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Ask the Therapist: How Do I End a Relationship?

September 1993

Copyright © 1992 by William A. Henkin
Posted with the author's permission

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Dr. William Henkin is the co-author of Consensual Sadomasochism, Bodywise, and The Psychic Healing Book, and editor of But I Know What You Want.

<Q> As a submissive, how do I end a D&S relationship without seriously damaging my dominant's ego?

<A> Your question seems to have two parts. The first, which is more a human question than one specific to DS or SM, asks how to end any relationship. People have written long books about the subject, but the short answer is: you end your relationship with as much of the love you once brought to it as possible, as much respect as you'd want given to you if the situation were reversed, and as much grace and compassion as you can muster under the circumstances.

People often think that when the sex or love – or the SM/DS – in a relationship fades, the relationship itself has somehow failed. I suggest this belief can underlie a misreading of the way we humans interact. Instead of failing, the relationship may have come to a point of transition; its new form is waiting to be discovered. Though telling the truth about that shift can be painful – especially if you still like the old form or fear your partner does not want the change – it need not damage anyone; besides, if it really is time for your relationship to change, then telling the truth is the only way for you, your partner, and your relationship to grow.

In order to address the second part of your question I should ask two questions of my own: what is the nature of the relationship you want to end? And, what do you mean by "end?" If your DS relationship is strictly a play relationship, and you want to stop playing but keep on being friends, you might be able to effect the shift with a simple, no-blame "I" statement (the sort of statement that makes "I" the subject, not "you," reducing the possibility that you'll push guilt, blame, or other judgments that obscure communication), such as, "John, I've had lots of fun playing with you, and I especially liked the scene where you (fill in the blank) so I could (fill in this blank too). But I've been wanting to try other styles of play than I feel I can develop with you at this time, so even though I want to continue our friendship in other areas, I want to stop being play partners for awhile. If and when I feel differently I'll let you know, and I hope you'll let me know how you feel, too."

If you want to end your primary romantic and erotic relationship where DS plays a peripheral or even a central role, the process can be harder because both your ego and your partner's are likely to be heavily invested in everything you do together. But honesty is still usually the best policy. For example, you might say something like, "John, you know I've loved you deeply since we met at the March on Washington, but over the past few months I just haven't felt as passionate or as committed to what we have as I used to. I hope you'll understand when I tell you I think I have to live alone (or stop seeing you, or whatever it is you need) and maybe play with (see, date) other people now."

People's egos are often delicate when they feel they are being rejected, and having one's partner say good-bye often brings up such feelings. In addition, the top/bottom dynamic might appear to color the way the you and your partner relate. But even if you live in role full-time your top is still a human being, equal in this regard with you. You not only have a right to say what's true for you, you even have a responsibility to do so – just as you have a responsibility in scene to say, "Ma'am, my hand is falling asleep," or "Sir, I know you want to pierce me but needles are a limit: can we talk please?" Your top has the corresponding responsibility to hear you (which does not mean agree with you, or to do as you say), and to take care of his or her own ego.

You may have asked your question out of a wish to be gracious, which I find commendable whether you are in a DS or a vanilla relationship. At the same time, it is both disrespectful and irresponsible to avoid telling the truth in order to rescue someone from her or his own feelings, or to save yourself the pain of saying something you think will not go over well. In contemporary jargon this is part of what's known as being "co-dependent." It's different from being the sort of independent individual who has the freedom to enter and honor both partners in a relationship, whether as top or bottom, and also has the freedom to call Safeword if and when it's time.

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