Communicating the hard stuff

NaBloWriMo[SubmissiveGuyComics is also doing a post for our NaBloWriMo project, though he’s hiding some of them on Twitter so if you aren’t following him, you should… ]


So the question for you all is – how do you communicate best? Within the dynamic or by stepping outside of it?

I see some form of this question come up from time to time and I suspect I normally give some answer without giving it a lot of real thought. This time I’m not really even answering the question at all. Ha!

I know that I’ve done poorly at times with creating a safe space for difficult communication. This came home to be very clearly recently when my first submissive got back in touch with me and revealed some things that I wasn’t even aware of. In short: Instead of coming to me with something really serious at the time, he quietly kept it to himself and was horribly, irrevocably hurt by it. So obviously I had failed at making him feel safe enough to talk to me about something difficult.

So I’ve had to take a good hard look at myself, and while I think (hope!) I’ve gotten better at a lot of things since then, I am very aware of the fact that I choose very sensitive men whose primary focus in our relationship is to please me, and I love that about them. But that makes them very reluctant to do or say things that they know will not please me. This is not something I cultivate on purpose, but it’s a pattern I’ve seen even in my vanilla relationships, and the nature of D/s exaggerates that tendency.

I’ve (erroneously at times, I think) thought that my partner would bring things up as they need to, but I think I probably need to work a bit harder on facilitating those communications so that he feels safe. Given my experience so far, I think I would achieve that best by making it part of our dynamic (that is, to do it as part of ‘the rules’). If it was just part of how we related in our lives, it wouldn’t be a problem: It would just happen naturally and I wouldn’t have to ‘do’ anything to make it happen. But because I’m a bit of a steamroller, I don’t think that actually happens, so I need to give it a nudge.

For me, when I’m in a relationship ‘how we relate’ is pretty fundamentally D/s, and that colours everything in the relationship, and I think it can create a barrier to communicating the hard stuff. By ‘fundamentally D/s’, I don’t mean we’re acting all D/s-ey all the time, what I mean is that I choose men with whom the power dynamic exists because that’s how we are together. It would exist even if we pretended we were vanilla, and in that, it reflects pretty much every vanilla relationship I’ve ever had. I’m a powerful energy and I choose men who enjoy that, but there are consequences that brings that can be unhealthy and I’m pretty sure I haven’t been as aware of that in the past as I should have been.

No matter what, I’m still learning.

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  1. This is a tough one. Communication doesn’t come easy for me unless I can feel safe in doing so. I have found that closeness can sometimes have me raising barriers that I would not put up with someone I was not as close to. Perhaps it is fear of rejection, or causing disappointment to someone I love.

    It is not so much me hiding things of a personal nature but rather not speaking up when something is bothering me. In part, I think it is because the closer I get to someone, the more important it is to avoid conflict with them.

    It is an interesting question you pose. I will have to think more on the matter.

    1. I hear you about the fear increasing as you get closer. I don’t think that’s at all unusual, though ‘the internet’ would have us all believe otherwise.

      I’m glad it was thought provoking.


  2. This is a really important point, but not an easy one to think about because it centers on the relationship dynamic. It goes well beyond what you can get from a book like Crucial Conversations, I think.

    So how does one engineer the D/s dynamic so that the sub will feel safe bringing things up. Crucial conversations has plenty of advice, but not for a dynamic like this.

    I have experienced this, as a sub I do not want to chance breaking the dynamic by stepping outside. I want to be the slave, no choice, no opinion, if you will. I think that having an “amnesty day” where subs can speak freely outside the place they want their head’s in can work in this type of relationship.

    But, as I understand how you think about a relationship, which I find very compelling, it is more about how to make a complex relationship work for both partners. In that case, Crucial Conversations may have some insight, as it covers relationships that are not equal (boss and employee for example), and that book has a lot of insight about how to make people feel safe to discuss that type of thing. So a good starting point might be having the sub (and you of course) read or take a class in Crucial Conversations.

    Then, the trick will be in adjusting the tools for a D/s dynamic. some of that will be straight forward. for example, in my D/s relationship, the lessons learned form Crucial Conversations have ben extremely helpful.

    And, I think, it may well be that the D has to take a more direct role in making sure the s feels this communication is wanted/needed/desired.

    Very good topic. It is well worth thought and time.



    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, greg.

      “it is more about how to make a complex relationship work for both partners.”

      I think ‘hard stuff’ is hard *regardless* of dynamic, but I think it can be much harder for submissives.

      Mind you, I really struggle with the hard stuff also because I feel like I’m entrusted with a heavy dose of ‘looking after him’, so saying things that I know are going to hurt him is horrible.

      You’ve mentioned that book before: it sounds interesting. You should send me a copy :).


  3. My current sub is 3000 miles away in Ca. He has a hard time communicating with me about some thing’s. He knows that I will not hold things against him but for him to put into words what is bothering him is extremely hard. Our biggest hurdle right now is the communication of his bad days when he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. We are working on him letting me know its a bad day.
    He has asked me for more control over his life. So hoping that with what he is requesting we can have more communication of what is going on inside his head.

    1. “Our biggest hurdle right now is the communication of his bad days when he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. We are working on him letting me know its a bad day.”

      It’s so interesting what people find difficult and not. This would be super low on my ‘things that are hard to say’ radar (in fact, probably wouldn’t even be on it), but in THAT lies part of the challenge: Just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, doesn’t mean it’s not to him.

      Best of luck as your relationship develops *smile*.


  4. Creating a safe place means being pretty explicit about setting up the dynamic to be safe, talking about it being safe, then backing it up with consistent action.

    From the beginning, I have set the expectation of openness, then worked hard to prove to Naga that he was safe to follow my rules. Sometimes that means biting my tongue for awhile when I want to automagically fix things by giving orders. I listen instead. Sometimes it means being open myself, which was incredibly difficult at first but is getting easier with time. We respect each other’s experiences as we describe them and trust each other’s intent when we respond.

    For us, these discussions almost always exist within our dynamic. The rules exist to serve us, not the other way around. The relationship is more important than the rules, so if either of us feels like we need to “step out” of the roles of the dynamic to be able to communicate, we do. I think that knowing that the relationship is the priority (over the D/s) is one of the things that allows us to stay in our roles even during a difficult discussion. For me, it’s been about expanding my view of my role and responsibilities as the dominant partner to include protecting our relationship as a safe place. It is Naga’s responsibility – in role – to speak truth and be open about his experiences, even if he thinks it will be difficult for me in the moment.

    It takes a lot of work and being consistent, but gets easier with time.

    1. Thanks so much for your input. I know that you and Naga have a relationship that works really well, so I appreciate your thoughts.

      “It is Naga’s responsibility – in role – to speak truth and be open about his experiences, even if he thinks it will be difficult for me in the moment.”

      To me, fostering THAT is the trickiest bit.

      I think (okay, I know!) that I am not good at hearing difficult things, and that’s something I need to work on. I get defensive and hurt and resentful and I imagine it’s clear as day that I am shutting down even as he’s talking to me. And that’s on me.

      I’m thinking that I need to have him bring me these things in writing, not for HIM, but for me. So I can process any negative feelings BEFORE we talk about it.

      But honestly, I don’t want to hear every petty little whine about stupid stuff. Shut up and deal. This attitude obviously does NOT set up a safe space for transparency, and further, it makes him have to figure out what I consider ‘stupid stuff’ and what I don’t. To me, it seems simple, but I imagine it can be a barrier for him.

      I DO still think, though, that the biggest issue has always been that he’s scared of not pleasing me or of bringing me things that have the potential to harm (or even end) the relationship. Since I WANT him to be all over that ‘pleasing me’ stuff, I want to foster his desire to please, so then I have to do that while still somehow creating room for him to *not* please me with difficult things *flails*.

      And I don’t for one second believe that saying ‘your honesty pleases me’ holds water when he can clearly see that he’s stabbing me in the heart.

      So yeah, I think I’ve probably got work to do on quite a few fronts.

      “It takes a lot of work and being consistent, but gets easier with time.”

      This is so true.

      I tell you what though, I get really annoyed at all the one dimensional representations of difficult communications as if it’s NOT hard. People say stuff like “Oh, we are really honest, he can tell me anything” and then it turns out they mean “He can tell me if he has a new kink he wants to explore”. That’s NOT THE HARD STUFF! SHUT UP THE GROWN UPS ARE TALKING!



      1. I think you’ve put your finger on the most difficult part of open and honest communication, and the part that most people (including me) struggle with – actually being able to confront the hard stuff and deal with it.

        Life has handed a metric shit ton of “hard stuff” to Naga and me over the course of our relationship, so maybe we’ve just had to get good at it out of necessity. But we’ve had to say some pretty hard stuff to each other – stuff that would change the course of our life together, stuff that set boundaries that we’d come to need and require financial and emotional investments.

        Neither of us is a blurter. We’re deliberate and careful with our words, and when we’re talking through something we both try to be fair AND kind in how we portray the situation. We both take time to process what we need to say before we say it.

        It’s huge that we trust each other’s intent. This takes out any sense of attack when discussing difficult topics – we focus on what’s going on without assigning blame or taking on guilt.

        Listening often means listening to the little stuff. Sometimes the little stuff isn’t so little and turns out to be the opening for Big Important Conversations. Sometimes it’s “cane shaking” – which I have pretty clearly outlawed and quickly call Naga on. He obediently stops. I think there’s an important distinction between “here’s how something is affecting me personally and need to process with you” and “ugh, these stupid kids need to get off my lawn already.”

        Being a “pleaser” is certainly one of Naga’s more attractive qualities. He values my well-being and happiness and works to serve me in many ways every day. We go well beyond “your honesty pleases me” into “your honesty is expected.” It’s also a matter of priorities – how I might feel in the moment isn’t more sacred than the health and well-being of the long term relationship. And, for me, another just as important reason to be told the whole truth is one of respect and trust. When something is held back from me, my internal response is “What? You didn’t think I could handle it? Do you think I’m that weak? Do you think I need you to protect my fragile emotions? Fuck no – say what you have to say and respect me enough to let me deal with however I need to.” Then again, I get angry when a man opens a door for me – what, am I not strong enough to do it for myself? So I’m kind of weird that way. I don’t like feeling patronized or handled.

        I’ve found that couples who act like things are super easy on ANY front tend to describe living at a more shallow level – of processing, of connecting with each other, of being aware of and dealing with their shit. I avoid conversations about meaningful things with folks like that – no good can come of it and it’s hard for me not to say, “Awww, you’re cute” in a patronizing voice.

        This kind of relationship is a lot of work. It’s a lot of personal work on being able to handle things. As a dominant, it’s a lot of work in creating and growing systems that foster a healthy relationship. And time-wise it’s a lot of work to talk things through. But it’s worth all the trade-offs. This is the only relationship I’ve ever managed this kind of communication and partnership, and it’s also the closest I’ve been to another person.

        1. “It’s huge that we trust each other’s intent. This takes out any sense of attack when discussing difficult topics – we focus on what’s going on without assigning blame or taking on guilt.”

          That is huge, yes.

          The complexities of this do my head in, but I think there is a bottom line for me in that I don’t do ‘hurt’ well. I take forever to open up but I will shut down in a nanosecond if I feel something hurtful coming my way.

          So in addition to my submissive’s natural propensity to not want to do or say anything that makes me unhappy, he probably also knows I’m not going to react well to something that hurts me. I don’t rail or get angry or go off the deep end, I just quietly shut that part that felt hurt down so it doesn’t get hurt again.

          That combination obviously does not an open environment make.

          “This is the only relationship I’ve ever managed this kind of communication and partnership, and it’s also the closest I’ve been to another person.”

          *smile* That’s so great! I really appreciate your thoughtful responses here. Thank you.


  5. Thank you for your comment. I also don’t think it should be hard to tell me that he is having a bad day. But because he has had so few relationships that to actually have some one who cares about what kind of day he is having he finds it hard to tell me.
    Again thank you for your comments.

    1. I think your situation highlights so well the fact that we often don’t even know what sort of communication is hard for someone else. Just because something seems easy to us doesn’t mean it’s easy to someone else.

      And that’s so sad that you are the first, but also so great for you that you can give him that. I hope he continues to get more comfortable with sharing those things with you.


  6. This issue is one that Mrs. Lion and I have been thinking about yesterday. My post this morning discussed my fear of talking about boundaries. I’m afraid to say things that would hurt her or make her feel inadequate. If she does things that hurt me too much, unless I am in real danger, I’m not going to say anything because she might back off too much.

    In the years I was a top (dom in internet talk), no one ever used a safeword. I never got feedback that would have made things better. I suspect that the reasoning is that by objecting in even the mildest way, the power exchange will end.

    I don’t think it is meekness or sensitivity as much as it is fear of confrontation. In a power exchange, the bottom is, by definition, inferior. Imagine how hard it would be to tell you that you did something “wrong”.

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