A recent discussion interested me with two very different schools of thought in response to this question:
“Do you use anything to invoke and maintain submission from your partner?”
- One school of thought seemed to be that his submission is just *there* all the time once he has agreed to submit and if the dominant has to do anything to invoke or maintain it, then there is something wrong.
- The other was that submission requires some kind of action from the dominant to invoke and/or maintain it.
I’d guess that most people who have been reading my blog would think I would belong in the first school of thought. But I don’t. I don’t think it’s realistic. And maybe there is a problem with the language of the question which actually made it an interesting discussion.
I think proponents of the first answer maybe picture a guy who is some dominant chest beater who they have to constantly pull into line (to ‘invoke’ his submission) or they picture a bunch of work they have to do to ‘make’ him submissive (like ‘force’ him to wash the dishes), or they imagine something very specific and random (like ‘maintenance spankings’). I don’t see it that way. I see the idea of invoking his submission as a kick arse reminder when there is a natural lull (because life happens), and maintaining it as oiling the wheels (encouraging it to run smoothly).
Everything I do with him acts as some kind of relationship maintenance, whether it’s maintaining the ‘best friend’ part, the ‘love’ part, the ‘D/s’ part, the ‘hot sexy’ part. It’s all built in, and maybe the word ‘maintenance’ isn’t very sexy, but that’s pretty much what it is. It’s not about grand gestures, but it *is* about actively participating and leading the relationship and the dynamic.
His submission doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If it did, all those submissive men with vanilla partners would be delightfully happy. I mean, if they are submissive, they can theoretically *be* submissive regardless of the context. But it doesn’t work like that. D/s is entered into by TWO parties (okay, sometimes more than two), and without active dominance, submission is meaningless. Each person has a part to play to keep it running smoothly and well.
So it makes perfect sense that I have to *do* ‘something’ to keep the D/s dynamic working the way I want, especially as the dominant partner. It’s not just *his* job to ‘be submissive’, it’s my job to ‘be dominant’, and to me, that’s part of ‘invoking and maintaining’ his submission. I need to live up to my end of the agreement, and to me, that’s kind of a no-brainer. It could be argued that he needs to do the same with me to invoke and maintain my dominance (and he totally does), but as the leader in the relationship, I feel as if the onus is much *more* on me to, well, lead.
If I replace the word ‘submission’ with ‘love’ in the above question, my answer is the same. If a man says ‘I love you’, I don’t expect him to love me in a vacuum or somehow assume I’m kind of ‘set’ and don’t need to *do* anything to kick it up or maintain it. All those sweet things that we do for and with each other when we are in love? That’s part of maintaining the love, of nurturing it, and in times of trouble, we do things to remind each other why we are in love, to re-invoke that feeling, to bring it to a peak. Without that, it will eventually die.
In a D/s context what that ‘something’ is that encourages and tends his submission is almost irrelevant, but for me it ranges from our natural interactions where he defers to me to the little rituals and rules that I put in place for him. Then there are small ad hoc things, simple things like grabbing him by the throat and shoving him into a wall to take his mouth, are a kind of ‘maintenance’ to me (also, hot!). In fact *everything I do* that reinforces the dynamic is a kind of maintenance, and on a busy day, when I call him to me to kneel at my feet so I can pet him for a moment, I’m essentially ‘invoking’ his submission when his head may have been full of bills and work a moment before.
The day I stop maintaining his submission is the day I shrug and say “Eh, do whatever you want”, and that essentially means that I expect his submission to exist without my input. And that’s not going to work because it won’t take long before he correspondingly goes, “Eh, fuck it then…”
If you want to read the original discussion, it’s here: Fetlife: Invoking and maintaining submission in your partner
”His submission doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If it did, all those submissive men with vanilla partners would be delightfully happy. I mean, if they are submissive, they can theoretically *be* submissive regardless of the context.”
This is so true. I had a 13 year relationship with a vanilla partner and even though I didn’t understand it at the time, the biggest issue for me became the lack of feedback. Looking back on it now, there was never anyone really “in charge” and eventually, I lost interest in trying to maintain things by myself. We ultimately drifted apart.
*nod* Whenever I see people suggest that submissive men ‘just submit to their vanilla partner’ I think, “Yeah, you don’t get it”.
If only it worked like that!
I just need to know that it will be appreciated, (like really appreciated for what it is) and then I’ll be quite submissive.
It’s how I express affection for one, bending to the will of my partner, so I don’t feel like there is much invoking involved.
On the other hand being amenable to the will of my partner doesn’t do anything for me unless I know that they get off on me doing what they want. Does that makes sense?
*nod* Yes it makes sense.
You show your affection in a certain way, your partner shows you that they get off on it, and so it goes. Everyone’s happy.
There is a cyclical feedback loop and where I’m going with this is that without the feedback that you are appreciated, that she’s enjoying your submissive attentions, it’s one way and it will cease to work. To me, that feedback *is* part of ‘maintenance’, and if it’s all going well, it requires very little effort on either part to keep it rolling along because it’s a natural way of interacting, but it’s not ‘nothing’.
And sometimes, when it’s not all so swimmy-fabulous and happy and exciting and humming along wonderfully all on its own, it *does* require some more conscious work to get it back on track. Maybe a chat about what is going wrong, maybe some shock and awe to reinvoke it, maybe some quick adjustments to maintain it.
But my point is really that ‘not doing anything’ because it should just be ‘there’ just isn’t realistic. Again, apply the scenario to ‘love’ and it’s exactly the same thing.
I’m trying to imagine a Ferns “shock &awe” encounter. I don’t know how I would trigger that, but I probably wouldn’t do it twice.
I think you hit the nail on the head, Ferns. How many words have been spent about how couples can keep the “spark” in their relationship? Well, a good D/s dynamic is another type of spark. If you want to keep it going strong, you have to use it. Do the things that make your relationship, and your submission or dominance, special. If you don’t exercise the dynamic, how can you keep it strong?
Really incredibly excellent writing here. I’ve read before about the need for the domme to be an active participant and that the sub can’t just keep on making it happen alone. But the connection to the effort that both partners also must make in any loving relationship is just perfect. Thank you.
Thank you so much for your lovely comment, mrbill. I appreciate it.
A lot of what you have here works beautifully with what you’ve said elsewhere on punishment and when your submissive says ‘no’.
It’s a reminder that a D/s relationship (or any relationship) requires work, not just in the beginning, but also, the sort of maintenance that you mentioned.
I’ve really latched on to the idea of “energy” and “exchange” in D/s relationships, as it helps me envision the sort of work each of us needs to do to keep the thing running–I have to fuel his submission and I expect him to fuel my dominance. Of course, the “exchange” idea is true for any relationship (as you said, replace the terms with “love” and it still works the same way).
As I navigate my own relationship and read about others on blogs and FetLife, I do wonder about those blurry lines we all have. Here, you mentioned a sort of maintenance required when there’s an obvious problem, and I keep flipping your last “step” around in my head:
”4. Discuss/Reassess. Calmly talk about it, reset expectations if you need to, and be prepared to keep your core requirements for the relationship intact.”
This sort of discussion and the thinking that has to accompany it isn’t something you can totally plan for, and it’s really difficult work! For those reasons, I don’t think people do it enough, either as a form of maintenance, and/or as an assessment of the relationship to determine whether it needs more work or whether it should end.
The most difficult thing (for me, at least) is trying to figure out what’s a relationship “requirement” and what’s an “expectation.” Requirements shouldn’t be revised, but expectations can be. The problem is figuring out which is which—it’s easier to do when a person isn’t in a relationship, but once you’re in one (and in love), it’s really hard to figure out what you can’t do without (requirements) and what you’re willing to compromise on, adjust, and work towards (expectations and meeting expectations).
Anyway, sorry to have rambled on. Good stuff, as always, Ferns. Your posts on this sort of thing are thought-provoking and very helpful. :)
“This sort of discussion and the thinking that has to accompany it isn’t something you can totally plan for, and it’s really difficult work! For those reasons, I don’t think people do it enough, either as a form of maintenance, and/or as an assessment of the relationship to determine whether it needs more work or whether it should end.”
I quoted that in its entirety to nod wildly.
There is ‘what we know’ and ‘what we do’. I’m no different from anyone. I often want to sweep things under the carpet, let them slide, not deal with them because that stuff *is* hard. And often unpleasant.
And while everyone waxes lyrical about ‘communication’ like a bunch of cult followers, all nodding in time, when things aren’t going so swimmingly, that shit is HARD and people get hurt and it can break things before they are fixed. People are notoriously bad at communication when the shit hits the fan, feelings are hurt, there is anger etc.
I understand totally why we (general ‘we’, everybody) don’t do it as much or as *well* as we should.
In a D/s relationship, I feel more *responsibility* to bring things up, and that’s a good thing for me. I hate to fail at stuff, and it feels like I am failing if I don’t step up *even when I really really just want to stick my head under the pillow and hope it all goes away*.
“The problem is figuring out which is which—it’s easier to do when a person isn’t in a relationship, but once you’re in one (and in love), it’s really hard to figure out what you can’t do without (requirements) and what you’re willing to compromise on, adjust, and work towards (expectations and meeting expectations).”
I love your comment so much!! *more nodding* I have a post brewing* on this since a few people have asked about it since the masocast interview where I talked about compromising away happiness.
None of this stuff is easy because people are complex and relationships are complex. To me, there is ‘what I aim for’ and ‘reality’. I think as I get older, the two get closer because I have learnt what I can live with.
* And when I say ‘post brewing’, I mean, I thought vaguely ‘I should write something about that…’
Found this after Masocast.
A lot of good ideas here, and very complimentary with a book we’ve been reading, “conquer me”. It’s written from a male Dom example, but seems relavant to female doms to me.
Thank you for coming to visit after my rambling interview! And welcome.
I’ve not heard of that book, I shall take a look. And yes, if a book isn’t horribly misogynistic (which makes it unreadable to me), gender is often irrelevant when discussing D/s or BDSM.
When talking about maintenance (work required of the Domme), it makes sense to consider efficiency. If the goal is invoking/maintaining his submission, what are some high-impact/low-effort things you can do? Rituals, as you mention, are a great way to go about this–once put in place, they have a way of taking care of themselves. The danger here is that the ritual becomes normal, and by that I mean that the sub starts to view the actions in the ritual as vanilla. At that point, the efficacy is diminished. I’m going to give an example that I think is a highly effective “maintenance ritual”. (If you feel this is inappropriate, please edit or delete this post.) Requiring your submissive to (orally) clean up after a sexual release is something that he will never confuse with vanilla. It takes very little effort on the part of the Domme, and has a huge impact on the sub. (If he tries to pretend like it’s not a big deal, just ask him what is friends would think if they knew!)
I appreciate your comment, and the sentiment, but your suggested solution makes me really uncomfortable.
I am cynical about men who suggest kink-related solutions to relationship issues because what I hear is ‘If you want me to be submissive, you have to do my sexual fantasy to me’ and I find that really offputting. Whether it’s ‘eating come’, ‘dressing as a sissy’, being put in chastity’, ‘pegging’, the ‘thing’ really doesn’t matter. I hear the suggestion in exactly the same, negative way every time.
If I need to deliver his kinky fantasy to maintain his submission, I really wonder where that might end, and I’m not sure I’m all that interested in finding out.
All my partner needs to do to maintain my submissive stance in our relationship is…be dominant. And it’s a dynamic situation; I interpret a more (less) explicitly dominant attitude from her as a wish to see me more (resp. less) explicitly submissive, and I respond to these fluctuations in attitude.
But I resist the notion that explicit “rituals and rules” are *needed* to evoke the submissive in me. They aren’t, it’s a natural, effortless thing. It is in this sense that I prefer the first option above.
Just as for the “love” part of the relationship there are demonstrative moments and explicit affectionate gestures (without which something would be missing), so it is for the D/s part; that’s part of the reason we need s/m play and, say, foot rubs: it’s demonstrative, “romantic” D/s.
To me this says that, depending on how one interprets the “need rituals to motivate/evoke submission” thing, it is possible to justify a different answer with arguments not that different from yours.
“All my partner needs to do to maintain my submissive stance in our relationship is…be dominant.”
I agree with you, that was my point about active dominance versus expecting him to be submissive in a vacuum.
“But I resist the notion that explicit “rituals and rules” are *needed* to evoke the submissive in me.”
I agree. I’m not sure if you think I said that and want to argue the point, but since I didn’t say that, I’m not sure what notion you are resisting exactly.
I gave ‘rules and rituals’ as examples of things that *I* do because that’s part of how I exercise my dominance.