Essay

Five to One

There’s this pop-psychology idea running around that a healthy relationship has five positive interactions for every one negative one. I don’t know about the exact math, but I love the general insight that negative and positive interactions balance one another in a relationship, but they don’t balance one another evenly.

If your partner forgets to take out the garbage and you snap at them for it, just having them remember once and you thank them for doing it once doesn’t bring your relationship back to the same place it was before. You’re both likely to still have wee little lingering questions and concerns that will persist until and unless you see several more confirmations that you aren’t going to make a habit of lashing out, and that they can be relied on to do their share. Even small signs that a partner is pulling away from us, or angry with us, or disapproving of something about us loom large. It takes a bunch of affection and intentional connection and positive regard to really put those doubts to rest and get back to feeling confident and happy with the relationship.

What that gets me thinking about is that D/s dynamics work the same way. For every interaction that undercuts, questions or diminishes the power relationship that you and your partner want to create between you, you need to have five that feed it, reaffirm it or take it deeper.

If your submissive comes on to you all like “How may your devoted plaything please you today?” and you’re distracted by the big deadline at work so you say “Not right now, honey.” Well, then the next time they get the urge to show submission they’re gonna be more likely to hesitate. And just telling them one time that you love it when they offer themselves to you is not going to remove that hesitation. If you want them to keep doing it, you’ll want to show them a lot, repeatedly, how much you welcome and appreciate their initiative.

If you’ve ordered your submissive to only wear sexy thongs in your presence, and one day they forget and you don’t notice… Well that calls into question how important following orders is for both of you. And it’s gonna take more than one belated punishment spanking to restore both of your confidence that those orders matter.

The things that feed the D/s in your relationship can be different from the things that feed the underlying romantic partnership (if you even have an underlying romantic partnership; some D/s relationships don’t, of course). They aren’t just the standard showing of affection and commitment and positive regard. They’re things that show that the power relationship that the two of you have created is real and important and desired by both of you.

And the “by both of you” part is especially important. Sometimes D/s can look like it’s something that the dominant does and the submissive has done to them. That the dominant creates the dynamic and the submissive just lies there and takes it. But this 5-to-1 principle works both ways. And I think it may be an even more common problem for D/s relationships from the submissive side, precisely because it’s so easy to forget that our dynamics need to be fed from that end too.

If your dominant orders you to masturbate to your edge five times today, and you say “Aw man. I have a really busy day at work. Can I just do two?” Well that will tend to deflate the D/s dynamic between you. Sometimes you are too busy, of course, and speaking up when you are is good boundaries, good communication, and the right thing to do. But notice how often you are negotiating down on what your dominant wants you to do, and realize that that’s probably a discouraging thing for them, and try to find five times as many opportunities to negotiate up.

Negotiating up is a powerful way to feed your D/s dynamic from the submissive side. When your dominant demands something of you, especially something challenging or unpleasant, offer them a little bit more than they demanded. That demonstrates your enthusiasm in a real and immediate way, and lets your dominant know that next time they can go a little deeper and a little hotter. And so your D/s grows for both of you.

In a relationship that isn’t 24/7, where you get to decide when to submit and when not, realize that if your partner leans in to dominate you and you say “Not in the mood tonight,” then the next the next four times that you are in the mood they may still be less confident about taking control.

That doesn’t mean you should submit when you don’t want to. But if you aren’t saying yes a whole lot more often than you’re saying no, recognize that that’s likely to erode your D/s, and look for a way to change the pattern. Is it the D/s itself you’re saying no to? Explore that with your partner and look for what could change about the way you play to allow you to be a yes five times out of six. Is it time or stress or distraction or other external factors getting in the way? If having this D/s dynamic is worth it to you, look for ways to carve out space in your life for you to be able to say yes to it.

For all their intimate power, D/s dynamics are delicate things. They aren’t supported by law or society or church or (usually) family or (sometimes) friends. The whole existence of the reality in which one of you is dominant over the other depends entirely on the two of you believing it in and treating it as important.  Which may make this 5-to-1 rule even more important for your D/s dynamic than for vanilla relationships. If you and your partner don’t both feed it enough, it starts a downward spiral where each becomes less confident in the other’s desire or commitment and therefore less open to expressing desire or commitment themselves. And that can quickly suck the life out of even the most profound power relationship.

If you feel like that’s happening to you, like your power exchange is deflating rather than expanding, then remember the ratio. If you make only one effort to rekindle the flame–if you show desire once, make yourself vulnerable once, craft one hot scene or go on one romantic date–it likely isn’t going to work. And then you may end up feeling even more discouraged for having tried and failed.

Understand that you’re going to have to make five efforts. You’ll need to create a pattern of showing desire and being vulnerable. You’ll need to have patience with some scenes that are maybe a little halting and tentative on both sides. You’ll need to go on more than a couple dates. But if you go into the effort with that understanding, and without the expectation that one gesture of reconciliation is going to make everything better again, then you can avoid the discouragement and keep putting in the attention and mindfulness and love that’re needed to successfully change the pattern.