Mastery & slavery
by slave jean





Conflict & Resolution Protocol in the Master/slave Relationship

Do master and slave disagree, argue, or fight? What does a conflict look like between a master and a slave? Why even consider setting rules around a master/slave disagreement? Isn’t it a truism that a slave gives over to her/his master all decisions; therefore, there is nothing for a slave to oppose? Doesn’t a master have the right of “winning” every conflict by virtue of his/her authoritative position in the relationship? And, if by some rare occurrence a slave differed on a matter from his/her master, wouldn’t s/he automatically let go of his/her idea to adopt that of the master? Isn’t that the bedrock of the master/slave dynamic? The master is right, even when the master is wrong, the master is right?

If every difference that arose between a master and slave was automatically and easily settled by the slave’s self-sacrifice and generous acquiescence to the master, then there would be no need for a protocol for conflict resolution. However, that is not the case. As adults, we have a lifetime of ideas and these may not be easily released. And, quite possibly, some ideas shouldn’t be jettisoned. Mastery is not a guarantee of omniscience, contrary to fiction. However, while slaves in the ordinary day obey and follow their masters’ directives, there may come occasions when a serious matter is not so easily settled. Usually these involve deep personal characteristics that need to be addressed and examined rather than ignored. How to address this deeper concern is what I refer to in this essay.

To eroticize the master/slave dynamic is to mime certain features of the historical relationship and dismiss others. What we choose to mimic and what we choose to ignore creates the energy differences. So in examining history and literature, we see that slaves occasionally differ from their masters. If this is the case in history, we can fairly well count on the eventual ‘disagreement’ even in the best present day erotic master/slave relationships. Take into account that we also have the legal right to leave a malfunctioning relationship (unlike historical slavery) - we ought to lay out a protocol by which disagreements can be expressed, discussed, resolved, and moved beyond - and, in the process, be enriched in the master/slave relationship as a result. It is the recognition that different adults think differently and no matter how committed an adult may be to acquiescing to another adult (the slave) or to molding another adult (the master), the occasional experience will result in discord. How that discord is managed within a master/slave dynamic is the question. Do we ‘fight’ in the same manner as vanilla partnerships? Is there a difference in response or protocol if a master is upset with a slave than if a slave is upset with a master? If we first divide the conflict into five parts that need to be addressed within master/slave dynamics, what should be included?

  • identification of “the conflict”;
  • examination of any personal responses to “the conflict” on both the master’s and the slave’s part;
  • analysis of the events surrounding this instance of “the conflict”;
  • and finally, a plan to prevent future occurrences of this conflict, as well as any consequences for failure to abide by the preventative plan.

Additionally, there are multiple ways to approach the elements of a conflict in the master/slave dynamic. Do master and slave remain in M/s energy and posture protocol? Or, is there a different posture that lays aside the usual master/slave dynamics? Depending on personal characteristics of master or slave, one way may be better suited than another. For instance, one slave may have a history of “histrionics” whenever she is frustrated with others or upset with herself. Her past behavior was to respond with vituperative verbal attacks directed towards the nearest person. Since her history revealed that she was incapable of personal control of her voice when angered, her master instituted a posture for her to assume when she was angered, to remind her of her place in the relationship and her commitment to him. In that reminder she was to find assistance in controlling herself. Initially this posture was achieved by the master forcibly holding her head to the ground. Later, after enough instances of physically applying force to assist her in gaining self-control when she would begin to get angry, he only needed to point to the ground. She would then kneel, head facing forward, eyes cast down while she struggled with control of herself. Nothing by way of conflict resolution would ever be accomplished while she was permitted to shout, gesture, glare, and generally express her dissatisfaction in as loud a manner as possible. So in this case, a ‘safe zone’ for examining a conflict was created by maintaining a visible master/slave posture and dynamic.

Within a different relationship manifesting different personality characteristics, a ‘safe zone’ was created by use of a cue word. The cue word, used by either the master or the slave, brought to the attention of both the awareness that a difficulty was being experienced somewhere. The cue word then set in motion an agreed upon protocol for examining the difficulty. That protocol recognized that intense emotion was involved, that time was needed to distance one or both parties from the emotional intensity, and that no decisions or changes would take place until whatever reason the cue word was used was examined to the satisfaction of both master and slave. The cue word also notified the master and slave that the problem was complex and that there was probably not a simple solution. As a result, both agreed to give each other the time necessary for a thorough examination process. Since this was a “protocol” it too falls within the master/slave dynamic, though it may not visibly appear to be so.

Whether physical ‘safe zone’ or verbal ‘safe zone’, the process is only successful if both master and slave have the patience to permit the other person the time and space to step away from the experience, gather thoughts about the circumstances, and trust that the result of this patience will not be a catalogue of grievances, will not be a harangue of perceived faults, nor will the cause that triggered the ‘safe zone’ be ignored and allowed to fade away unaddressed. Patience and trust is rewarded by open-hearted examination and communication regarding the conflict.

So what does this type of protocol for conflict resolution entail?

  1. First and foremost, a ‘safe zone’ for sharing must be established. This ‘safe zone’ can have many appearances. For instance, as shared earlier, a slave can be put into a physical position that calls to mind her/his commitment to serving the master and controlling him/herself. The ‘safe zone’ can be triggered through the movement of a special designated tool, such as a paddle placed on a dresser or some other item moved purposefully into a different position that the other person will notice easily. Of course, this practice could present a problem if the ‘safe zone’ was needed and neither master nor slave was near the cueing item. The ‘safe zone’ could be triggered by a diary entry, if the slave is required or encouraged to maintain one. S/he can request a ‘safe zone’ in it and the master can determine when the safe zone takes place by acknowledging that diary entry. Or, as in the other example above, a cue word can be agreed upon.

  2. Time is also a necessity - time alone prior to discussion; time together to share and explore the problem; time alone to consider what has been shared and responded to; and time together to resolve and implement any resolution. Time is a valuable commodity. Too much time can border on avoidance. Not enough time can rush responses without careful consideration of all circumstances surrounding the event. For each Master/slave, the ‘right’ time frame may differ, depending on personal characteristics. Another characteristic concerning time is not only the time frame of consideration, but also the appropriate time to initiate any in-depth discussion. As one or both parties are about to leave the house for work is usually an inappropriate time to delve into a problem, though it may be an appropriate time to call for a ‘safe zone.’ Along with calling for the ‘safe zone,’ master or slave can give an estimate on this first time frame of consideration. A commitment to reconnecting and discussing the conflict can be established at the same time as the ‘safe zone’ is called. In this way, the separation and isolation will not extend indefinitely. And, even if more time is needed to consider the events separately, at least a period of reconnecting can mitigate any fears that a prolonged period of contemplation might cause. Also, as mentioned earlier, if a ‘safe zone’ is established, more than likely the difficulty is somewhat complex. It is a fair assumption that other, somewhat hidden collateral events may also need exploration. In other words, resolution time may require a few sessions of discussion rather than an expectation that everything can be resolved in one talk. Enough time needs to be granted to the problem and any associated problems that arise out of the discussion as is needed for both master and slave’s peace.

  3. In a protocol for conflict resolution, an additional item may be the use of “progress stepping stones.” - At some point in the discussion there may be an awareness that more work needs to be done to thoroughly address the problem or problems. At this time, both master and slave can identify a goal for that specific discussion. In this way, each discussion period has a positive outcome that can be reached and agreed upon rather than a never-ending cycle of problems, problems, and more problems. These “progress stepping stones” have two uses. One, they engender a sense of personal and paired accomplishment in moving towards resolution. As a master and slave, both can see progress in the relationship and have renewed confidence in their ability to work together to resolve whatever problem is encountered. Two, the “progress stepping stones” make manageable any large problem so that a positive outcome is more likely overall and frustration in getting there is minimized. Also, there is less chance of ‘working in circles’. When a discussion covers the same territory again and again, no progress is made, a stalemate is perceived, and it colors additional discussion.

Now that the entailments of “safe zone,” “time,” and “progress stepping stones” have been laid out, what might some other elements of the conflict-discussion look like?

  1. First, it doesn’t matter which person is upset and in need of the “safe zone”. Either master or slave can call for a “safe zone”. Many times, early in the relationship especially, the master may recognize the circumstances in which a slave is more likely to lose control in anger before the slave recognizes her/his own inner state. This happens because the master is aware of everything in the slave’s personal habits, either through close observation or personal disclosure. If the slave is angered or upset, the master can implement the “safe zone” even if the slave is unaware of the need for it. Or the slave can call for it him/herself.

    If the master is stirred to a strong response or is disturbed about an event, s/he can implement the’ safe zone’ for her/his own need. But, can a slave call a ‘safe zone’ for the master? This requires some careful thought about when or how this service would take place. It has the possibility to be abused if every time a master is upset the slave calls for ‘safe zone’. This action, if called too often or at inappropriate times, could be an attempt to control the situation and remove that control from the master. How then can a slave know when it is appropriate for him/her to implement a ‘safe zone’ for a master? Some guidelines include, if there have been increasing incidents of anger on the part of the master, there may be a circumstance underneath the incidents that is the root cause of the anger, which addressing the incident alone will not resolve. Or, if the anger or emotional upset that the master displays seems drastically out of proportion to the incident, then a slave may appropriately call a ‘safe zone’ for the master. This would permit a fuller examination of what all is involved in angering the master. Sometimes, if the master is upset and chastises the slave and the slave is unclear as to the cause and circumstances of the chastisement, needing further information to clearly follow the master’s desire, a” safe zone” might be called. This is especially true if there is not already in place a process for clarification during a chastisement.

  2. There must be respect during the “safe zone”. There are a couple of ways respect can be expressed during this conflict-resolution discussion time. Either both parties can remain in master/slave energy, with all of the appropriate modes of address for that pair. Or, both parties can ‘step outside of the power exchange dynamic’ for the length of the discussion time. Stepping outside of the power exchange dynamic does not give license to scream, yell, use profanity, or in any other way abuse each other. Rather, it allows the pair to draw upon the insights of both master and slave in a different context. In this way they can consider their own and each other’s action as if they were ‘other people’. This objectification is a way of sharing what is within, and acknowledging what is observed in the other, without highlighting personal emotions. It is as close as possible to working with the events ‘objectively’ by speaking outside of the dynamic. If this is the choice, then a small ritual for ‘stepping back into the dynamic’ is helpful to lay aside the “safe zone” and behave more easily within the master/slave relationship. It would also be helpful, even if master and slave remain in the master/slave dynamic with the master/slave verbal protocols of address used during the ‘safe zone’, for a ritual of closing the ‘safe zone’ to be used. It helps both parties move beyond the intensity of the discussion. That ritual might entail the slave kneeling before the master and his/her touch upon the head of the slave. It may be a kiss. It may be an application of a favored tool such as a cane swat, or nipple pinch. Whatever it is, it should be acknowledged and known ahead of time what the ritual closing will be, so both master and slave can willfully participate and move beyond the ‘safe zone’.

  3. There is also the matter of behavior during the ‘in-between’ times. Once a ’safe zone’ has been instantiated, the discussion may not follow a few hours and, possibly, for a few days depending upon work obligations, family needs, and/or health issues. During these ‘in-between’ times it is helpful if both master and slave behave towards each other as if there is no problem. Would this be considered unauthentic and false? Not to my way of thinking. To behave as if there is no problem is authentic and honorable because each can take peace in knowing that whatever the problem is, it will be addressed fully and with cooperation. To lay aside any of the emotional debris relating to the matter that required a calling for the ‘safe zone’ and to treat each other with the care each would expend in peaceful times, creates goodwill. This is not avoidance and does not mean either master or slave has capitulated regarding whatever is at issue. Rather, since each one knows that the problem will be dealt with carefully and with respect, each one can nurture the other as well as him/ herself. The slave can serve the master whole-heartedly, trusting in the master’s care and commitment. The master can call upon the slave for service with confidence, trusting in the slave’s sincere devotion. The behavior of this ‘in-between’ time helps ‘till the soil’ for a productive conflict resolution.

  4. Another unique quality of conflict resolution in master/slave relationships concerns any behavioral changes that need to be implemented as part of the resolution. These changes are not equally weighted in the master and slave dynamic. As part of the resolution, a master may expect that a certain behavioral modification on the part of his/her slave is necessary. But unless the slave discovers and takes ownership of that behavior, it is unlikely to take root. At the least, the new behavior will need further assistance to be implemented. Not every idea that is reasonable, rational, logical and agreed to will easily be implemented by the slave. The desire to do so may be there, but previous habits may interfere with the resolution. If the slave does not take ownership of the modification, then it’s unlikely to result in any positive change.

What if, in the course of a respectful and thorough discussion, a slave observes that a different behavior on the part of her/his master might be appropriate as part of the resolution? Does the slave have the right to demand that behavioral change? No, not within a master/slave relationship. In fact, what may seem perfectly logical to the slave regarding the master’s behavior, could in fact counter a goal that the master has for the slave, for himself, or for them. Therefore, when it comes to behavioral changes, the master can make changes in him or herself; the master can identify and require behavioral changes in the slave; the slave can identify behavioral changes in her/himself that need to occur; and, the slave can offer behavioral suggestions for the master. Then, the slave must release responsibility for what the master chooses to do. If the master has determined that the slave needs to make a behavioral change that the slave has not identified first, then the master must also take responsibility for assisting the slave in successfully implementing those behavioral changes. This may mean the master sets up circumstances for the slave to ‘practice’ the new behavior; this may mean using cue words or a cueing looks to remind the slave of the expected new behavior; this may be positive reinforcement when the slave behaves in the new manner without prompting. Conversely, does the slave have a concurrent obligation to prompt, cue, or reward a master who implements a new behavior? I would suggest that the answer is both “no” and “yes”. Ultimately it would depend upon what the master has asked for during the conflict resolution. If the master requests that the slave prompt him/her, then the slave provides that service. If the master gives permission for the slave to acknowledge a behavioral change, then the slave can gift the master with sweet service in whatever form pleases the master. In other words, the master sets up during the ‘safe zone’ what the boundaries are that the slave works within once the resolution is implemented.


Conflict will occur in any relationship. In master/slave relationships, some conflict is relatively easily resolved by the slave’s efforts to obey the master. Not all conflict falls within those parameters though. Some conflict can be the result of previous life behaviors. Some conflict can result from misunderstood directives. Some conflict can result from new personal growth, but is so different from previous expectations that it requires additional care in examination and adoption. For these and other complex times, a more formal protocol concerning conflict resolution is useful.

What follows is a short outline of the steps, conditions, and elements involved in good resolution and shared in this essay:

Five Steps in Conflict Resolution Discussion

  1. Identification of problem,
  2. Examination of responses,
  3. Analysis of context,
  4. Resolution of instance, and
  5. Plan for Prevention

Three Entailments in Conflict Resolution

  1. Safe zone
  2. Time
  3. Progress Stepping Stones

Elements of Conflict Resolution

  1. Either master or slave initiates
  2. Master/slave dynamic is laid aside or not
  3. Behavior “in-between” remains authentic
  4. Consensus in Resolution
  5. Ritual Closure

A final caveat remains. This has been only one exploration of a possible protocol for conflict resolution in a master/slave relationship. It is not the only one. It may not be right for every master and slave. However, every master and slave would do well to at least consider how to address complex problems that arise - before they arise. If a protocol is in place prior to a problem’s experience, the likelihood that the problem will cause serious damage is minimized. Just as in the initial stages of sadomasochistic play, safewords can be used to help master and slave learn each other’s skills and limits, a conflict resolution protocol set up ahead of the need for one can be used to help master and slave learn each other at deep emotional and value-laden levels.