I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly!
Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked with a number of couples establishing power dynamics within their relationships. I’ve seen a lot of challenges and hurdles overcome: Preconceptions, fears, assumptions, and wayward imagery. I’m happy to say that, most of the time, we have been successful at creating meaningful and long-lasting dynamics. Of course, not all the time.
The relationships that I have seen have varied in intensity; everything from spouses, partners, lovers, friends, to even professional/client relationships. I’ve seen all sorts of power dynamics layered onto those relationships; from highly intense TPE (Total Power Exchange) to playtime-only topping and bottoming.
When you start to see a cross-section of relationships, you start to notice trends. Particularly, trends in why people enter relationships, characteristics that result in good dynamics, and common reasons why people have difficulty getting a dynamic to last. People enter into power dynamics with some fairly lofty expectations. They can easily become disillusioned and disenfranchised, if those expectations are not tempered.
One of the popular beliefs among those who are into power dynamics, is that power dynamics make a relationship “stronger”. In particular, that people with power dynamics will have better communication, be closer, and have increased trust.
It’s a natural tendency to give the things that you do, particularly those that that are out of the norm, more importance than they deserve – and I’m afraid, this is one of those situations. Power dynamics do require communication, trust, and closeness – true – but they don’t, in and of themselves, create them.
Relationships have base needs. In past articles, I’ve listed a bunch of those, including: Trust, Honesty, Caring, Mutual Fulfillment of Need, Openness, Communications, Respect, etc. None of these are uniquely tied to power dynamics: Plenty of folks enjoy high levels of all of these without power dynamics — and many people who have strong power dynamics do not have high levels of these characteristics.
It’s safe to say that ANYTHING a couple can do, that relies on these base characteristics, will exercise them for the relationship. These are opportunities to prove that the characteristics are strong. However, they are also opportunities that highlight weaknesses. Relying on the relationship-level characteristics tests their voracity.
I can think of a few things that tests trust, honesty, caring, openness, communications, etc.: Rock Climbing, Scuba Diving, and Martial Arts comes immediately to mind when I think of sports; Swinging, Polyamory, Sex in open places, and power dynamics comes to mind, if I think about sex.
In my first book, way back in 2008 (omg!), one of the chapters was called, “We are no different”. In it, I made the argument that being in a power dynamic does NOT make your relationship any stronger, more vital, or more important than any other activities that promote common interests, common goals, and a strong sex life. Power dynamics are but just one of many things a couple can engage in together, which will have the same effect.
When I was growing up, I believed that a strong sex life is vital to longevity of a relationship. I still feel this is generally true. However, I also saw relationships that failed because the sex life was the primary draw that brought people together – which worked well in the beginning. However, as both parties matured at different rates, and the sex life became less “new”, if they hadn’t developed the basic requirements of relationships, they had nothing left to hold them together and the relationship disintegrated.
What I’ve come to recognize is that, unlike popular opinion, having a power dynamic does not (in and of itself) strengthen a relationship, but it CAN help to grow the characteristics that do. It’s the aspects of the underlying relationship that get exercised because of a power dynamic that really hold the relationship together. It’s the fact that power dynamics give you the opportunity to explore trust and communication, respect and consent, caring, openness, and mutual fulfillment.
I’ve also realized the corollary: That relationships don’t dissolve because of failure in the power dynamic. People don’t separate because the sex life goes bad -they may use that as a reason (not being physically fulfilled) – but it’s really just an indicator of other, deeper needs that are not being met within the relationship. A failure in the power dynamic could LEAD TO the feeling that other, relationship-level requirements, are not being met. If the communication in a relationship is good, then a void in physical desire will be discussed, mutually understood, and disposed (through agreement, resignation, or compromise).
Where relationships fail is when failures in the physical are indicators that the partner doesn’t care, isn’t interested in mutual fulfillment, and isn’t showing respect. THOSE violations impact the base of the relationship, and will put the relationship at risk. The prime example of this is when one partner sneaks off and goes outside of the relationship to get physical fulfillment behind the other’s back. They put the relationship at risk by violating the basic requirements of Trust and Respect. You’ve heard the excuse, “It was just sex, it meant nothing” … which may well be true – but it’s not the sex that does the damage, it’s the violation of the fundamental requirements of relationships: trust, caring, respect, etc. that do the harm. Someone who sneaks off to a professional dominatrix, or who creates a relationship online with a dominant, without their partner’s awareness and consent, is putting their relationship at risk – not because of a physical deficiency, but because of the relationship-impacting choices they make in dealing with the physical deficiency.
Power dynamics are not the answer, they’re the test. Longevity in a relationship relies on relationship level characteristics. Trust, caring, honesty, respect, mutual satisfaction of need, open communications, etc. – these are the things that provide longevity. Power dynamics, as well as many other activities and dynamics in which couples may engage, put those characteristics into use. When a part of your relationship is exercised, it either demonstrates its strength or exposes its weaknesses. You can’t build a meaningful relationship on a weak foundation. Adding a power dynamic to a relationship that has weak base in trust, communication, and caring isn’t going to fix the relationship – it’s going to highlight the deficiencies. Bad power dynamics aren’t going to destroy a relationship, either – unless the cause of the issues originates due to failure in the underlying relationship requirements, or are interpreted as such.
Keep the layers in mind. I know most people live relationships as a consolidated whole…they have a single “Power Relationship”, but it’s often helpful to view it as a “Relationship” that has a “Power dynamic” layered on. Then you can put you focus on the right spot – and not conflate the characteristics of power dynamics with those of relationships. Then you have focus to strengthen those characteristics that will give the overall relationship longer life.
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.