Power Exchange

Obviously we love this whole Power Exchange thing.  We’ve been living it full-time since 2002, and we’ve been teaching about it since 2012.  We know a lot about Power Exchange, through our own experience and through talking to others about their relationships, both informally and as moderators of discussion groups.  What that doesn’t do, however, is make us experts.  All we can offer here is our humble attempt to share what makes sense to us.

Power Exchange Defined

When we started presenting on Power Exchange topics, one of the first things I did was scan through a variety of websites and books looking for a clean, crisp definition.  Eventually, I crafted my own definition:

A consensual relationship in which, following negotiation, one person voluntarily gives up control of some (or all) aspects of their life to another person, who assumes responsibility for management of those aspects.

While this definition gives us a good starting place for discussion, it leaves a lot of territory unexplored.  What does that actually mean, when translated to real life?

As a psychologist, I spent a lot of years trying to help couples save their relationships. Out of that experience, comes the strong belief that every relationship has a “power” component to it.

Husband/wife. Teacher/student. Boss/employee. Parent/child. And a lot of the trouble in those relationships comes from conflict or confusion over power. Power struggles like:

  • Who gets to be in charge?
  • Who gets to make that decision?
  • What happens when there is a disagreement?
  • Can one of the people reprimand, punish, or sanction the other?

I contend that each and every one of you is in a whole variety of relationships with power components that are poorly negotiated, poorly communicated, and are possibly even non-consensual.

What happens in most relationships is that there is a wrestling match for the power. The fight can be subtle, with sneaky skirmishes and subterfuge. Or it can be all out war. People start playing the tit-for-tat game.  He didn’t go to Easter dinner with her family, so she gave him hassles about going camping with his buddies, so he didn’t let her buy that red dress she likes, so she gave him the cold shoulder in bed….

The modern solution is to make sure everything is “fair.” You have to divide the pie exactly equally, but that is hard to do. Who gets to make the financial decisions? Who gets to decide when to have sex and what kind of sex to have? What if we disagree about whether to buy a car or have steak and blowjob night?

Further, do we make it “fair” by saying that he is in charge of A, B and C, and she is in charge of X, Y, and Z.  So they both have “equal” duties and responsibilities?  Some people divide up the “power pie” into those kinds of slices.  But others make it “fair” by trying to share each bite of the whole pie.  They try to negotiate and discuss and make all decisions 50/50.  Generally, neither of these solutions is as effective or clear as the people would hope.

So how is a power exchange relationship different?

We DO discuss, negotiate, and consent. And we typically agree that it does not have to be “fair.” We craft an agreement that is intentionally asymmetrical. We design a relationship that is intentionally not egalitarian.

In a vanilla relationship, it would be easy to see what we do as abusive. The Leader is a controlling asshole. The Follower is a victim. And realistically, if you do what we do without having talked about it and consented to it… it easily could be abuse.

In conclusion, some benefits of a PE relationship:

  1. It is mindful, intentional, consensual.
  2. It removes the vast majority of conflicts. The relationship is more harmonious.
  3. Role clarity – we each know exactly where we stand and what our job is.
  4. It forces us to be our best. We are disciplined. We strive toward personal growth.
  5. It is fucking hot.

The following will turn into links and/or additional content over time:

  • Authority Transfer vs Power Exchange
  • How can you tell if “Power Exchange” is simply euphemism for “abusive?”
  • Benefits of a Power Exchange relationship
  • Executive Power Exchange – our style of PE