In D/s, the roles we agree to can seem very cut and dry. It sometimes feels like there is a submissive mold and a dominant mold—almost like all s-types and D-types come from the same cookie-cutter and just bake differently. This is because we have pre-established notions that dictate to us what we feel is expected of each partner in a D/s dynamic.

The order that instills in our lives is a central reason many of us are attracted to this lifestyle. We yearn for clear boundaries and explicit responsibilities. We want to feel like our lives have a degree of control, and that our part is outlined for us (within the limits we accept). It’s an intrinsic need—and that’s understandable.

But healthy relationships aren’t based on archetypes. Connection and trust don’t thrive off of contrived orientation or identity norms—they thrive on the personalized understanding of each individual involved. Healthy relationships require a certain amount of give and take, communication, and an understanding of (and allowance for) each other’s unique traits and predilections.

So, while we may have preconceived, community-fed assumptions that dominants are supposed to be stoic, self-sufficient, beacons of self-mastery at all times, we should also understand that every person (and relationship) is different. We need to be able to separate ourselves from our beliefs long enough to really examine them. Look at the effect these beliefs can have. Consider the pressure they place on our dynamics and on our dominants. No person is perfect or fits squarely into any one ideal.

This is why it’s important to realize, while good dominants generally are tremendously supportive and create a foundation upon which their submissives can thrive, it is not counter to the dominant role for a dominant to _be supported _when they need it. Dominants do a lot for us. They deserve support, too. After all, part of self-mastery is knowing when to accept help and compassion gracefully.

If we want to build D/s dynamics that last, we should aim for healthy relationships with mutual respect and support. This means we, as submissives, should actively seek out ways to be supportive of our dominants. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. To help you on your quest, here are three ways you can be emotionally supportive of your dominant:

1. Show Compassion When They Show Emotion

It can be difficult for people to display emotion. Even when we harbor strong emotions, many of us were taught as children to suppress them, so we hold back. Some of us were taught, that because strong emotions like anger or sorrow are difficult to see—or make others uncomfortable—we should cover them up. Whether this was explained to us directly or was introduced subtly, through a culture of emotional repression, depends upon the circumstances of our upbringings. Regardless, the effects can still be clearly seen any time someone covers their face to cry or looks away in anger or disappointment.

Being repeatedly shunned from expressing emotion can have a very detrimental effect on a person’s emotional well-being. Especially when trying to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important that you don’t contribute to that detriment. If your dominant feels comfortable enough to show strong emotions around you, don’t deride them for it. Show compassion.

Note, though, that this doesn’t mean you should ever let someone take their anger out on you. A dynamic where one person enacts their anger on another isn’t healthy. It can hinder the personal development of both parties and foster the potential for abuse. Submissive Guide has covered the topic of BDSM vs abuse in a series you can reference if you’re concerned about abuse in your dynamic.

While you shouldn’t stick around if someone is taking their anger out on you, as long as your dominant isn’t projecting, misdirecting, displacing, or blaming their emotions on you, it’s probably safe to stay and hear them out about it. Showing compassion for their feelings means being fully present and using your kindness and understanding to help them through their process. If you’ve been through something similar, your compassion might include empathy for their emotional state. You might show them kindness and deference because you remember what experiencing that feeling is like.

If you don’t know what they are going through based on your own personal experience, try to listen to what their experience of it is like. Allow them to express to you exactly what part of the event which transpired instigated this emotion the most. The “straw that broke the camel’s back” for them may very well be quite different from what it would have been for you.

Everyone has different values. Emotional pain often comes from that which assaults your highest values the most belligerently. Therefore, listening to your dominant’s perspective is crucial to understanding their feelings (and values).

While you’re listening, keep one thing in mind. Submissives tend to want to serve and fix things when things are askew. If your dominant is conflicted, hurt, or saddened about something, chances are your first instinct will be to fix it.

As hard as it is, remember that you don’t have to come up with solutions or advice on the spot. It’s hard to produce meaningful and helpful advice under pressure. Furthermore, that might not even be what your dominant is looking for!

Some people find it relieving to vent about emotional issues—it takes a weight off of them—but in doing so, they’re not always expecting the person listening to swoop in and fix their problems. They might feel cornered by such a proactive approach like they are being forced to act quickly. In the worst cases, they may feel affronted by swift solutions or find this “fix everything” approach by the listener to be controlling, confrontative, or pushy. Some people like to sit with their problems—to experience them, vent, and process them—before managing them. This helps them weigh their decisions about how to proceed.

It can be difficult to know if you are being vented to for the sake of emotional venting or for the sake of problem-solving. If you aren’t sure what your dominant expects, when they vent to you, ask. Politely ask if they are looking to get the issue off their chest, or, if they are looking for help choosing the best course of action. Having the answer to that question will help you best serve them (in the way they prefer) with the current issue.

These options help with dominants who are expressing emotion. But it’s also worth mentioning that you should try to show even more compassion when your dominant tries to hide emotion. Your dominant may exhibit emotional restraint—maybe that’s just their personality, or maybe they’re hesitant to open up. Whatever the case, if you show them it’s safe to express emotion around you, they’re more likely to feel more comfortable about it in the future.

Showing compassion to your dominant in their times of emotional conflict will help them see you in a trustworthy light. It will strengthen your connection with them and improve your communication. Remember: communication is half expressive, half receptive. Even if you were to only work on your listening skills, you would still be improving your communication! (But we know you’re an overachiever if you’re reading this article, so, we’re sure you can manage to work on both!)

2. Allow Them Time and Space (If They Need It)

Dominants, like all people, sometimes require time to themselves to unwind, sort through obligations, or handle personal matters. There are certain things they can’t attend to while you are tending to them. In these instances, you can emotionally support them by giving them space to take care of themselves and their affairs.

How do you know if they need it? Your dominant may tell you they need time or space. Or, you might have to gauge that expectation for yourself.

If you’ve spent years in a dynamic with your dominant, their needs may be easier to anticipate. Perhaps their nonverbal cues are easier to read, or you have protocols that delineate precisely when you are not to disturb them. Maybe, spending years with this dominant has made them more open about expressing needs. In any case, with time, you generally develop a better feel for each other’s expectations. This makes it easier for you to gauge their need for space and also makes it easier for them to communicate whether they need space.

But, in newer relationships, it’s often difficult to communicate or read each other as well. It makes sense, because we aren’t usually great at things we just started. In fact, developing a skill often takes years of practice. We wouldn’t expect to be perfect in a new career. So, why would we expect to be perfect in new relationships? In new relationships, it’s common for little tiffs to arise due to misreading each other, or, generally miscommunicating. Therefore, it’s understandable that, in newer relationships, you might not feel comfortable assuming your dominant’s needs.

If you’re not comfortable assuming they need to be alone, remember, you can ask. Keep in mind: attitude is everything, especially when asking a question. Therefore, a snarky, “Do ya need a minute?” (channeling your inner Harley Quinn) will likely not be received as well as a polite, well-placed, “Would you prefer some time to yourself?”

If your dominant answers affirmatively, it doesn’t reflect poorly on you. Needing space doesn’t mean they love you less, or that you’re not useful. It literally just means they have something to do that requires their full attention at the moment. It could be anything—balancing the checkbook, reading work emails, attending to self-care, or making a personal phone call. So, if your dominant asks for time alone, it’s actually a good thing, for several reasons.

Above all, it’s a sign they really trust you. For a dominant to express such a personal need to you, it means they feel comfortable enough to confide in you. Don’t breach that trust. Honor their trust in you by honoring their request for personal time.

If your dominant asks for time and space, it also means they are effectively communicating with you. This is positive because they’re telling you exactly what they require from you. They are setting a boundary to help them function to their best capacity, which is good for the longevity of the relationship.

Another reason it’s a good sign is that it means they aren’t shying away from obligations, no matter how uncomfortable it is to face them. Asking for alone time can be awkward, especially for a dominant who is met with the societal expectation of stoicism and self-sufficiency. It isn’t easy for anyone to communicate needs, but being willing to communicate uncomfortable truths in order to get stuff done means your dominant is facing their responsibilities head-on, in a brave, honest way.

Your dominant asking for personal time also shows they recognize their limits. For people to know and understand others, they must first know and understand themselves. If your dominant recognizes a personal need and attends to it, it means they understand who they are and what they require.

Lastly, if your dominant asks you for time alone, it means they are intentional with their focus. This means they aren’t splitting their attention. They are committed to being fully with you when they are with you, and fully focused on other matters when they must focus on other matters. This deliberate assignment of time and attention is a wonderful attribute. It signifies a degree of discipline and mindfulness.

You, as a submissive, can foster all of these positive attributes in your dominant and dynamic by honoring your dominant’s request for personal time alone. Honoring their request will build trust and help them feel respected and understood. Giving your dominant the amount of time and space they require is a great way to show appreciation for them and offer emotional support.

3. Respect Their Choices for Self-Care

Dominants who engage in self-care know they are at their best when they’re taking care of themselves. The first lesson taught in First Aid/CPR is to make sure you are safe first because you cannot care for anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. Likewise, dominants must meet their own requirements for care before attending to anyone else’s.

People manage their self-care in different ways. Some choose to have downtime, some journal, some engage in a hobby. What people choose for self-care can also vary depending on their particular needs that day.

Dominants are people (Surprise!), so it would follow that they also have various ways of managing their self-care. It doesn’t matter what your dominant does for self-care, so long as it harms no one else. Whatever your dominant chooses to meet the need that day, you should respect it as their effort to maintain their well-being. Their well-being (and yours!) are constitutive to the health of the relationship, so attempts to preserve well-being must be respected.

So, even if self-care that day is decompressing over a sitcom, playing a video game, or throwing darts at a target for hours on end, give them that and respect it—not for what it is in itself, but for what it represents to the relationship. If your dominant needs to color-coordinate their closet for half a day, it’s important—not because a rainbow-ordered array of leather pants matters in the world, but because their peace of mind matters in your relationship! You might not see the value in the physical act they are partaking in, but it’s what they need in the moment, which means you should respect their needs.

Let your dominant take care of their emotional well-being in the way they feel is healthiest. Don’t mock them for doing what they need to do for their mental health. Respect their choices for self-care because it represents a commitment to care—for them and for you.

As submissives, we’re often granted copious amounts of attention and support by the dominants who care for us. This is both a gift and a responsibility, because, while it provides a prime environment for our own development, it also reminds us of the commitment we have to care for our dominants in an equally meaningful way. That is the beauty of power exchange._ _We must exchange respect and appreciation, energy and effort, attention and support. By considering these three means of providing emotional support to your dominant, you’ll have broadened your understanding of, and ability to care for, your dominant in ways that truly bring deeper meaning and trust to your mutual connection.