Domestic Discipline (DD) is not the same as domestic violence. DD -- true DD -- is not abusive. I know. Because I have lived both.
I married my first boyfriend when I was 19. Early in our dating life, clumsily and full of shame, I confessed to him my need for domestic discipline, a need I'd been aware of since I was a small child. Back then, before the internet, I wasn't aware of the actual concept of DD, so the best I could do was to articulate a need to be spanked and generally be sexually dominated.
Later that night, while we were having sex, he hit me -- square in the face, hard enough to cause a momentary loss of consciousness.
I can still remember what that moment felt like, and the conflicting emotions it brought up for me. The shock, the anger, the pain. And then the confusion -- after all, hadn't I asked for this? Wasn't he giving me just what I had confessed to him that I wanted?
No, of course not. Anyone who has practiced genuine DD for even a short time knows that there is no simliarity at all between the consentual, loving and respectful application of discipline and the brutal randomness and cruelty of domestic violence.
I know because I have lived both.
I should have cut off my relationship with my husband-to-be right immediately after he hit me. At the very least, I should have pointed out -- assertively -- that being hit in the face was NOT what I was asking for. But I said nothing.
The reason I said nothing, looking back, was because although I knew that kind of abuse wasn't what I wanted, I was so ashamed of what I DID want that I lacked the courage to clarify or stand up for myself. I was only 19 after all, and back then, I figured I must be such a terrible person for wanting a relationship in which I was physically disciplined that I deserved whatever I got in exchange. So I told myself that I was grateful and fortunate to have man who would so eagerly give me "what I wanted."
I also believed, in my ignorance and naivete, that submitting to domestic discipline meant submitting to whatever the man in the relationship wanted to do to me, whether I agreed with it or not. In a DD relationship, a woman consents to being disciplined and the limits to that discipline are safe, sane and mutually-agreed upon. In true LDD, a woman would never be afraid of articulating her needs and experiences to her partner.
But I didn't know any of that. And so I married this man who hit me so hard I blacked out. I'll never know for sure whether the violent, abusive behavior that followed was something that would have happened anyway, or something that he allowed himself to inflict on me without restrain because he believed I'd "asked" for it.
I know what it's like to be beaten with a wire coat hanger until blood runs down my back.I know what it's like to be thrown down a flight of stairs.
I know what it's like to locked out of the house, naked, on a freezing winter night, crouching in the bushes, crying and pleading to be let back in before the neighbors saw me.
I know what it's like to wear long-sleeved shirts and high collars to cover cuts and bruises.I know what it's like to have the police arrive at the door and telling them that "everything's fine.
I know what it's like to have my friends and family tell me I'm so lucky to have "such a great husband," because he puts on his most charming, gallant face when he's around others.
I know what it's like to lock him out of the house and watch him take two hours to take the door off the hinges with his car keys, knowing the pain and terror that await when he finally gets back inside.
I know what it's like to want to leave, and to be told that I am worthless and that "no one else will ever love you."
I know what it's like to try to leave and to arrive at the motel only to find my credit cards have all been reported as "stolen."
I know what it's like to have my beautiful, innocent cats murdered in a fit of revenge for my trying to leave him.
And I know what it's like to finally leave, to finally say, this is enough and I deserve better.
I know because I lived through it Not once, but twice, because the man who "rescued" me from my abusive husband turned out to be abusive as well.
So when I say that DD is not domestic violence, I am not theorizing, quoting from a book or engaging in denial and wishful thinking. I say DD is not domestic violence because I have lived both and know from experience that they are not the same thing in any way.
When I am beaten by an abusive man, and collapse weeping, terrified, in a corner, afraid for my life, that's abuse. When I submit, willingly, to a firm, but fair spanking by a man I love and trust, because we have mutually agreed that this is the consequence for a behavior we both agree is hurtful to me, him or others, this is Loving Domestic Discipline. When an abusive man stands over me, bleeding and terrified in a corner, and tells me that I'm worthless, that's abuse. When I rise from my discipline feeling more empowered, safe, free and whole than I was before I received it, and step into the loving, forgiving arms of a man whom I know would never betray my trust, that's Loving Domestic Discipline.
But the sad truth is that, like any relationship, a DD relationship can turn abusive. I say "turn" rather than "be" because once a relationship becomes abusive, it is definitionally not DD.
One of the reasons for this blog is that I see a disturbing trend on the more popular DD blogs and forums toward encouraging abusive behavior towards women in the name of DD. This is frightening to me, and also sad, because it's not at all what DD is meant to be, and I'm concerned that the misuse and misunderstanding of DD will scare away women who would otherwise find fulfillment in this type of relationship.
The man I am with now has taken heroic actions protect women whom he knew were being abused. None of the things I list about would be in any way acceptable to him. The man I'm with now actively works to help strengthen organizations that protect abused women and children from violent men. The man I'm with now is a big part of why I now understand that no woman deserves to be beaten or humiliated. And the man I'm with now practices DD with me only after many, many (many!) hours of discussion in which he gently, patiently, respectfully helped me to articulate my needs and wishes in this area.
Any woman can find herself in an abusive relationship. But making a DD relationship work requires both parties to possess a great deal of self-confidence and self-respect. The first time my current partner and I tried it, I wasn't strong enough, healed enough, or empowered enough to handle it -- and it failed miserably.
Early in my current relationship, I was still too fearful and traumatized from my past abusive relationships to separate the two things in my head. My partner would try to do what I asked for -- he'd try to discipline me -- and I'd freak out. My emotions were all over the map -- fear, anger, "righteous" indignation. He'd spank me and I'd terrified and sobbing, pleading for him to stop, that I didn't really want it after all and it was a mistake. Or more often than not, I'd talk my way out of the spanking because I was too afraid to take it.
Fortunately, my partner was perceptive enough to recognize the difference between the sobs and cries of remorse that come with a true disciplinary experience from the terror of a woman not ready for that type of experience. Being a healthy, non-abusive man, he stopped what he was doing immediately - another thing that an abuser would never do.
We both realized our relationship wasn't mature enough yet for DD, and so we put it on hold while we worked on the basics of love, trust and respect. This is probably the biggest difference between DD and abuse:
LDD is a choice made out of love, trust and mutual respect, whereas abuse flourishes ONLY in the absence of love, trust and respect.
I wasn't yet healthy enough to enter into that kind of emotionally mature, intimate relationship with another human being. It took years -- five of them, to be exact -- of personal growth work, of learning to validate myself as a worthwhile human being, of healing past traumas and of getting the abusive ghosts of my abusers out of my head before we could try again. And I've learned along the way that the stronger I get, the more "whole" I become. the more rewarding our DD relationship becomes.
This is another crucial difference between abuse and DD -- abuse only "works" on a woman who is so beaten down and lacking in self-respect that she doesn't believe she deserves better. If a woman is in what she believes to be an DD relationship, and feels during her discipline that she is being punished for being worthless, inferior or inadequate, this is not DD. This is abuse. And the longer an abusive relationship continues, the fewer options a woman has for empowering herself enough to escape.
DD, on the other hand, isn't possible unless both parties come to the relationship reasonably healthy and emotionally sound. A woman in a true LDD relationship experiences her discipline as just, healthy and healing. And, at least for me, the more my partner and I practice DD, the more empowered I feel, both in and out of the relationship, and the stronger and more capable I become, thus giving me many more options in life than I had before.
* For more on the difference between DD and abuse, see Abuse vs. DD -- A Comparison.