Not all D/s relationships have the kind of structure where the Dom makes rules and dispenses punishment. But when you do include them in your D/s it’s important to follow through when the submissive breaks the rules. Some Dominants have trouble giving punishments and that’s okay, but if punishment isn’t something you can handle then you probably shouldn’t be making real rules.
Everyone who is given rules will eventually break them. Submissives can be like teenagers at times, needing to test the limits to see what they can get away with. If you’ve both decided to include rules in the relationship, then you need to be aware that at some point punishment is going to be necessary. You don’t have to like punishing, but you do need to be able to do it.
Please, please, have this discussion early in your relationship and be aware of what you want/need, and what you are able to give. And I’m talking to both sides of the relationship here. If you, as a sub, feel uncomfortable following rules and hate punishment don’t agree to it just to make the Dom happy. If you, as a Dom, are looking for a sub who doesn’t need any rules then don’t agree to take on a sub who needs that structure.
By the time you get to this problem you should already be on the same page. The rules you’ve set up in the relationship should have been agreed to on both sides, with the understanding that punishment would follow if they are broken. People who got here by skipping those steps could very well be in the wrong relationship and that’s not something you want to find out after you’re committed.
With that understanding…It’s common these days to divide Doms into soft and hard. No, it’s not a dirty thing; it just sounds like it. Soft Doms are the more nurturing types, full of cuddles and reassurance. Hard Doms are the strict Master types. “You will obey me!” Doms who are sadists tend to be hard Doms and Daddy Doms are often soft Doms for obvious reasons.
It’s important for a submissive to match up with the right kind of Dom for them, because the wrong kind can cause a lot of damage. A submissive who needs lots of coddling and affection won’t do well with a hard Dom who acts like a taskmaster. And a sub who needs strict rules enforced consistently isn’t going to do well with a soft Dom who isn’t good at pushing.
Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of Doms that can play both sides. G for instance, is very good at being hard while still putting out tons of affection and cuddles as needed. But not all Doms are able to manage that. Some are very specifically meant to be more guide than drill sergeant. With enough provocation they can manage the snap of an order, but that’s not their strong suit—and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Littles (childlike submissives, possibly with ageplay) tend to do very well with soft Doms, as do fragile subs who’ve had a lot of painful trauma in their past. Some subs/bottoms just aren’t able to handle harsh treatment and they need the squishy love to make them feel safe. But there’s one thing that soft Doms and new Doms have in common; they often feel like they are doing the kind thing by letting punishments slide.
There are reasons that Doms mistakenly let misbehaving submissives off the hook. I’d say the most common is that they feel partly responsible for the rule being broken, or it’s a rule that they themselves break. To punish someone for something that’s your fault, or for something that you also do can feel hypocritical. Both new and soft Doms try so hard to be ‘fair’ that they often forget that D/s isn’t supposed to be fair.
Life, as we’ve all heard, is not fair. While a parent may need to set an example for a child who is still learning how the world works, that’s not the case with a submissive. As an adult they are responsible for their behavior without needing to see their Dom behaving in the same way—because that’s how submission works.
And ideally the submissive’s rules are based mostly on their own needs that they have voiced and requested help with, which means they don’t need to worry about what anyone else gets to do.
Other common reasons to skip punishment are circumstances where the Dom feels that the rule-breaking was understandable. Or perhaps they just feel bad because the submissive is already beating themselves up over the mistake and they don’t want to make that worse by scolding them over what they’ve done.
Here’s the problem though…punishment isn’t really about the Dom or how annoyed or upset they might be because they were disobeyed. Punishment can be about wiping the slate clean between them and moving past issues, but that can be done a lot of ways. It does usually help with those things too, but that’s not really the main purpose.
The real point of punishment is to help submissives let things go of the guilt and other negative emotions that fester inside when they do something wrong. It’s penance. It’s how we are able to learn from mistakes and do better in the future instead of moping over our failures and repeating negative cycles.
Many submissives suffer emotional drops when bad behavior is excused too often. They see it as a sign that the Dom doesn’t care enough to correct them, or that they are too much work. It shakes the stability of the structure they depend on. While the Dom may think they are being kind by forgiving the sub and giving them another chance often all they are doing is sending the submissive into a cycle of self-anger or sadness that leads to more rules being broken.
Some are prone to devising their own punishments when they feel guilty but aren’t punished by their Doms. These run the scale from fairly healthy consequences like making themselves do extra chores…to entirely self-destructive. But regardless, in most cases it’s not good for the relationship if the submissive feels like they have to assign their own punishments.
No matter how justified you think the broken rule was, if the sub is feeling guilt over it you need to consider a way to rectify that. If for some reason you don’t feel able to punish them for it, maybe because you feel like it was your fault, then that’s when you need to stop and make a decision about whose needs you are going to put first.
Now before I go on, I need to clarify this is not a criticism. Doms, like everyone else, are allowed to have limits and need self-care. If they don’t feel comfortable doing something, they have the same right to be able to say no. However, the reason for saying no is something they need to examine. Is it because they just can’t deal with it? If that’s the case, there are probably other ways to work through it.
Now, if the Dom is struggling to punish because they don’t want to be a hypocrite that’s a different problem. This is a very common issue for new Doms, kind of a rookie mistake you might say, and I’m just going to remind you that a sub is not a child who is unable to understand why they have to follow rules while the Dom doesn’t.
Holding a sub to the rules they agreed to does not make you a hypocrite. I’m not going to say, ‘Suck it up; you’re the Dom and it’s your job.’ But if a sub has agreed to these rules, they are probably the type of person who needs them, so not enforcing them isn’t doing anyone any favors.
When you give a sub rules but then let them slide too often, you’re shaking the stability of the relationship. In some ways you’re risking the trust you’ve built between you too because if the sub doesn’t believe you’ll follow through on that then she isn’t going to trust you to follow through on other things either.
There are times when breaking a rule is justified because of the circumstances, and there are times when the submissive can’t help doing something that’s forbidden. In the real world we all have to recognize that people have mood swings and bad days. They are going to mess up and be too emotional about it to be held accountable for minor rule breaking, but even in those circumstances if the sub is having issues with guilt some form of punishment should be considered.
If it’s decided to let it go, then the Dom needs to be clear about why there isn’t punishment for the offense. Explaining their reasoning will help so that the sub doesn’t feel like it’s just been dismissed because the Dom can’t be bothered to deal with it. “I’m letting this slide because I know you had a bad day and you needed extra coffee, but next time you’re going to be in trouble.” is perfectly reasonable as long as the submissive doesn’t seem to be dealing with guilt. Very few of us have guilt over breaking a small rule now and then.
But when the sub breaks the rule for the third time in a row and the Dom is still saying “Next time you’ll be in trouble…” it’s a problem. You’re going to end up with a submissive who doesn’t feel like they have any limits. Rules become meaningless so why follow them? Or you’ll end up with a submissive who punishes themselves in unhealthy ways because they need something to get through it.
So, what happens when the Dom is trying to let something slide but the submissive keeps doing it? Or they come right out and say they feel bad about something they’ve done but the Dom doesn’t want to punish for it? We’ll tackle that in part two next week!