In power exchange relationships, one of the most important elements to a satisfying relationship is for the couple to feel like they are in sync and that their power exchange runs smoothly. This is particularly true for Master/slave relationships, but it applies to a lesser extent to other styles, such as Daddy/boy or Handler/pup. Many of the obstacles to the relationship running smoothly are what I call ‘friction’.
Friction happens when something disrupts the slave’s ability to do as he is told. There are a lot of different things that can cause friction:
- The master’s command isn’t clear. “He said to make sure I get all my chores done before he gets home. Which chores was he thinking of?”
- The slave doesn’t know how to do what he has been told to do. “He wants chicken cordon bleu for dinner. How do I make that?”
- The slave isn’t confident that he’ll be safe doing something. “Master wants to do suspension bondage, but he hasn’t read up on it enough.”
- The slave doesn’t feel ready to have a boundary pushed yet. “He wants to do piss play, but it’s so gross.”
- The slave is acting out by ignoring a command. “He doesn’t appreciate how hard I work for him. Let him do his own damn laundry this week!”
- The slave is scared to disappoint his master. “This means so much to him, but I don’t know if I can do it.”
There are lots of things that can cause friction to occur, but the end result is the same; the master gives an order and the slave fails to carry it in a timely fashion. The slave hesitates, resists, fails to obey, or obeys reluctantly.
When friction occurs, the couple starts to feel like they aren’t in sync. The master may start to feel doubt. “Why didn’t he obey? I think he wanted to serve me, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not very good at this.” Dominance requires confidence, and friction can erode confidence.
On the flip side, the slave can start to feel guilt. “I should have done what he said. I screwed up. It’s all my fault. I knew I wasn’t worthy of him.” Slaves can also feel anger if they think they’ve been given an unreasonable command, but in my experience, slave anger is often a cover for feelings of guilt. Slaves are inclined to see problems as being their fault, so even if the root cause of the friction was on the master’s side of things, slaves are often inclined to put the blame on themselves because they feel inferior or inadequate.
If you look at my list of examples, you’ll notice that a common theme in them is a lack of proper communication. The master has given an instruction that isn’t clear or hasn’t told the slave how to do what he’s expecting. The slave has some sort of doubt or other emotion that is disrupting his ability to obey, but isn’t expressing his concerns clearly. This is a demonstration of the principle that communication is a foundational principle for successful kink. The master needs to clearly explain his desires and the slave has to ask for clarification if there is something he doesn’t understand. The slave has to express his doubts, fears, and concerns in a direct way, and the master has to make sure that the slave feels comfortable doing so. Both need to understand the other’s wishes and needs and concerns as much as possible.
The master also has to learn how to anticipate the possible causes of friction and address them before giving the command. So a good master thinks about what might be unclear about a potential order and tries to make his instructions as specific as necessary. “I want you to get the laundry and the dishes done before I’m home from work.” He thinks about what the slave knows and doesn’t know and doesn’t command the slave to do things that are beyond the slave’s skillset, or else he makes clear that his expectations are gauged accordingly.
When pushing a slave’s limits or otherwise intentionally challenging him, it is important for the master to be reassuring. “I know piss play makes you uncomfortable, but I think you’re ready for it. We’re gonna take it slow and you can safe word if you think you need to. I’m proud of you for trusting me.” Note: this only applies to soft limits. Hard limits should never be pushed without a lot of discussion and the slave’s explicit consent. Only the sub can say when he’s ready for a hard limit to become a soft limit.
The goal in every relationship should be to minimize friction (because everyone wants their relationship to run smoothly), but it’s particularly important to the more extreme side of power exchange relationships. Because the two partners are not performing the same roles but mirror opposite roles, friction can lead either partner to falling out of their role in a way that destabilizes both partners. This can happen in egalitarian relationships as well, but the further away from the egalitarian norm the couple is, the greater the disruption that happens when one partner begins to feel unable to perform their role.
So what sorts of friction do you encounter with your master/slave? How have you dealt with this problem?