Structural Dynamics
Finding a partner to match your own

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by Peggy aka O


People walk into relationships with very definite expectations. Frequently these expectations are reflective of the expectations of society as well as derived from observation of our parents, siblings and others.

How a relationship actually functions is molded by these expectations. Their long term sustainability and viability is also molded by these expectations.

People tend to attach to either form or essence in terms of their relationships. If one can visualize a linear progression, one end of the spectrum could be viewed as "Structuralist" and the other end "Preservationist".


Our society is very much based on structuralist relationships for our romantic ideals. The most common "structuralist" construct is the monogamous two member heterosexual household. Society as a whole has a difficult time visualizing anything outside that model. When people do deviate from that model and it is generally done secretly and, if discovered terminates the relationship. Even when it is done openly, there is a high degree of judgment from peers as to the acceptability. When a non-traditional structure fails, it is invariably blamed on the lack of traditional structure whereas when a traditional structure fails other reasons are cited as the cause.

In the BDSM community an example of a Structuralist might be a Master or Mistress who has a very heavy layer of protocol which deviates very little from slave to slave. Typically there is a requirement that the relationship be lived out in set ways and if either party is unable to maintain the structure the relationship terminates. One sees Dominants who terminate relationships because they have become overly fond of their submissive/slave and no longer feel capable of maintaining the structure. One may see a submissive or slave terminate a relationship because they cannot cope with the lack of flexibility in terms of things they feel unable to do. One also sees either party terminating the relationship when they feel that the other has not lived according to the expectations of the structure.

Asking someone about their expectations for a relationship will help place them on the spectrum of Structuralist versus Preservationist. A Structuralist will tend to have very detailed sets of expectations for behaviors, goals and interaction both for themselves and their partner. In many cases ground rules will be pre-established. It is the responsibility of the partner to fit in the context of the expectations and pre-set rules, as opposed to expectations being relaxed on a case-by-case basis.

The advantage to Structuralist relationships is clear definition of expectations. There is also a high level of predictability in terms of the behaviors of both parties. It brings a high level of security because of the perception by both parties that there won't be any bad surprises.

The disadvantage is the fact that the relationship terminates if either party cannot conform to the pre-set expectations. If there is no compromise or flexibility then the relationship is doomed if one or the other becomes physically or emotionally unable to fulfill the key criteria of the structure.


Preservationists tend to be seen as the outsider or alternate lifestyle practioners by conventional society. They tend to maintain non-traditional pairings with one or more partners of both genders. They view each relationship as unique and work extremely hard to maintain the integrity of the relationship, even if the structure shifts dramatically. Frequently their relationships may be deemed as "over" by their more traditional peers when a dramatic shift has occurred, with the failure linked to the lack of appropriate structure.

In the BDSM community, Preservationists are frequently those with large and complex alternative family structures. THE "family trees" of some of these families can be overwhelming in their diversity, size and layering. Many times people will cycle through the families, occupying different functions at different times, but never actually leaving the structure of the family as a whole. One doesn't see relationships terminate as much as one sees them shift in their nature.

Again, asking someone of their expectations is a good way to place them on the spectrum. A Preservationist will tend to talk more about how they want the relationship to make them feel, as opposed to what they want it to look like. Their expectations tend to be expressed more on the basis of meeting each other's emotional needs as opposed to dealing with how the relationship is structured.

The advantage to Preservationist relationships is the inherent flexibility. There is a security in the fact that both parties are committed to maintaining the relationship and are willing to compromise to do it. The inherent expectation is that each will work equally to iron out the rough spots.

The disadvantage is the fact that both parties may not be equally committed to maintaining the relationship. One sees situations where one party is bending over backwards to be flexible and the other is not pulling their weight. It also can lead to a situation where one person can take advantage of the other's desire to maintain the relationship at all costs. This erodes trust within the relationship itself and, when the relationship finally breaks under the weight of one person carrying the load, reduces their ability to trust in future relationships. These relationships also tend to be emotionally more demanding because of the need to address the partner's changes in emotional outlook. There is also the fact that society tends to disapprove of relationships that do not fit conventional structure, which can add to the basic level of stress in a relationship.

"Where you fit"

In looking for a potential partner, one should attempt to assess where one fits in on the Structuralist/Preservationist scale. Key factors might be viewed as follows:

Desire for structure
Desire for predictability
Comfort with change
Level of details surrounding expectations for a relationship
Comfort with difficult emotional issues

Those who prefer structure and predictability are better suited to others who prefer that type of relationship. Sometimes a happy medium can be worked out. One couple re-negotiated their relationship to be a secondary relationship for them both when it was obvious that one party was miserable in the carefully defined structure that the other needed to be happy. They have reached a compromise where the best aspects are able to continue, but where they both know this is not a relationship that will bring about a traditional, permanent pairing.

It would seem more logical, however to seek out those whose expectations for relationships are closer to our own. In viewing where they fall on the Structuralist/Preservationist scale, each party may do better in the initial stages of partner selection, as opposed to having to work through potentially devastating issues later.


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