How to Handle Conflict in Your Power Exchange | 30 Days of D/s
No matter how “right” or “perfect” your power exchange relationship feels, conflict will occur. Sometimes it’s an argument or disagreement between you and your partner. Sometimes it’s outside stressors wreaking havoc on your D/s routines and structure.
There’s no way to prevent conflict from happening, but preparing for it may help you both when it happens. The simple answer on how to handle conflict is to communicate, but there’s more to it than that.
Be Aware of Old Habits
If you were conflict avoidant in your vanilla relationships, chances are you’ll be the same in a kink relationship, at least at first. If you clam up and go deep in your head when the shit hits the fan in your vanilla life, you’ll probably do that in power exchange. It’s not that you don’t want to communicate. It’s that you’ve formed habits and coping mechanisms over the years that don’t really serve you in any situation, but definitely won’t help in power exchange.
And if you tend to lash out because you’re hurt, watch out. It’s going to rear its head in D/s too.
Get real with yourself about how you usually handle conflict. And then let your partner know what those methods tend to be. Being aware won’t automatically stop you from doing it, but you may realize what’s happening faster. More importantly, your partner will be aware of what’s happening and may be able to help you out of it or at least know what they’re dealing with.
Talk About Known Triggers
I know that loud voices and shouting trigger severe anxiety and panic for me. But it was a year or two into my kink life that I could articulate it with John Brownstone. You won’t know all of your triggers, especially when it comes to arguments with a partner, but the ones you do know about need to be part of the conversation.
I wish I could say knowing that loud voices are hard for me means no one ever raises their voice around here. Nope. But because we’re both aware of it, I can say, “I can’t handle how you’re talking to me right now” and we both know what I mean. That tends to calm things down a little. Sometimes it’s the cue for one of us to say, “Let’s discuss this later when we’re both calm.”
As you discover more about yourself, including how you react in different types of conflict, it’s important to talk about it with your partner. Ideally, you’ll do this outside of the disagreement or stressor you’re both in. Having a calm, rational conversation when everything is fine tends to make it easier to find solutions and compromises when you need them most.
A real thing I’ve said to John Brownstone: “I hate it when you’re upset with me, but I can handle it better if no one is yelling. Loud voices scare me, and I can’t think clearly.”
In the moment, I might also say, “I’m feeling panicky” or “I can’t breathe” — this is especially useful when I can’t rationally ask him to tone it down.
When You’re Wrong, Admit It
Sometimes in the conflict, we’re wrong (regardless whether you’re a Dom or sub). Admitting wrongdoing can be difficult for a lot of reasons. Backing down can feel like weakness. (It’s not.) Saying, “I was wrong” can make us feel vulnerable. (Vulnerability isn’t bad.) We might even worry that our partner will lose faith in us once they know we’re fallible human beings. (Looking at you, Doms).
I have a rule I try to live by in conflicts with someone I care about deeply (that doesn’t involve an argument about morals, ethics, or values): You can be right or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.
That plays out in many, many ways, but in the case of wrongdoing, it makes it a lot easier to say, “I’m sorry.” I might have been right that the appointment was set for Monday, not Tuesday, and now we’re double-booked because of miscommunication, and JB should have told me about this other appointment, and and and. But I won’t be “right” for yelling, cursing, and being a disrespectful brat about it.
In our relationship, when one of us bends, it makes it easier for the other bend and be vulnerable as well.
Me: “Daddy, I’m sorry I was so rude to you. I shouldn’t have said those things.” (In real life, I would list what I’d said to show that I understood where I went wrong.)
Him: “Thank you, babygirl. I accept your apology. And I’m sorry I didn’t communicate better with you.”
Admitting you’re wrong starts a conversation about what to do next. And let’s be real, in most conflict, everyone involved could have done something differently. Own your part in it, and it’s easier to move forward.
Figure Out What a Resolution Looks Like
Every conflict will have its own unique resolution. There’s no one-size-fits-all option. But having the conversation before you get into an argument may help you move on from the conflict a little faster.
To be clear, whenever possible, there needs to be a resolution, and both parties need to stick to it. Bringing up an old argument from six months ago that you agreed was resolved means it wasn’t resolved, and there’s more work to be done.
In general, resolution looks like:
- Open, honest communication about what happened
- What could have been done differently
- How to prevent it from happening in the future (this could be the problem or the way either of you reacted)
- Apologies when necessary
- Signals that let’s the other know where your head is at (see examples from discussing known triggers)
- Known or newly discovered triggers
- Some form of reconnection (kinky or not)
Not resolving the conflict because it’s “too hard to talk about” or because one partner is still angry doesn’t help anyone. It practically ensures this will come up again and again and that it will likely get worse each time it does. Once you find the resolution that works for you both, it’s important to move on. If you can’t — because of doubts about yourself or your partner — then it’s time for another conversation.
You can’t avoid conflict, and despite your best pre-planning efforts, you may say something you’ll regret later. But the most important part is realizing that it’s going to happen. Arguing in a power exchange relationship doesn’t mean the relationship has failed. You’re not a bad submissive for getting angry at your Dominant, and you’re not a bad Dom for upsetting your submissive. In general, it’s not always the conflict that matters most. What can make or break a D/s relationship is often how you handle the conflict. (Terms and conditions may apply. This advice does not apply to red flags, abusers, posers, and the shitty people who do truly awful things and then say, “Why are you mad?!”)
We’ve talked about conflict in a variety of ways on the podcast. If you want to deep dive into this topic, listen to these episodes:
Want to figure out what Dominance, submission, and power exchange mean to you? You can do 30 Days of D/s, too. Get the 30 Days of D/s workbook here!