In psychological terms codependency refers to a relationship which is unhealthy. While, as an English teacher I want to say that the prefix co means jointly and dependent means needing the support of someone, we cannot get away from the fact that language has evolved to establish a meaning in more general terms. So for the purposes of this post, I will focus on the ways that a D/s relationship could play into a relationship which is codependent in a way which is not positive for those involved. In other words, this post will focus on red flags and signs that the dynamic is supporting something which is not beneficial for both parties.
This in no way assumes that D/s relationships would be codependent, although this is an assumption often made by those who don’t really understand how things work. Yes, we depend on each other for things and would not want to be without the other, we feel things intensely and have a foundation which means that we rely on each other to behave in certain ways, but that does not mean that we cannot exist independently, it just means that we chose not to. It means that we focus on meeting the needs of the other because we know in all certainty that they will meet ours. We trust that we are being put first and that means that we do the same for them. It is a partnership based on equality with each party having a similar value and contribution to make, all-be-it the roles are pre-negotiated and different for each party.
So rather than look at dependency, or how inter dependency works to benefit in D/s, this post focusses on what things might look like if your relationship is actually an unhealthy one which is based, or has become codependent. I am certainly no expert and I know that each relationships and dynamic is as different to the next as they people who are part of it, so what is healthy for one may actually not be for the other. But what I would say is that there are a few key questions which it might be worth you asking yourself.
Is your partner meeting your needs?
In a healthy D/s relationship this will certainly be happening. Being able to put the other’s needs before your own means that you are free to focus on them, because they are doing the same for you. If your own needs are being sidestepped for theirs and you are having to make all of the compromises and allowances, then this is a sign that things are not working as they should. If you are being clear with them about what you need and there always seem to be reasons why that is not something that you can have, then this could be an indication that the balance in the relationship is not right.
Do you still retain a sense of self despite your role as a ‘D; or an ‘s’?
If you are new to D/s then you will likely want to get this part right, but there are no rules as to how a Dom or a sub should behave. The way that it works will depend on your personalities and on your relationship. Sometimes one partner can force things on the other partner and can make them think that this is required as part of the role. Any power exchange is based on consent and you need to feel that you want to do the things which are being asked of you. Any changes should be ones which you feel benefit your growth as an individual and, in my opinion, someone who loves you would not want to change you beyond recognition. If you feel that you are losing yourself to the role then it might be worth questioning whether this is something that you really want, and asking yourelf why the other person would want to change you in this way.
Does the relationship make you happy?
Any relationship, D/s or not, should make you happy. If this is not the case then that is a cause for concern and it is worth examining why you don’t feel this way. Are there things which you can work on together so that you can improve the level of happiness that the relationship is bringing you? If not, then why not? If this is a temporary thing then maybe you are content to continue a bit longer but feeling unhappy with your situation is probably a clear indication that something needs to change.
Although you rely on each other and enjoy doing things for the other, could you manage without it if you had to?
Feeling that you can’t exist without the relationship is part of codependency. There is nothing wrong with relying on each other and being dependent on the other for certain things. It is natural to feel that the other person is a huge part of you, but if you feel that your need for the other person transcends your ability to function without them, then this could be a sign that the balance of need is not a healthy one. It is common to find people who have skills, talents and personal qualities in areas where we feel lacking ourselves, but feeling that you cannot exist without the other person or without the relationship may mean that you have become too dependent.
Are there behaviours from your partner that make you feel uncomfortable?
If this happens and it is not addressed despite discussion then that is a red flag in any relationship. While some forms of discomfort – impact play or humiliation play for example – can cause temporary discomfort, this must done within a caring and consensual dynamic in order for it to be a positive experience. If you are being subjected to behaviours in a repeated way which you do not enjoy but are being done under the guise of the D/s or the BDSM, then, again, this is something that you would probably want to question.
Do you feel that you can speak up for what you want and that you are heard?
Feeling like you are not listened to or that your feelings are not validated is going to be damaging to any individual. It can lower self-esteem and mean that you stop feeling like your thoughts and feelings matter. Of course, they do. Equally well if you are in a relationship where you are scared to say what you think of feel because you are fairly sure the reaction will be negative, that is also not healthy. In a D/s dynamic both parties need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings and be heart and listened to, even if this is done in a structured way.
Do you feel respected?
Respect is key to the success of any relationship and has a particularly important role in D/s. It is not only a submissive who should be respectful – good Dominants have this quality in abundance too and will be sure to respect the way that their partner feels and try to support them. Feeling respected as a person is so important and so, not only should you be showing your respect to the other, but also feeling the way that they show respect for you.
While these questions are just examples of the sorts of things that you would want to be able to answer positively to in a D/s relationship, if this is not the case then it is really just an indication that something is wrong. It does not necessarily mean that the relationship is codependent, but it does mean that you probably want to look at changing things. If the power exchange is being used to make you keep quiet about things which you know are really not healthy, then it could be that it might lead to some level of codependency.
Just as a final safety point, most people who are involved in D/s relationships will use a system of safewords. This is good practice and means that you can call a stop at any time without repercussion.
Please note that the above memes are all sharing the topic of co-dependency in a really special joint collaboration this week so please click on the badges to see who else is adding their posts and joining in.