My little girl depends on me for a great deal, which I know is normal. But often she expresses that she is terrified if I were to ever leave her (she sees that other doms leave their subs). She says that her life would fall apart, and she couldn't survive without me. I have no intention of leaving but her thoughts really concern me. Any advice?
I could almost taste her fear through his words. Imagining the loss of a partner can be a huge impediment to a trusting and deep relationship. Yet her fear is not unfounded; losing a beloved dom can be shattering to a sub.
D/s practices can create a closeness which vanilla relationship gurus would label "unhealthy" or "co-dependent" (The latter term comes from the substance abuse recovery community, where the wife of an alcoholic, for example, is thought to be as dependent on the abuse of alcohol as her husband is on the substance itself. It's a poor term outside that context; how could two people simply depending on each other be a bad thing?). It seems to me that the consensus of self-appointed experts about what constitutes healthy closeness in a romantic relationship is that which you find between two nations which share a border. Visitors may cross the frontier into the other country, but necessarily return to their native land, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of which must be defended to the last. And we wonder why so many marriages end in divorce!
The fact is, some people are suited to extremely close, merging relationships, and others to more distant engagements. Attempting to pair yourself with someone of the other tendency is a recipe for failure. Naturally, kinky people span this spectrum as much as vanillas. However, couples which identify themselves as master/slave, daddy/girl, owner/property, or even simply monogamous dom/sub, tend to be expressing an intent to create their own world together, instead of a merely open border between separate lands. I myself find this notion to be immensely appealing, and deeply romantic.
So it can't be categorically unhealthy to aspire to create a new world with your lover. Yet doing so presents the possibility that such a world might crumble, casting its denizens into cold, black space. What then, can one do to allay the fear of such a disaster, or at least make its aftermath survivable?
Assuming a healthy relationship, the most common reason to fear losing one's partner has nothing to do with the partnership, it has to do with the past. Many people, men and women, vanilla and kinky, have abandonment fears, due to previous experiences with parents, close friends, or lovers. Abandonment issues that form in childhood due to neglectful parenting are particularly tenacious. Painful experiences at that age create lasting impressions about how the world treats you. So there may be no quick way to quiet internal voices warning of impending loss. But it is often healing to identify sources of grief from your history, and tell one's partner about how they formed. Recounting such stories from your life is bonding, and when a story taps into a well of pent-up grief, it's cathartic.
When listening to a loved one tell a difficult story from their past, you can help by focusing on its events and urging them to return to them if they head off on a tangent. If they pause when the story becomes hard to tell, gently urge them to keep going, when they're ready. If they fight back tears, or break down sobbing, or show other signs of emotional release (e.g. laughing, trembling) simply smile at them fondly and offer a warm witness to their process. There's nothing in particular you need to say, beyond, "OK" or "I hear you" or "You're doing great". If the teller needs to hear something specific from you, they'll usually ask.
If your loved one's grief makes you at all uncomfortable, keep in mind that that's about whatever their emotions trigger in your own psyche, not a reaction they're causing you to have. Remember that you can't fix whatever is broken in them, you can only hold the space for them while they go through their healing process. The art of holding space for a grieving partner takes patience and practice; you'll get better at it with time. You can also get feedback on your space-holding from your partner later on.
But sadly, relationships do fail, so there is a risk that fears of abandonment will be realized. And from discussions with subs who've lost cherished doms, I do know that it can be a heart-rending experience, though none of them had been permanently damaged by it. Fortunately there is a way to make the possibility of a breakup less daunting: Create community around yourselves.
For sure, you should each have a confidant or two—kink-involved friends with whom you speak regularly about your D/s journey. (Note: it's wise for partners to choose different confidants.) Also, seek other D/s couples with whom you click to spend friendly time with as a couple. Practicing D/s means flying in the face of conventional wisdom about healthy relationships. That can be subtly draining. Even though, as kinksters, we like to think of ourselves as free-thinking seekers, humans are still social beings who draw peace of mind from the approval our communities.
If a romance becomes troubled, confidants offer a place to turn for solace and solutions. And if the partnership crumbles, they provide a safety net, a place to bring your grief. They can even provide a guestroom in the case where spending nights completely alone in the aftermath of a separation is too much to bear.
Creating community around your partnership, and considering and dealing with any latent grief the partners bring to it, are, to my mind, essential processes for most D/s relationships. They foster trust and intimacy, and in time will assuage fears of losing your partner.
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Originally published in The Journey of Will