Cords, Collaring and Uncollaring

The following is the essay on detaching cords/spiritual bonds at the end of a relationship. It was a tiny slice of my book “Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond” that came out a few years ago. I recently posted it in an online group, so I figure, why not post it here 🙂 I think that the bonds we create are something that need considered:

Cords, Collaring and Uncollaring

So let me get this straight. In the vanilla world we are expected to meet, greet, and fall in love. We court, dance, and romance. We get to know each other, date, and finally there is a proposal for marriage. Families meet, plans are made, friends toast our future success and we spend thousands on huge dresses and expensive jewelry. Contracts are signed, and our lives go forward.

And when the marriage is over, all we get is a stack of papers served by their lawyers, or a single piece of paper by a judge?

I think this is horrible. When we do all this energetic investment in another human being, our lives get intertwined with theirs. Soul cords attach to one another, in much the same way that handfastings state that two lives will be bound together, knotted together into one. Everything gets all mixed up. Our desires become theirs, our stuff becomes theirs, and at the end we are supposed to walk away easy just because the relationship has sucked for a while?

In the vanilla world I want to see rituals for un-dating, un-wedding, and un-coupling. I long to see more (I see a few now) re-bacheloring and re-bacheloretting parties. One I went to recently held a Sumbel (Asatru/Norse three-round drinking horn prayer) that touched me deeply. In one round, everyone toasted about how horrible the relationship had been; all the pain was vented out for the world to see. In the second round of drinking, each person toasted to how good they had been together and why the ex was a good person, to remind the person that they had not wasted those years together and that there had been good times. And finally, there were toasts of love and healing and being single or moving forward for the third round. Show the wound, clean it out, let it heal.

When I was divorced a few years ago, my former partner and I went to the judge together, signed our papers together, laughed through it all. The judge stared at us in disbelief—are we sure we wanted to get divorced? Absolutely. We are good friends, but horrid partners.

Afterwards they asked me to go back to where we got engaged. The green leaves surrounded us and they had brought with them a box from our wedding. At our wedding we had taken a huge metal ring and hung it from a branch, and to it tied our handfasting cords. Each person who showed up at the wedding gave their blessings to us by writing on strips of fabric left over from the wedding dress. All this love and energy, blessings and joy had been poured into those prayers, and into those cords.

We read each one. Sitting under the trees where on a rainy day the proposal had happened, we were soaked in sun and sighs as we read these wishes and laughed, or cried, or simply avoided each other’s gaze for a moment. We shared stories from our years together. A lot of it had been good. And after reading them all, we untied the cords. Red went one way, green the other. And so did our lives, unbound.

Within the kink community, there is a lot of talk, just as in the vanilla world, about the rituals we create for solidification of our relationships. There are a number of different ways I see these formalizations take place.

Change in Terminology. Instead of being called Sir, it’s now Master. Instead of Pony, it’s My Pony. Sacred names become codified, solidified, made sanctioned for all to bear witness to, or to have happen only between the sheets.

Jewelry/Wardrobe. Just like engagement or wedding rings are vogue in vanilla relationships, Slave rings, necklaces, necklaces with locks on them, collars, anklets, belly chains and other types of jewelry are enjoyed in kink. I have seen leather cuffs, pins, patches, ability to wear house colors, and permission to wear a specific type of fantastical wardrobe as well. This may also include a dominant partner having new jewelry as well—a key on a chain to match their partner’s lock, for example. Partners may wear the same item, linking them together, or similar but different ones. A whole home-brew industry has grown up out of those wanting their “Slave registry numbers” etched onto dog tags for example. But these props do not mean the same thing to all people: for one person a collar is a prop they give every Bottom they meet, and for others it is a sacred item only their longest-term oath-sworn mates are allowed to even consider petitioning for.

Markings. Branding, Tattoos, Body Piercings, Scarifications and other body modifications have a strong power in the kink community subconscious. Porn, stretching back hundreds of years, is full of sexy struggling wenches and nubile young men branded with their owner’s mark, eroticizing the barbaric history of human flesh trafficking. The idea of having un-alterable proof of a relationship dynamic is stimulating for many.

If this is appealing to you and your partner, ask a few questions:

  • Who will do the body modification? Heating up a coat hanger on a stove will lead to a trip to the hospital for infection from plastic (yes, people have done this). Be smart, see a professional or skilled artist.
  • Where on the body will it be? Do you have to wear a swimsuit around family ever?
  • Will both partners have marks?
  • What iconography will you be happy to have on your body for life?
  • Is it reversible? Modifiable?
  • Is the mark important, or is it about a ritual when the mark is being done?
  • Is shedding blood important?
  • Do other people need to know it exists?
  • Who are you doing this for and why?

Slave Contracts. Just like a marriage contract delineates the legal responsibilities of both parties, and vows are a verbal contract before witnesses at a wedding, a Slave contract is an agreement. At the time of this writing, Slave contracts are not legally binding, but instead seen as a good-faith agreement between consenting adults, and born witness to by their peers.

Some Slave contracts are oral, some are written, and I have even seen some etched in stone (not kidding). Some have a certain timeline written into them (for the weekend, three months, a year and a day) and others are open-ended. Some are simple, and some are literally 72 pages long. Some are in complex legalese, and others as simple as “you belong to me, I’ll take care of you.” Some detail every action of the submissive partner day and night, and others show what the responsibilities of all parties are. Some are between two people, and others between whole households or even between households being brought together, or the Slave and the Master’s patron deity. Some are on display for all to see, and some are secretive or personal, whispered between the sheets or kept private between those involved.

Scene Weddings. See-through latex wedding gowns and a 20-crack whip salute. A pair of people who happen to be kinky going with their friends to the courthouse. Scene people get married sometimes. As fancy or as complex as they like, legally binding or done for spiritual or emotional reasons, scene weddings are just as varied as non-scene weddings. And just as vanilla weddings can be huge productions whose relationship afterwards lasts only a year, or a simple affair that lasts a lifetime, a wedding can be a big party, a good time, a huge production, a fantasy made flesh, or a statement of romance.

Before the Divine. All of the above and other rituals you can come up with for relationship formalization or solidification can be done for yourselves, or for the whole universe to bear witness to as well. It’s amazing how much more deeply most people will stop and consider their actions if they know that higher powers will be watching. For many individuals, swearing an oath before their God(s) has a different meaning than swearing a secular oath.

Not all of these ceremonies and formalizations take place between D/s couples. I have met individuals who were both switches who have signed contracts with one another, and pairs of Tops who have gotten married in the scene with full kinky regalia and fanfare. What is important to consider is what the relationship is, and that in solidifying the relationship, our cords and connections to one another are strengthening with one another.

Whatever format we choose, there will be good times. Happy memories, hot play, great connections. We build memories. We have experiences. We get to know each other better.

But in some relationships, shit happens. We forget to clarify our needs. Toes get stepped on. Conclusions are jumped to. We develop passive-agressive behavior or language. We sabotage our relationships. We set up impossible expectations, resigning ourselves or our partners to failure. We make assumptions. We stop listening. We fuck up.

It doesn’t have to happen, mind you. Quality rituals can allow us to find space to clarify our needs and express when our toes have been stepped on without crushing our partner’s ego. We have the power to find space in our hearts to not jump to conclusions or assumptions. We can learn skills to express our emotions, do active listening and active sharing alike, and learn to stop sabotaging ourselves. Every day we have the power to know ourselves better, find out what makes us tick, and leave space for both ourselves and our partners to grow.

But let’s say something does happen. First thing to consider is whether or not something is salvageable. Can re-negotiation take place? Can we change what we are with one another? Instead of removing commitment jewelry or kicking someone out of the house (things I have seen in vanilla and kink relationships alike), can a new agreement or arrangement be made? Can we breathe deep, sit down, and talk it out? It’s amazing how many times we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Fine, the sexual relationship is off the table, but maybe the service relationship is still possible. Or the protocols have sucked, but you still love each other and want to find something that does work. Be creative. You’ve invested in each other—what might work? Think outside the box. Get ideas. Brainstorm.

And yet, ends still happen. Maybe it’s the end of the contract. Maybe it was a mutual agreement that everyone is moving in different life directions. For some it will be some legal issue, and in other cases the depths of sadness will be plumbed with heartbreak, fighting, nastiness, and other points that may leave us as the walking wounded. Other relationships end with the death of a partner.

How will we unwind from each other? How can we keep from having to carry around the baggage of our pain with us? My favorite choice is to walk it backwards.

If you swore an oath before the divine, contact that force and undo the work. Explain to your ancestors or their patron what happened. Seek divination. Go on a long fast or a journey into your energetic self and open up space between you. Find the energetic key and release the locks.

If you had a scene wedding, have a scene divorce. Say goodbye, with witnesses and support. Though the temptation may be to make friends choose sides, this can rip apart communities. In addition, this sort of behavior can leave a hole in your heart as well. If it is a painful parting, split up the munches, gatherings and parties until the ache has had a chance to get pink instead of being infected. Be gentle with each other, and with your mutual acquaintances. Especially with partnerships that were power-players in a community (a pair who ran an event or taught classes together for example) this can be jarring for everyone in a whole region.

Take the time you need. If possible, find creative ways to become individuals again. It’s hard to acclimate to not being a couple any more. Find ways to remember goodness, and let go of pain. Laugh. Learn to find yourself as a whole individual unto yourself.

If you swore to a Slave contract (on either side), read it. Has this contract been terminated in good faith? If you know in your hearts that it has not, how can you remove your canker of acting out of integrity from your being? Can someone else step in to help care for them financially? Do you know a way to get their needs met without you having to be part of the picture? Can you be released by yourself and the other partner? What about creating a ritual that mirrors how you signed it in the first place, and undo what was done? If they are not around, can someone else bear witness for it in their absence, or can an energetic megaphone be created to amplify your verbal self-release across the astral planes?

If markings took place, can they be modified? Piercings can be removed or jewelry changed. Tattoos can be covered up, or morphed in other ways. Brandings can be added to. Or, instead of covering up the past, what about adding a new piece where you claim yourself? Where you release your call to ownership? Sometimes in leaving a mark visible it can help us remember the good and the bad, and not repeat the missteps of the past in our future dances.

If jewelry was exchanged or wardrobe gifted, does it need to be given back? In some D/s relationships for example, the collar belongs to the dominant individual who presented it. For others, they have no desire to have such things back. But find out whether it is wrong to still wear their family colors after the relationship ends. Perhaps that vest needs to be retired, and a new one acquired to move forward. This is equivalent to the act of not just taking off the ring and staring at it every single morning in pain, but putting it in a box and placing it somewhere just where you can find it when you want to remember the happy times.

If terminology was changed, does it get changed back? Do you need to come up with new terms for each other? Former Slave boy? Ex-wife? Beloved? This amazing person I know? Friend?

This is the dance of undoing, combined with the art of moving forward. We cannot and will not go back to being the same people we were before we began. Skin cells have been shed and memories added, we are literally not the same people we were yesterday, let alone before we met those we have been bonded to. But we can become ourselves and bow out gracefully, transforming wounds into new skin, or scars into artwork and memory to laugh about down the road.

I see some argue to just cut your losses and get away. Journey into your spirit body with a giant blade and cut yourself free. It is a choice. But in doing so I see many people who do this start to bleed out. These cords carry connection back and forth. Bleeding out comes in the form of depression, suicidal ideation, sudden outbursts of co-dependency, stalking, obsession, the need to lash out, destroy. The need to bring everyone else down with them too. Or their whole being becomes surrounded by the toxins they are now leaking, and every interaction, every new relationship, every friendship they touch is poisoned.

Instead, I propose slowly digging up the roots of each cord and lovingly plant them somewhere new. Or untie them, coil them up, and hand them back to their owner. If you feel you have to cut free, at least tie the wound up afterwards after flushing all the toxins out. Bandage yourself. Give it time to heal. The option to cauterize the wound exists, but sometimes scar tissue of the spirit takes away space for new connections to be formed, the soil turned to stone.

For each ritual of creation, there must be a ritual of release or destruction. To video tape first steps and hide last steps is a shame within our culture that has transferred into a fear of all endings. It does not have to be so. W have a choice. We can untie as well as we tie. We can dance into the darkness, and love our way through our losses.


If so moved…




Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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