We hurt each other.
Not consensually. Not for kink. Sometimes we just do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing. Maybe we have a fight. We know each other too well, emotions are high. We know better, but we feel hurt and want our partner to feel it, too. Words come out. When you know someone well enough, you know which scars never fully healed, how to rip them open again. Or maybe it’s an accident, a blithe comment that reveals a wound you didn’t know was there, or just forgot. It’s not just words. Actions, too: a flogger wraps. Embarrassing, painful. A cancelled date, an unexpected touch, something precious dropped and maybe broken.
We hurt each other.
Whatever the form, when you hurt a partner (or they hurt you), it is compounded by a sense of betrayal, if only momentarily. We trusted you. Maybe not completely, but we trusted you not to hurt us. So (at least) two things need to be addressed: the harm itself, and the aftershock. Confronting the person who hurts you can be hard. Being confronted can be hard. We have to do it if we want to repair damage, but it isn’t easy. Almost no one knows where to start.
If you’ve hurt someone:
Apologize. They may not accept it (and they don’t have to), but apologize. Mean it. If you don’t know what you’ve done to hurt them, find out as calmly as you can. “I’m sorry that you feel bad” is not an apology. It’s passive-aggressive. Apologize for the behavior, not its effect.
Remember that it’s not about you. If someone is telling you that you’ve hurt them, that isn’t an attack. Defensiveness is a refusal to address the issue. I presume you care about your partners. If you hurt them, focus on fixing the hurt rather than maintaining your ego or denying the hurt exists.
People aren’t heroes or villains. Doing something wrong does not mean you’re a horrible person. We all do it. We fuck up or lash out or just don’t know what the hell we’re doing sometimes. These are discrete behaviors. If you’ve hurt someone, it makes sense to feel bad. It’s not so helpful to decide this makes you a Bad Person who should be shunned forever for your unforgivable sin. Acting like that is asking the person you’ve hurt to take care of you, and avoids addressing the hurt.
If you’ve been hurt:
Articulate it as well as you can. A person can’t address an issue if they don’t know it exists or don’t understand it.
Do you know what you need? An apology, space, time, physical contact, reassurance, a commitment to address a certain behavior? Ask for it. If you don’t know what you need, say that. Ask for help finding a solution. Too many arguments move from “I’m sorry” to “that’s not good enough” without ever saying what would be good enough. And maybe nothing is, but if that’s the case it needs to be said.
It’s not about them. People aren’t heroes or villains. Calling someone a monster doesn’t address the hurt; it tells them you think it’s inevitable and irreparable that they’ll hurt you.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to not be able to deal with it right away. When emotions are high, productive conversation can be painful, almost impossible.
Often we hurt and are hurt at the same time. There’s triage. There are cycles. I hurt you, the way you handled it hurt me. It takes mindfulness, self-control, cooperation to keep that from building up and up and up. And we fuck up. We fail. It’s going to happen again. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Please note that none of this is particularly helpful when dealing with an abusive situation. Just situations where problems or arguments occur and could be more productive. Also, y’know, I’m not exactly good at all this. Could be completely wrong.