Essay

Starting Your Power Exchange Over

An excerpt from my upcoming book “Ways to Play With Power,” posted in response to someone in the Novices & Newbies group on Fetlife asking about pretty much exactly this situation.

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Power relationships have their natural ebb and flow of focus on the dynamic, but sometimes we can fall into an ebb so deep that it feels like the dynamic has faded away entirely–and we’re not sure how to get it back. It can happen through a death spiral that isn’t stopped, after a serious fight or breach of trust, or through some life event that pulls your focus away from power exchange, like if one of you has an extended health crisis or a new baby or an exhausting new job.

Your power exchange agreements are still technically in place, but both you and your partner have empty batteries. Maybe you’re still going through the motions of some rules and rituals, but you’re not really feeling your power exchange any more. Your partner still technically has the right to order you around, but they’ve done it less and less. Or your partner still wears your collar, but it’s been a long time since they’ve seemed eager to submit. Your power relationship still officially exists, but feels like it has gone hollow.

Whatever the cause, recovering from a place where you feel like you’ve lost your dynamic can be really difficult. When you’re first building your power dynamic you have the thrill of a new relationship to drive you forward and your hearts are full of the wondrous possibilities ahead. That exciting newness isn’t available the second time around, and you may be burdened by doubts arising from whatever caused the breakdown in the first place. Serious fallings out tend to make it harder to trust one another long after you’ve shook hands and settled the original disagreement. A dynamic that has gradually withered away can leave both partners with stubborn doubts about one another’s true investment in their power relationship.

Beginning again once your dynamic has gone cold requires all the same things that go into reversing a death spiral: mutual investment, persistence and understanding from both partners. You have to give plenty of time and attention to your power exchange while you’re getting it going again and give one another abundant proof that it’s important to you, you have to keep at it even if it feels awkward and vulnerable at first, and you have to have patience with one another while finding your groove again.

There are also a few additional tricks for successfully restarting from zero.

Explicit Acknowledgement If your relationship is feeling a little slow–if you’re wanting a bit more play, more intensity of power exchange, or more of your partner’s attention–then it makes sense to just turn up your own investment in your dynamic and try to heat things up. You don’t need to announce it or treat it as a problem, you can start proposing play more often or inviting deeper power exchange. You can think up a new rule or buy a new toy.

But if your dynamic feels gone–if you’re hurting, unsure of how to get things feeling good again, or doubting your partner’s desire to have the kind of power exchange you need–then your best chance of rescuing your dynamic comes from getting that out into the open and addressing it directly.

It’s hard to reach out for power exchange to someone who you aren’t confident is really excited to engage with you, and harder still to do it positively, without it coming out as a test or a challenge. It’s hard to come up with a new rule or shop for a new toy when your own connection to your dynamic feels tenuous and uncertain. You can get into a destructive pattern of making bitter, halfhearted overtures and getting more convinced each time it doesn’t work that your relationship is beyond repair.

Better to make things clear. Tell your partner that you’re feeling stuck or unfulfilled or disconnected. Tell them that you feel like your dynamic has gone hollow, and that you miss it and want it back. Tell them that you’re worried it isn’t a priority for them anymore and you need reassurance.

Being explicit can be scary. Sometimes it feels like acknowledging the problem makes it real, or like it’s admitting failure. It really is the way out, though, and the longer you pretend everything’s okay while hardening your conviction that your power exchange is dead the harder it will become.

For the best chance of a positive outcome, you can frame the acknowledgement as an invitation to reconnect rather than as an accusation or a complaint. Vulnerably sharing your feelings always helps as well. There’s a big difference between “You haven’t had time or interest in power exchange for months. Don’t you even care anymore?” and “I’ve noticed we haven’t done as much with power exchange in the last few months, and I miss feeling it more often. I’m afraid that it isn’t as much of a priority to you as it used to be. It’s still important to me, and if it is to you too I’d like to figure out how we can get our fire lit again.”

It’s possible that your partner really doesn’t still want the kind of power exchange you had. Even in that worst case, getting it out in the open will at least let you stop suspecting and know. Then you can move forward, either with negotiating something new or with figuring out some other way to get your needs met.

Clear the Rubble If you’re at a point where your dynamic feels dead, it’s next to certain that both you and your partner have all kinds of resentments and regrets built up, and that the expectations of your dynamic have come to feel onerous to both of you. Any sparks of desire or enjoyment of your power exchange, and any attempt to start fresh, will tend to get crushed beneath the weight of those accumulated hard feelings.

You’ll have a better chance of a fresh start if you first take some time to clear the rubble. Officially let go of your power exchange expectations of one another. Remove the collar; end the contract; close out the container. Try to find some nice things to say about the good times and the things your partner did for you that you most appreciated, but let it go. Set one another free from the burdens that you’ve built up.

If it makes sense in your relationship to spend a while relating as equals, you can do that. If your relationship is power exchange-only, then you can take a break from one another entirely. Give yourselves some time to unclench and to start to find your desire again.

After some time just to relax, both of you can think about what issues from your past power relationship you can let go of, and which you need to talk through and resolve. Your goal is to get to a point where you feel as “clean” as possible towards one another, with no unspoken resentments left to fester. If you can access kink-aware professional counseling, that can be a tremendous help.

Try not to jump the gun. Your chances are best if you wait to begin rebuilding until both of you feel more excitement than dread at the prospect of sharing power exchange again.

Negotiate A New Start Now we get to the exciting part. If you can clear your feelings toward one another, and can both reconnect with your authentic desire for power exchange, then you get to start again. The more like a fresh start you can make this, the better it will work. Try not to bring along assumptions from the last time. That time didn’t work out so well. So try something new instead.

What do you want power exchange with your partner to be like now? Maybe it’s similar to your last dynamic with a few essential tweaks. Maybe it looks wildly different. Negotiating a new flavor or style of power exchange can bring you some of that novel excitement of a new relationship, as well as helping to avoid past pitfalls.

You need to treat this like a new power relationship in all ways. So start small and explore together again. Expect it to be a little awkward and hesitant at first. Be prepared for it to take some sustained effort to get back to the confidence and the degree of power exchange you felt when your old dynamic was running smoothly. But if you take it slow, have patience with one another, and persist long enough to reestablish a strong pattern of mutual investment in power exchange, you may be able to create something even stronger than before.