Safe Word – It’s Not Just for Kinksters

Going too far. It’s familiar territory to any parent. You’re in the kitchen cooking dinner, listening to the kids playing happily in the living room, acting silly and joking with each other.

“We studied Appalachia today in school. Opa-lachia. Opa la la. Apple-lachia-poopy. Apple-lachia-ca ca. Kevin’s a apple-lacha-poopy head.” Suddenly, there’s whining and tears, and you have to look over at them to make sure that they’re not still laughing. You’re left wondering what happened, and then you realize that it went too far. They’re tired or they’re cranky, someone’s button got pushed and all of a sudden, the fun is over.

The same thing can happen with married couples. A husband and wife are playing around, teasing each other, when one of them inadvertently pushes a button. Maybe the husband strays too far into teasing his wife about that generous tush of hers that he absolutely loves, but about which she’s self-conscious. Or maybe the wife goes a bit too far as she teases him about being a lousy kisser. Either way, suddenly what had been a fun and playful conversation goes south, and the rest of the evening is spent in anger and silence.

Sometimes it’s a sexual situation. The husband wants to push a boundary with his wife and she’s normally okay with that, but he stumbles across one that seems fairly simple to him, but is very difficult for her. I’ve frequently seen this happen with couples.

One situation involved a husband asking his wife to ‘masturbate like a porn star’ for him while he watched. Although she had brought herself to orgasm with him before, this particular request involved her being in a much more vulnerable position, but she wasn’t able to articulate what made it so difficult for her. He felt rejected and became frustrated at her refusal and stalked out of the room, leaving them both angry, frustrated and resentful.

Or the wife is looking for a bit more dominance from her husband and she pushes him in what she perceives as a provocative, playful way, but she goes too far and he experiences it as disrespect and silently seethes or withdraws. Sexy time is over and they’re both left feeling like idiots.

Another situation involved a man waking his wife up for sex in the morning, which he was sometimes able to do with mutually satisfying results. This particular time, though, she was exhausted and sleep-deprived for various reasons and absolutely blasted him, resulting in a 4 day stand-off between the two of them.

Enter the safe word. Safe word is a term sometimes used in the BDSM world to unambiguously let either partner communicate that they’re uncomfortable with something that is happening. However, having a safe word can also be very helpful in everyday situations as well.

Many people use a yellow-red system. If you are growing increasingly uncomfortable with a conversation or situation, you can simply tell your partner that you’re yellow and they’ll know that they’re treading into sensitive territory. Or sometimes, something that your partner does will jump all over you and all of a sudden, you’re seeing red without even knowing why, much less being able to articulate your feelings. Being able to tell your partner this with one word can be helpful. It’s a way to tell them to back off without being overly negative.

So why bother with a safe word? We’re all adults, right? Why not just tell your partner how you feel?

There are times when your emotions are running too high to be able to communicate well. And times when something happens so fast, you don’t even realize why you’re so upset. Often, in emotionally charged or sexually charged situations, the power of speech momentarily deserts you as blood rushes out of your brain into …. other regions.

In these situations, a safe word can serve to slow the action down until you’re once again capable of rational thought.

For example, both my husband and I have a tough time articulating our anger with each other at times. Sometimes his angry words flow over me and I’m left speechless. This infuriates him because he thinks I’m ignoring him or withdrawing. In these situations, it’s helpful to be able to say, “Time-out,” which is our code for “I’m really upset and I need to process this for a while.” It’s equally helpful for him to be able to say this when he is struggling to find the right words.

It can also be helpful to have a safe word in front of other people, particularly your kids. You know those times when it feels like your wife is disrespecting you in front of the kids, but you don’t want to argue in front of them? That’s a great time to be able to say, “Redlight.” Your wife will know that she needs to shut it down until the two of you can talk privately.

Or you’re in a group, and your husband is disclosing a bit more information than you’re comfortable with, but you don’t want to draw attention by arguing in front of other people. You can quietly say, “Yellow area,” in his ear without making a scene.

It also works great in sexual situations, when you’re not altogether sure of how comfortable you are with something your partner is asking you to do. It lets him know to pull back a bit and give you time to process what’s going on. It gives you the room to not have to even explain why you’re uncomfortable. It’s enough that he knows that you are, so he can move on to something else, without ruining the moment.

Later, when emotions aren’t running so high, you can do a post-mortem and analyze what was happening at the time.

So, anyone out there who uses a safe word for either arguments or sexual situations?  How well does it work for you?