Boundaries: Finding the "Sweet Spot"

I received an email from a regular reader today who was having trouble posting comments to this blog. He emailed me (and I hope I'm not violating any confidences here!) that he'd tried unsuccessfully to post in the past and when his comments failed to appear, he thought perhaps I'd rejected them because he was male and didn't want men's opinions on the blog.

For the record, this is not the case! In fact, just the opposite is true. I see a serious lack of the male perspective in online DD material, and would love to have much more input from the male/dominant point of view.

In light of this unfortunate misunderstanding, I've revised the email policy posted in the sidebar.

My reason for the initial "no emails from men" policy has been that I tend to have a serious problem enforcing personal boundaries. Particularly in the areas of sex and relationships, I tend to ignore those helpful instincts that tell me when a situation is unsafe or unhealthy until it's far too late to safely extricate myself from it.

It's only recently that I've begun to realize I have not only the power, but also the obligation, to keep myself safe by enforcing personal boundaries -- hence the prior "no email from men" policy (and the trouble in my current relationship...). But erring on the side of overcompensating isn't healthy, either -- hence the correction to the policy. So provided I don't become inundated with strangers emailing to ask me what color underwear I prefer, I'm happy to accept emails from any and all.

But the whole incident got me thinking about something very related to DD: boundaries.

As I've explored a bit in the past (see"When I'm Angry"), the biggest weakness of DD seems to be that the dominant partner has the ability to enforce personal boundaries and the submissive partner doesn't. And in many cases, the dominant partner also claims (largely erroneously) the right to decide what the acceptable boundaries are not just for himself, but for his partner as well.

Like many women passionately committed to living a DD lifestyle, I've done back flips trying to rationalize why either A. this isn't the case, or failing that, B. this isn't a problem.

Putting aside for a moment the possibility of discipline going both ways a la the Spencer Plan (the subject for another post), the flat out truth is here is very simple:

A. it is the case and B, it is a problem. At least for me.

The issue of boundaries is, unfortunately, fundamental to why my current DD relationship seems to be imploding at lightning speed.

As long as I don't enforce my boundaries, we're blissfully happy. When I do call attention to something in the relationship that violates my sense of self, he gets angry. If I press the point, I risk discipline. And because I know that there is always the possibility that I will be disciplined for defending my boundaries, my need to protect myself keeps me (rightly) from being able to submit fully to his discipline.

Fundamentally, while I completely trust that he won't abuse his power during the actual disciplinary process, I don't trust his judgement when it comes to determining who's at fault for an "incident" -- me, him or both of us. And trusting the judgement of one's disciplinarian is so fundamental to the feeling of safety and love that healthy DD creates that the experience doesn't hold up long-term without it.

Interestingly enough, I was fully aware of this weakness (minefield? powder keg?) in our relationship before I even suggested DD. In fact, it's one of the reasons I suggested it in the first place. I decided that if I was going to have to back down most of the time anyway to keep the peace, I may as well fill the emotional need I had for DD in the process and turn a negative into a positive.

Wanting my partner so much, and wanting DD so much, I naively thought that the benefits would be so overwhelming that they would make up for this deficit in our core relationship, and that in a sense, we'd both get what we wanted. He'd get to be "right" most of the time, and I'd get the safety and security of DD.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There is no benefit, DD or otherwise, that is powerful enough to make up for a lack of respect or a diminishment of self. If there were, there would never have been a women's movement (or a civil rights movement or an organized labor movement). Women would have been happy to be cossetted, protected and cared for in exchange for putting up with being talked down to, excluded and dehumanized.

But it doesn't work that way. The innate human need for self respect is too powerful.

Am I then suggesting that DD is, after all, inherently abusive and sexist?

Absolutely not!

I continue to believe that, when it's in the context of a healthy, mutually respectful relationship, DD speaks to a basic, archetypal need in those who seek it -- first, to fulfill unmet childhood and developmental needs, (see "DD as a Reaction to Me Generation Parenting") and second, to balance the male/female archetypal energies that our culture has twisted beyond recognition. (I really need to get around to finishing that post...)

But because there are no external forces checking the behavior of the dominant in a DD relationship, the only check on the system that prevents abuse is self-control, an internal responsibility on his part and a willingness to admit freely when he's wrong. Lose any of those and the relationship -- and the woman specifically -- are in dangerous territory.

As Ollie wrote so beautifully in his comment on "When I'm Angry," (and I'm paraphrasing here), power corrupts. And in a situation where one human being has ultimate say over right and wrong, few of us, male or female, could resist the temptation to avoid taking responsibility for our mistakes.

This is all too human an impulse. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most women attracted to DD are attracted precisely because we recognize our urge to avoid responsibility and want to be forced to accept it.

I imagine myself with a paddle in my hand, and while I'd like to think I'd be fair, truthfully, I doubt it. If I were that good a disciplinarian, if my judgement were that sound, if I were that emotionally balanced, I likely wouldn't have such strong need for an external disciplinarian, and my interest in spanking and discipline would likely revert to a strictly sexual one.

Fundamentally, then, the issue of boundaries goes back to the prior post -- it seems that for a traditional non-reciprocal DD relationship to work, the trust has to be firmly established prior to the introduction of DD. The respect of boundaries has to go both ways -- and his way is harder, because he has to do it of his own free will. Otherwise, there's simply too much temptation to abuse the privilege of power.

Perhaps the ongoing attempts by myself and others to negotiate a successful DD relationship can be compared to finding that "sweet spot" during a spanking -- it hurts in all the right -- and none of the wrong -- places.


  1. Anonymous04:31


    Well done, a fine post. You've explained the situation clearly and helpfully as usual.


  2. A wonderfully insightful post. All the more so because I agree with it completely! [smiles]

    Cindy very much needs her boundaries, rules, limits and consequences to keep her soft and centered in the world.

    Being able to provide her all of that fulfills my need to care for and nurture her. If I set boundaries that pull her off center, or disrupt her flow in the world I've failed us both.

    Yes, I make the rules, I set the boundaries, but it's out of love for seeing the softness flow out of her when I do.


    P.S. What color lingerie do you prefer? (KIDDING!)

  3. My wife and I have had similar difficulties. Honestly, we've still got a ways to go on them, but we've been getting alot better.

    For us the solution wasn't so much in who had the final word, but deciding what was really fair to us both in the decision process. It is more important to discuss how he is going to decide vs. what he decides. Especiall with male egos involved; when I always felt that my wife was questioning my decision it was incredibly difficult not to get all cock-strong and mind-numb and lean towards ignoring the problem. However, by understanding her efforts were really just lost in translation, I noticed she just wanted to enhance the process and help me see further.

    We both had to accept that we'ld both be wrong sometimes and a spanking would happen or not happen when it shouldn't or should have. I had to realize that while there's not always room for questioning motives in the moment, there's ***always*** got to be room for it and more often than not the moment is the best time.

    If your partner wont strive towards working on a unified approach, I honestly don't see it working. I believe firmly in a man's role but I've never been so foolish to think it makes our whims infallible. Neither a man's discipline nor leadership is ever superiority so really I only believe we have our place in choices and direction, but not judging.. close as they may seem.

    Well, that wasn't the most well phrased bunch of words I've spit out before but I hope it helps, drop me a line if I can clarify or anything. Hope it works out with you guys!

  4. Hello

    I have just found your blog and think you are a very eloquent writer. You have practically read my mind with this post. I, too, fight with myself over the lack of fairness in my relationship. Like your inability to easily enforce your boundaries, I worry that my partner doesn't have real consequences for his actions. Emerald Eyes keeps telling me I am overthinking this whole d/d thing and maybe I am. I don't have an answer for this situation but I really appreciate reading it from your perspective. 0:-)

  5. Anonymous19:54

    Wow, you're amazing Vivian.

    I love this blog.

    Thank you so much for going into the sticky uncomfortable back-of-our-minds thoughts that we all try to hide from ourselves.
    I feel like I ignore so much of my feelings about DD because the satisfaction I get from it is just too good. Even when the whole relationship is fundamentally messed up.

    Thank you again.

  6. Vivian,

    Thanks for these last two very candid posts. I haven't had time to read here for a while, and I'm saddened to discover that you are struggling some.

    As far as boundaries go, I think you are right in feeling frustrated and questioning the role your SO should have in determining boundaries for you. To me, they are very personal things. There is a difference between helping your partner work past her boundaries in a safe way and pushing past them because you are the one holding the power to determine if those boundaries should be held or not. The biggest issue, I think, is respect.

    Of course I can only speak for myself, but commencing a DD relationship is dangerous if trust isn't in place. You have to have some trust first and hope that more will grow. I can't imagine trusting my husband with the power to punish me physically if I wasn't sure he would respect my boundaries and allow me to express my emotions in a safe way - especially when I am angry, hurt, or scared.

    I'm not so great with anger and often end up spanked for a blowout. But when I'm able to, I send an email that calmly explains that I am angry and why, with an offer to let him explain his side.

    Hurt is a little easier, because I'm a natural crier. However, I'm just learning to differentiate between hurt and anger, so sometimes those lines get blurred. I also have a tendency to want to get revenge for hurt and act out in anger. On the whole though, if I am able to express my hurt sanely, he listens and will often apologize - if even just for hurting my feelings, although the original item that caused the hurt might not be retracted, depending on what it is.

    Fear - for me - is often very directly related to boundaries. I'm still very protective of myself, although I'm slowly able to give more over to him and trust more. But trust is earned. The more I see he respects my boundaries and doesn't push too hard or fast, the easier it is for me to let him cross them.

    I guess the reason it works is because we've worked out a system of communication. It's not fail safe, but it allows me to express what I need to.

    In 2007, we CHOOSE DD. We're not women who have to submit to physical correction and be obedient regardless of our wishes. We do this, like you alluded to in a previous post, because we recognize the need within ourselves and seek to be more fully realized individuals. When the DD starts taking away from that, something is wrong. We have to be able to remain whole and safe and healthy in our choice to have this lifestyle.

    It can be done within DD, but I suspect with a lot of communication and honesty and a willingess of both parties to do what is best for each other AND the relationship. If one person is hurt or somehow violated, that certainly doesn't bode well for the relationship as a whole.

    I'm sure you've heard this a million times, but communicate with him. Can't you just put the prospect of a punishment on hold for a conversation so you can hash it out and get all these feelings on the table?

    When you remove the DD, does the center still hold?

    I wish you the best!

  7. Anonymous15:55

    I read this and feel very lucky with my Dd relationship. My marriage was not Dd but I often felt that my boundries were not respected and that if I pushed I would be "punished" by his withdraw emotionally from my life - he had the ability to go days and weeks without really talking or being engaged in the relationship - it was devistating.
    My current man does spank - and I love it - and as far as boundries - he is remarkably respectfuly and in tune to my needs. On occations when I brat off and end up getting a spank - I ussually can admit I deserve it. However on the occation where that is not the case I have really fought back and did not submit - he tends to push only so far before he switches gears and recognizes that I am not in a place to accept a spanking. HE just backs off - holds me - listens = talks and doesn't force the issue. Of course maybe it is bacause he knows that when he holds me I melt and become soft as readily as when he spanks me - and we can work things out. At times I get the appology at times i later accept the spanking - but I always feel safe. He does ultimately disipline when he desires, but just doesn't desire to do so when I am not in the frame of mind to accept it. HE may be more cautious because he knows what I have been through and seeks to protect me - but at the same time - I can see I am very lucky. Mostly we use email communication when topics are tough - so that we can hash out feelings fairly.