Resistance, as I’m using the word here, is the frustrating experience of wanting to submit but having a hard time actually letting go and doing it in the moment. It is fundamentally an internal conflict in the mind the submitting partner, but it often becomes a conflict between partners when frustration leads to blaming one another.
There can be many reasons for resistance. It can come from unconscious self-judgments about submission being weak or bad. It can come from doubts about the competence or trustworthiness of our partner. It can come from being tired and cranky, or having other concerns weighing on our minds. It can come from not getting the kind of treatment from our partner that we need to inspire our submission. It can come from agreeing to some kind of submission that we don’t actually want, because we think it’s what we’re supposed to do or just to please our partner. It can come from any number of other root causes.
Often the root cause of our resistance is not immediately apparent to us. Sometimes we just feel resistant and we don’t know why. Sometimes we think we know why we’re resistant, but the reason we can see is actually a cover over something deeper—kind of like feeling hungry when what we really are is bored, or angry when what we really are is scared. It can take time, reflection and sometimes trial and error to figure out what’s really holding us back.
Resistance can be just as frustrating from the dominant side. Our partner is failing to obey or obeying poorly—complaining, arguing, dragging their feet. They aren’t ending the scene, but instead of working with us to create the dynamic we both said we wanted they seem to be trying to sabotage it. The two easiest conclusions for us to jump to are that they are challenging us or that they don’t really want to be submitting to us. Either of those might be the case, but the cause might be something else entirely. What looks to us like lack of enthusiasm might really be a conflict between passionate desire and chilling inhibitions.
The trick to resolving resistance is understanding what’s really causing it. If the resistance is stemming from the submitting partner feeling like their dominant isn’t being firm enough to trigger their submission, then laying down the law will be the perfect thing. But if it’s coming from fear that we’re going too far into power exchange too quickly then trying to push through it with uncompromising dominance is likely to make them panic and lock up even tighter.
When I dominate, my rule of thumb is that the first time my partner behaves in a way that I don’t want I clarify, the second time I chastise, and if there’s a third time I ask.
Clarify Maybe our partner doesn’t realize that this isn’t the way we want them to be acting. Without sounding unhappy or telling them that they’ve done something wrong, we can clearly describe what we do want them to be doing.
Chastise Part of our role when dominating is to help our partners submit by providing firm accountability. If they’ve gotten clear direction and are still misbehaving, it’s a good time to try laying down the law. A rebuke, in whatever form is appropriate for our dynamic, can satisfy their need to test (if they were testing) and communicate to them that the direction we gave them really was important and that we really do intend to dominate them.
Ask But if we chastise them and they still keep resisting, it’s time to figure out what’s going on. Rather than continuing to scold or punish our partner, we can sit them down and ask them to explain what they are thinking and feeling when they resist. It’s to our advantage to be as concrete and as nonjudgmental as possible in his. If we say “Why are you being such a lousy submissive?” we’re likely to get a defensive answer rather than a useful one. We have a better chance of making progress with something like “I know that you know I want you to raise your hand for permission before speaking, but this is the third time today that you’ve spoken out of turn. Is there something making this order difficult for you to obey?”
I once had a partner who would never kneel correctly. If her hands weren’t out of place then her knees were. If she wasn’t slouching, then she’d be moving her head to watch me instead of keeping it fixed forward. Because the correct position has several specific requirements, and because she would do it wrong in a different way each time, I ended up clarifying a few times, rather than just once. But after a few corrections I was pretty confident that she’d had enough opportunity to learn how to do it right; so the next time she knelt with her knees together I chastised her for it. She took her rebuke with grace and corrected her position, but the next time I told her to kneel her head was wandering again.
Instead of scolding or punishing her again, I paused what I was doing and asked her about it. I kept my tone curious instead of frustrated or disapproving, told her I knew that she was plenty intelligent enough to have learned the position I wanted, and asked if there was something holding her back.
She told me that she had thought I liked having something to correct, and that I’d get bored if she just did it right the first time.
If I’d just kept scolding or punishing her for doing it wrong, she would have kept on kept on happily messing it up while I got more and more irritated. Instead, I got to clear up the misunderstanding and get the obedience I really wanted.
I had another partner for whom water sports were both their hottest fantasy and the most horrible thing in the world. They needed to be pissed on, and they could barely endure it. To play with that delicious tension meant accepting that there was going to be a degree of resistance. They were going to drag their feet and try to bargain their way out of it. If I pushed them into it hard and fast, their resistance would increase and they’d begin to panic. What worked better was to take a slow but firm approach—to let them get used to the idea, and feel like they had a fingernail of control over exactly when it was going to happen.
We learned that best approach together, by experimenting with different ways of managing their resistance and talking about how they’d felt with each.
Cooperating to understand and manage resistance requires the active participation of the submitting partner as well as the dominant. One common aspect of resistance is a sense of “my partner should just know that…” They should just know that we need them to be firmer with us in order to inspire us to submit. They should just know that we’re feeling scared. They should just know that we’ve had a hard day and need some time to unwind before we can happily devote ourselves to them. They should just know about the thing we really want but are ashamed to tell them about. They should just know how to handle us even if we aren’t sure how to handle ourselves.
We all really do know that mind reading doesn’t work; we are the only ones with direct access to what’s going on inside our heads. If we find ourselves resisting what we thought we wanted, it’s up to us to examine that conflict with as much self-honesty as we can muster, and to share that information with our partners in a constructive way. Our partners can help encourage us in this process, but they cannot do it for us.