Rules, I LOVE rules. Long lists of complicated instructions relating to everything from when they can speak to what furniture they are allowed to sit on, or short simple ones like always wearing their collar when we play. There are so many to choose from, and as with so many things in kink they are only limited by your imagination. When we set rules is it because we actually want them to be followed? Are we setting unachievable goals so that the bottom cannot help but eventually fail? Are the rules designed to eventually become patterns of unthinking behaviour, effectively training the bottom?
So let me start by narrowing the topic, here we are talking about rules that are supposed to be followed, not play rules that are fun to break or challenge. The rules we are discussing are those most often found in long term D/s dynamics.
What these rules end up being, the punishments agreed upon if the are broken, where they are enforced, all of this is just the beginning.
We can often mistake rules as being only about control. A way for the top to exercise their desire and dominance over another person, when physically there or not. However, I believe rules can be far more than that. First we need to decide what the objective of the rules are and where they are enforced. Then we can explore how rules can build trust and bring the top and bottom closer together.
I believe that rules are about trust. Because of that they need to come from a positive place. They need to be rules that genuinely make the top happy, and that improve the bottom in ways you both want, even if that is just in making them a better bottom. When I set a rule it is always with the objective of developing the bottom. Small rules can set the foundation for much greater changes.
Rules can be contextual or temporal, existing perhaps only in the bedroom, or on kinky weekends.
Rules can exist in perpetuity, even if they only are acted upon in a certain environment.
Rules can be omnipresent, forming the foundation for patterns of behaviour which stretch from the bedroom to the workplace and every corner of life.
Whatever rules you settle on they are not just about control, they are also about trust. As a top it is vitally important that you treat the rules with respect. You imbue them with all their power by enforcing them, fail to enforce them and the rules are meaningless.
Consider a bottom who has studiously been following the rules of a long distance relationship, and let us imagine that rule is to send the top a picture of them in their underwear every morning when getting ready for work. For three weeks, without fail, they have sent a picture, posed and considered to their top. Then one morning the alarm doesn’t go off! In the frantic rush that follows the photo is forgotten and it isn’t until the evening that they remember. An apologetic message is sent immediately, explaining the situation and begging forgiveness. Then the Top replies saying that they hadn’t remembered and that it is okay, they understand and it is fine.
What an incredibly underwhelming response!
For three weeks the bottom has been mindful, considerate and obedient. Let us not forget that it can be hard work as well, spending that extra time every day fulfilling the wishes of another person. With one act of nonchalant dismissal the Top has devalued all that hard work. What bottom would want to go though that again?
How much more exciting is it for the bottom to receive a text as they rush to work, a simple threatening question: “Where is my photo?” Adrenalin starts to flow, the delightful panic of knowing that punishment is impending, the fear of failure and the reassurance that the Top is always thinking about the bottom, monitoring them, aware of their actions and failures. We can easily focus on the surface emotions of that moment; fear, a sense of failure, impending doom. However, we shouldn’t forget the greater affirming impact on the relationship. The reminder that the Top is dedicated to the bottoms development, thinking about them, aware of their actions.
Isn’t this a more fulfilling response? I think so.
A rule should be rewarded when followed, and punished when defied.
A reward should be tailored to the bottom. Some only require a simple “Well done!” others need a reward chart with a big reward at the end. But most often the reward is recognition. It should be carefully balance though, not to over reward or under-appreciate. A rule should exist with a certain expectation of obedience and so giving praise for something that hasn’t actually been hard devalues the Top’s praise. However, no praise at all is demotivating.
Learn your bottom, give as much consideration to a “Well done!” as you would a spanking. Plan a big reward with as much care as you would a 6 hour beating scene. The reward part of the rule is just as important as the punishment part, both reinforce the value of the rule.
Punishments give a rule value, the higher the punishment the more important the rule. We should intrinsically know this, it is why murder gets life in prison and jaywalking a fine. But these are detached, we commit the infraction against a ethereal entity, society, but breaking a rule in a D/s dynamic is personal. You are breaking my rule. So here we can choose to punish even the smallest infraction in a most severe manner. We are punishing not just violation of the rule but the rebellion or forgetfulness which caused the rule to be broken.
I should highlight here that when I talk about punishing the infringement of a rule, I do not suggest you be merciless. We live in the real world, things go wrong, people get upset, things are forgotten for good reason. Depending on the circumstances a punishment might well not be appropriate or deserved, but I strongly suggest it is highlighted. Let them know it is not forgotten, but it is forgiven because of the situation. In this way a potentially upsetting situation can become another chance to show care and attention.
Rules are great fun, and if you want they can run deep through the very core of a D/s relationship. If that is what you want then they reward consideration, planning and forethought, but treat them casually and they can turn on you. Rules are not for the lazy Top, because unlike the bottom we don’t have anyone holding a stick over us to make us respect them.
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