How Is Problem Resolution in Structured and Vanilla Relationships Different?
This essay as part of a series of writings on problem-solving in structured relationships. For an overview, please refer to the introduction.
The basic process of problem resolution in a structured relationship is not very different from that in a vanilla relationship. However, the structural components of the relationship may add another layer of complexity. While the means are often the same, as we will see the tools may be different. Let us look at a few examples.
Relationship dynamics and structure
In structured relationships one person holds all final authority and responsibility. Final authority means that while the submissive may be involved in proposing what tasks should be done and how they should be done, the dominant makes the final decisions and sets the course of action. As the decision-maker, the dominant then holds the main responsibility of the actions.
Dominants are even at a disadvantage in some respects when compared to traditional household authority. They will not receive, except from others in the lifestyle, any semblance of validation. In fact, they will likely have to protect their ideal from “outside ridicule” or other more serious dangers. This is important to consider when one fully realizes that the dominant’s only real license to lead is granted solely by the people involved.
Protocols and rules
There are times when the submissive are asked to be quiet. However, as most structured relationships are built upon openness and transparency, any dilemmas or concerns should be brought to attention. When a submissive does not feel heard by her dominant, it is paramount that she takes that awareness to her dominant. Even if a formal protocol is in place (for example, like those in M/s relationships) there should be means in which the submissive can ask for permission to talk about a very important matter “off protocol”. Most dominants want their submissives to be attentive and provide them with the relevant information they needs to effectively direct their household. Dominants should want their submissives to provide suggestions and opinions. A very strict protocol might make it more difficult for the dominant and submissive to communicate. It is therefore useful to have some form of lower protocol (or even an “off protocol mode”) that makes communication easier and less formal.
Since the dominant typically has the final word some submissives might say that he then has the ultimate responsibility to resolve the conflict. However, an active participation, of both the dominant and submissive, is crucial. The submissive will usually have complementary skills and knowledge that her dominant does not have. Having her take the lead on a concern where she has the better knowledge does not go against the structural arrangement or power exchange dynamic. Most dominants should be comfortable to delegate authority in those cases, knowing that they are not releasing control.
Few dominants or submissives enjoy dealing with the intense feelings and/or repercussions that can arise when something goes awry. The majority tend to be highly resonant to the emotional environment of their relationship. This can make it exceptionally difficult for either one to bring “bad news”. It should be a submissive’s duty to report misdeeds and perceived mistakes, whether they were the result of something she or her dominant did. Not doing so will eventually threaten the integrity of the dynamic. Remember also that a dominant is just as sensitive to control as is his submissive. If a dominant believes he is losing some aspect of control he will likely feel threatened. A submissive may feel shame for being displeasing, or she may dread being disciplined – but the fear of abandonment affects dominants just as profoundly as submissives. Honor, service, and the belief that everyone holds the best intent at heart will go a long way in helping relieve any worry and tension that accompanies bringing issues of concern to one’s dominant – or to one’s submissive.
Dominants are not perfect
Dominants (and Masters!) are also wrong sometimes. It is human. It could be as simple as turning right instead of left at a stop sign, or it could be much more serious than that. It is important to remember that dominants are not perfect – and do not have all the right answers. Dominants and submissives alike make mistakes.
The problem with viewing any decision or action as “wrong” though, is that it is often accompanied by the feeling that one’s self is “right”. Having the freedom to be right or wrong is an interesting dilemma. Can a submissive own the feeling of being correct? They may make good decisions and do good work, but are they entitled to the credit or the right to judge? This might spend on the type of relationship, i.e. D/s, M/s, Daddy/boy etc. Something that may work better for the submissive is to consider which option is more likely to result in pleasing one’s dominant. Being a submissive does not mean that one has no thoughts of her own, it just means that it is better to not think or act possessively as a result of those thoughts. If the submissive provides honest, timely, and respectful observations and information that their dominant can employ, the end result is that everyone feels useful and gratified.
Needless to say, we all know that some dominants enjoy the ability to always appear right in their decisions. A dominant should acknowledge and apologize for his mistakes. This does not make him less of a dominant, but will most likely make him look more humane, honest and responsible. Indeed, maybe even more dominant and masterful.
S&M and punishment
Many structural lifestyle relationships utilize some aspect of physical or mental disciplinary action, sometimes in the form of S&M. Healthy S&M however is often practiced as the result of a profound inner need, and not necessarily because any “punishment” is warranted. What we are talking about, regarding conflict resolution, is not the erotic expression of our sadistic or masochistic selves, but a means to mark the end of discord. S&M is most often not an effective way to punish.
The origin of any misunderstanding or error marks the beginning of a concern. It should be followed by an intentional resolution process like the model to be discussed in the next section of this essay. The final restoration serves to act as closure for that particular dilemma. Many submissives, while relishing the closeness and bonding they feel with their dominants during S&M play, are terrified at the thought of being corrected for any shortcoming. Dominants are not fond of it either.
But the principle to concede is that some form of punishment, whether token or severe, may allow all the parties to move forward with a cleared conscience. Both dominant and submissive will feel more confident that their voices have been heard, an understanding has been reached, and that there is no reason for lingering doubts or cause for retribution. The most important aspect is that correction if needed, as closure, works well in your own particular relationship. If it does not, it is incumbent upon you to discover what does.