. I will enact some punishment. That’s a lot of fucking trouble for something that’s rather small and petty, and I am being a pain in the arse about it. Like a small and petty person.

      But you know what? Relationship foundations are made up of a million small things.

      He needs to know what I want. I need to follow up to make sure I get it. He needs to step up to give it to me. I need to give him feedback and guidance to keep it on track.

      The above applies to the small AND the big things. If you let a small thing fall through the cracks because you feel petty, angry, resentful dealing with it, then soon enough a whole bunch of things are going to be falling through the cracks, and the cracks get bigger and bigger.

      And now we are back to the compromise post with getting to the point where a whole bunch of small things add up to ‘what the fuck happened here?’

      For me, if it’s working all positively, he *wants* to know this stuff, he *wants* to do better, he is bummed if he has let me down in some way *even if he didn’t mean to*. So when I tell him, he sees an opportunity to please me: “YES!! I can do that! I can do better!! *bounce bounce*”, and that kind of exchange takes the sting out of feeling like a petty jerk.

      TL;DR: Yes, I feel that sometimes. I think it’s normal. But I think it’s my responsibility to do something about it even if it feels like I am being a nit-picky bitch because in the big picture those things add up.

      Ferns

      ** Add disclaimer here because ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ is a perfectly valid way to run your relationship, no ‘one true way’, no ‘real and right’ and etc…

      1. “If you let a small thing fall through the cracks because you feel petty, angry, resentful dealing with it, then soon enough a whole bunch of things are going to be falling through the cracks, and the cracks get bigger and bigger.”

        That’s an excellent point and it’s generic. It’s a part of all relationships whether D/s or vanilla.

        And from a sub’s point of view, it’s a two-way street. Being a sub is not the same thing as being a doormat.

        D/s is symbiotic, not parasitic.

        1. I agree that there is some of that in all relationships and on all sides, but I do think D/s is a special case.

          In my relationship, we both get to say “I love getting a morning email from you”, but only *I* get to say “You will send me a morning email every day”.

          My not doing a thing that he would like is not something ‘falling through the cracks’ that he has to address, it’s him being the submissive partner and accepting that I can choose to do it or not.

          I have the responsibility to make sure he is happy, of course, but the imbalance of power means that how that looks from each side is very different.

          Ferns

      2. Wow…this is quite the wonderful post. I, tend to find myself in a constant inner conflict about “being petty” or feeling that way in certain aspects of our arrangement. thank you for being so transparent as it’s soothing to read :)

        1. *smile* I’m glad it was soothing to read (what a great adjective) and I do think it’s pretty normal to feel as if some things are petty (because often, really, they are!).

          I remind myself often that the boys I like are disappointed when they feel like they have ‘gotten away with’ something. That makes them feel like I don’t care, so paying attention, calling things out, can be framed as a good thing.

          Ferns

  6. I only tell the truth when and if it’s better than a lie…. or I can’t be arsed to make it up ummm that doesn’t sound good does it ? it was funnier in my head honest! Yeah when in doubt shout and arm wave……

    Or something…..

    Or you know wear leather…

    Ummm yeah errr carry on

    Coug

    .oO( Note to self that could have gone a lot better)

    1. The funniest thing about this comment is that when I started reading it, I was thinking ‘What the…’, then I went, ‘ahh, joking…’, then I saw it was YOU.

      *light bulb… cue laughter*

      All the above in a few seconds. I’ll bet my face was all weird.

      Ferns

  7. This is something I have way too much anxiety over.

    As a sub I’ve found that phrasing things carefully, not in terms of preferences but by saying “X stimulus/behavior has Y effect” avoids feeling manipulative, because I’m not stating a preference but rather providing a paragraph from my user’s manual. For instance I told my ex “When you smell of orange blossoms, I feel very quiet and pliable and in awe of you (rather than my usual teasing, loudmouthed self.” It gave her a shortcut to affecting my attitude towards her.

    I have more trouble with it from the dominant end, honestly, because I feel like once a dynamic is established a “please do X” is an order, and a partner ignoring me when I say “I like Y” or “I don’t care for Z” implies that he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Having to resort to saying “Seriously, make your freaking bed or else” makes me feel grumpy and gauche and bad at dominance.

    1. I like your ‘user manual’ analogy. I have found bambi has a thing about giving me ‘data’ about how he works. So yes, less ‘I want’ and more ‘here’s some information about me’.

      “I feel like once a dynamic is established a “please do X” is an order, and a partner ignoring me when I say “I like Y” or “I don’t care for Z” implies that he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Having to resort to saying “Seriously, make your freaking bed or else” makes me feel grumpy and gauche and bad at dominance.”

      I can understand that.

      I’m a bit of each. I too expect my submissive to pick up on my cues by paying attention and giving me/doing things that he knows I will like.

      But to me, the big difference between a vanilla man who loves me doing those things (and he will) and my submissive doing those things is that I get to *tell* my submissive to do them, and that simplifies quite a few things for me. It means that I don’t have unspoken expectations, and he doesn’t have any doubt or worry around giving me what I want. I also *like* asserting myself at times, just because I can and I like to see him hop to it.

      Ferns

  8. This sounds familiar. However, I would have said that one advantage of a D&S relationship is neither party having to do the nuances. The dom gets what he or she wants and the sub has the comfort of knowing that they are providing it.

    From the sub point of view this is much harder…

  9. Firstly, I LOVE this blog.
    Secondly, I have finally found myself in a relationship with someone who has a similar relationship with honesty and guilt to my own and we are still getting comfortable with the ideas that being honest is ok and noone need feel guilty for expressing their feelings, or having their needs met.

    1. “Firstly, I LOVE this blog.”

      *smile* Thank you so much!

      It’s great that you and your partner are working through it, and it sounds so odd that anyone has to work on being comfortable with ‘honesty being okay’ (it *sounds* wrong in so many ways), but *that’s exactly what it is*.

      I hope it continues to go well for you both.

      Ferns

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