When creating a D/s relationship, there is no common blueprint for success, but with this guide, I will share what a D/s relationship may look like and what a healthy D/s dynamic needs to work well. When all parties in it feel fulfilled and happy, the dynamic can succeed.

Starting a D/s relationship requires that you are clear about what you want and who you are. You need to know how to describe yourself to someone else to find compatibility in a Dominant. Whether to be a bedroom submissive, a full-time slave, or something in between, if you understand what that entails, you'll have one foot in the door to finding the relationship you want. A person looking for a 24/7 long-term M/s relationship isn't going to be compatible with you if you are looking for a casual bedroom-only D/s dynamic with just a little bit of out-of-the-bedroom overlap. No matter how much you might be attracted to the person or find ways to be compatible beyond that, the difference in foundational definitions will make a successful power exchange impractical. So knowing what you need in power exchange and clearing the board of incompatible options is imperative for your success.

If you need help figuring out your needs and desires, read “ How to Identify your Submissive Wants and Needs” or listen to the Submissive Guide podcast episode.

What Does a D/s Relationship Look Like?

Many D/s relationships won’t look different from those you’re already familiar with. You might notice a symbiotic relationship between the partners or that one is clearly the head of the household by their demeanor. But that’s it.

I’ve been in a power exchange relationship for almost two decades, and we've never received weird looks when out in public unless we were just a little too heavy with the public displays of affection, and it's not apparent that he's in charge just by looking at us. But it's quite clear how our relationship works for those in the know. If you are new to power exchange, you might not even catch these small details, and that's okay because your relationship may look different from KnyghtMare's and mine. But, if you had to pick out the little things we've nurtured that identify us as a power exchange relationship, what might those be?

  1. There's an obvious clear distinction of who's in charge. All he has to do is ask for something, and I comply. There's no questioning it or "hang on a minute, honey" responses.
  2. I wear a collar. This looks like a chain choker to anyone else, but those that are familiar with collar designs might be able to recognize it.
  3. I ask him for permission to purchase anything. In public, it may sound like, "Could I please purchase this?" If I am not with him, I will stop to contact him to ask for permission.
  4. I offer to get him things so he doesn't have to consider moving or interrupting what he's doing.

While you may see these things as part of a power exchange dynamic, they could also be described as showing courtesy, respect, and love between partners. And we like it that way. Will your relationship look like this? Maybe. Maybe not. As I said above, we've slowly customized our relationship over the years. It didn't all start out like this from the onset. But the point in our relationship is that I serve him and his needs, and in return, I get love, affection, pride, and a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention we are husband and wife and intense lovers.

The vital thing to note about D/s relationships is that when you are both "on," these roles do not shift. You are submissive; you submit. They are Dominant; they are in charge- nowhere does that fluctuate during the agreed-upon timeframe. Besides this key ingredient, your D/s relationship may look similar or significantly different from mine. As long as you submit and your partner is in charge, then a D/s exchange is happening.

How a D/s Relationship Develops

A D/s relationship starts much like any other relationship. Dating and relationship building happens no matter what kind of relationship you want. If you don’t have experience in relationships, use what you see around you in your family and friends as examples. What do all of these relationships have in common?

Here's how a relationship can develop; in its more basic form.

First, people are attracted to one another. This doesn't have to be physical, but that's the typical starting point. Maybe they are attracted to something specific about the other person or a generalized, "oh my gosh, this person is sexy, hot, amazing, pretty, cute, handsome, etc." If it’s mutual, the people will start talking to one another to gauge interests and find common ones.

Those common interests help to cement the ideas of a possible relationship forming. After all, you want your relationship partner to be someone you can do things with and talk about the things that interest you. Someone you hope will share your interests and ideas, your hopes and dreams. So having something in common is a magnetic pull to relationship potential. This stage often ends with the couple becoming more intimate with each other. When you add D/s or BDSM to the mix, this need to find common interests can get intense and intimate pretty quickly. That's because there's more riding on a connection than if you both love sci-fi movies and poodles. I'd compare it to ensuring you found someone of the same sexual orientation. If you are heterosexual, you want to ensure the person you are looking for a relationship with is also heterosexual (or bisexual if that's comfortable for you). So, in D/s or BDSM, you want to make sure pretty quickly if you are talking to a Dominant, submissive, slave, puppy, masochist, etc. and if that matches what you are looking for.

Often, at the start of an attraction, dating occurs. The first steps in dating are getting to know one another and finding those common interests I discussed above. How long you spend dating is personal and can be the stage a relationship remains for months or even years. Dating can involve sexual exploration with the partner, but it doesn't have to. You can decide to hold off on sex (and BDSM play) until a commitment is in place. See, this is where I find a lot of stones thrown at me. Dating is not a defined commitment; it is more like shopping or browsing the menu. Others compare it to eating at a buffet. You can pick and choose, sample what you'd like, and change your mind as much as you want - as long as you keep your goal in mind to find a relationship that best fits your needs and desires.

Deciding to commit to one another is a separate step to relationship building and develops further into dating and often ends the dating stage. You agree to be exclusive. You stop people shopping and focus on strengthening and perfecting the relationship you have found. Time and effort for healthy relationships are things people don't want to spend but really should. Far too many people these days like to consider relationship building and maintenance as too much work. Because who's got the time, right? Wrong. Take the time. It's worth it.

There are many ways to commit to one another, and a collar symbolizes that commitment. Like an engagement ring, a collar is often the near-final step in relationship commitment. You don't have to have a collar to be committed to one another. That is the personal choice you have to make together. But whatever you decide, your commitment to each other should be mutually fulfilling.

Need More Tips? How to Get into a Relationship

What Does a D/s Relationship Need to Work?

A D/s relationship is still a relationship. I say it a lot, but the basic compatibility we'd look for in a mainstream partner still applies when looking for someone a bit more Dominant or into BDSM. You must have similar ideas of faith, marriage, children, family, and friendships. Common themes in your desired lifestyle include where you'll be living, if you’re a dog or cat person, how active you'll be in the community, and what you enjoy doing that many other people search for in a partner. It is doubtful that if you disagree on your dreams for the future that you'll want to be with this person for long.

Are you monogamous or poly? You should probably agree to that before you get into a relationship. Some huge issues can crop up later down the road if the person you are with is monogamous, but you are poly and didn't share that information. But that's only part of what needs to be discussed. If you are poly or your partner is, what kind of poly is it? What amount of interaction do you want with the other partners? And even if your relationship is monogamous, sometimes there can be an open element to explore kinks that one or the other doesn't share. So talk about those scenarios to ensure you are on the same page.

Then, and this is a big one for D/s relationship compatibility, agree on what kind of D/s relationship you are looking for. If you are submissive, make sure your partner is Dominant, for starters. But then, how much submission will your relationship have? Are you looking for a bedroom-only D/s relationship or a full-time submission? Something in between? What does submission mean to you? To them? How about Dominance? Make sure your definitions align, or you could mean one form of submission, and your potential partner means another.

If BDSM play is to be a part of the exchange, you will want to ensure that there is close compatibility with what you desire there. And if not, a willingness to open the relationship to allow for play outside of it. Kink isn't always connected to sex, and still, more of it is about exploring sensation. So feed your and your potential partner's desire for kink as best as possible.

Communication is a key foundational block in any lifestyle-based relationship and in all relationships we experience throughout our lives. You need to learn to communicate to make your D/s relationship work effectively. D/s relationships prioritize this more than vanilla ones and value truth and openness. But many of us don't know what good communication looks like, and we don’t have exemplary people who can teach us. Trust me; you will want to explore how to set up transparency, honesty, and open communication in a relationship. We have dozens of articles about communication on Submissive Guide to get you started.

Even with all the above working perfectly, it's not a magic bullet. You have to work on your relationship to make it work. Practice open communication and talk about issues before they become serious problems. Nurture the emotions you feel for them and build the connection whenever possible. A relationship that goes stale will only last for a while, and a power exchange dynamic might need a bit more effort from both parties to keep the flame going. But trust me, it's well worth it.

That's it for part one of this guide to D/s relationships. In part 2, we discuss how to negotiate a D/s relationship and learn what might be expected of you, taking care of yourself in the relationship and share some links to further reading about D/s relationships.

Want to find out more about D/s relationships? Check out Paradigms of Power: Styles of Master/slave Relationships by Raven Kaldera, a collection of essays from people showcasing many forms of power exchange relationships that can inspire you to create your D/s relationship.

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. What makes a D/s relationship so different from a mainstream relationship?
  2. What can't you apply to D/s that you've learned through your own experience or exposure?
  3. If you are or have been in a D/s relationship, how would you describe a D/s relationship to others?