the role of self reflection in relationships

“Sometimes truths are what we run from, and sometimes they are what we seek.” ― R.D. Ronald


What role does self reflection play in relationships? Isn’t communication the Holy Grail for successful coupledom? Communication is important in relationships, in fact, it is arguably one the most important factors for a healthy, happy relationship. How and what you share with your partner(s) is important and can have a huge impact on the quality and comfort of the connection. But is it all about what you say out loud? Yes and no. While expressing yourself and actively communicating is essential, there’s also value in the quiet, more liminal spaces within relationships; the places where inward thought and contemplation are allowed to simmer, where understanding becomes deeper and more rich. Self reflection and self examination within relationships is essential, because without it even the most brave and seemingly honest communication can go awry. Ultimately, self reflection is an important practice for developing and nourishing healthy relationships, both Kinky and Vanilla. 

Self Reflection Means Asking the Hard Questions

Taking the time for reflection provides us with an opportunity to become more mindful of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours within our relationship. Active, mindful reflection allows us to better understand our motivations and intentions, as well as how each action may affect our partner’s emotional wellbeing. When done effectively, reflection can help us grow in our capacity to love, dominate, or serve, within our most intimate relationships. 

In order to meaningfully develop better attitudes and actions in relationships, it is essential that we take time to reflect on the nature of our own needs and desires:

  • What do you truly want and need from a relationship?
  • What aspects of yourself do you want or need to change in order to have a relationship that fits your ideals? 
  • Are you willing and able to meet your partner where they are, in terms of their own growth, issues, and self understanding?
  • What have you not yet shared about your relationship ideals that you want your partner(s) to know?
  • Is your effort and intention acknowledged and celebrated to the degree that you need it to be? If not, what would that look like?
  • Likewise, do you acknowledge and celebrate your partner’s intentions and efforts?
  • Which behaviours or activities bring you closer to your partner(s)? Which ones create unwanted space or discord?

Self Reflection is not Selfish

Reflection and self-understanding are essential components of personal growth and development, yet they can be difficult to access if you don’t know how to begin. It may feel indulgent to make time for significant reflection, but it’s not. In fact, it’s a necessary part of building a lasting connection, or maintaining one. Ideally, through your own self examination, you will find an effective way to identify and examine your beliefs, values, and the habits that impact your life, in order to gain deeper insight into yourself and how you operate within a relationship. Taking time to do personal inventory in this way is valuable for all kinds of relationships, friendships, kinships and can even help you better express yourself in the workplace. Through reflection and self understanding you can cultivate greater awareness of your thought processes and behaviours while working towards meaningful change where you feel it is needed. 

Taking Small Steps

With simple tools at your disposal like journaling, mindfulness, and meditation you’ll be ready to embark on the path towards understanding yourself more thoroughly and offering more in your relationships. By taking the time to engage with these reflective tools you can gain invaluable insight into your own mind and heart. You may begin to recognise patterns of behaviour and thoughts that may be holding you back. Once you recognize them, you can work towards developing healthier habits for the future. 

Additionally, these tools can help us acknowledge strengths and successes in order to boost self-confidence and take ownership of the positive aspects of ourselves. 

  • What do I bring to relationships that I am proud of?
  • In what ways is my current communication style effective?
  • In what ways do I show my partner care, grace, and acceptance?

Unlock Your Personal Power

When you begin to practise regular self understanding it will begin to open the door to meaningful personal growth. Harnessing this inner knowledge is an essential part of all personal development and can be a major catalyst to smoother communication, deeper connections and less insecurity. Something that prevents people from doing this kind of self-inventory is the worry that they have already made grave errors in communication or that they simply aren’t good at looking inward. If taking a long hard look at yourself seems daunting, that’s because it is.

Practice self compassion with your self reflection

One of the most important parts of reflecting on yourself or your relationship is being compassionate with yourself. Certainly no one is perfect, nor do we all have all our trauma and destructive habits worked out. That’s because no one is born a “good communicator” and no one is born knowing how to look critically at their own behaviours. These are things that we must learn if we want to apply them to our lives and relationships. It’s not simple, it’s not instant, but it’s a pathway towards giving and getting more from your partner.

Self Reflection in Kink Dynamics

Regular reflection and evaluation of your roles is an important part of successful Dominance and submission (D/s). Not only does it help to ensure that both parties’ needs are being met, but it also creates an environment for open dialogue and improved communication. It can be all too easy to get excited and take on a role without fully understanding what it means or how to fulfil the expectations. It’s also easy to overlook such big topics in the early stages when everything is shiny and new. New Relationship Energy (NRE) is powerful stuff and can be even more seductive when kinks and fantasies are on the table. Taking time to evaluate the particular nuances of your Dominant/submissive dynamic can be beneficial in ensuring all involved understand their responsibilities.

Growing together

By reflecting on the goals of each individual involved, as well as any rules or contracts established at the beginning of the relationship, you can begin to identify areas where things may need adjustment or improvement. By creating a space for feedback from both sides – both positive and constructive – those involved can make sure they are communicating effectively and upholding the structure that was negotiated. If the original ‘blueprint’ for the dynamic isn’t working, it can and should be re-negotiated. The Dominant may lead this exploration and encourage self reflection in their sub, or they may take a more collaborative approach. No matter how the exercise of self reflection is achieved, it can help to ensure that the Dominant/submissive relationship is clear and enjoyable for all involved. Taking time to dissect, evaluate, and compare your roles can go a long way towards establishing valuable, and necessary communication.

Seeking Balance through Self Reflection

Reflection is not only beneficial for understanding the expectations of a role in a kink dynamic, but also to ensure that the roles remain in balance. Kink is, after all, about power exchange. The roles may not appear, or in fact be, equal, but they should be in harmony with each other. When both partners bring self knowledge to the dynamic, it helps keep both parties accountable and paves the way to communicating effectively, ensuring that everything remains in balance. Furthermore, it gives both sides an opportunity to provide feedback on what works or doesn’t work for them, allowing for any necessary changes to be made early on. Regularly reflecting on one’s roles is integral in creating and maintaining successful dominant/submissive relationships; without it, those involved may find themselves feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled by their roles.

Ultimately, regular reflection and self evaluation can help Dominants and submissives develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with each other. It can also help to foster trust, respect, and understanding between those involved, allowing for smooth communication and successful dominance/submission dynamics. 

A Self Reflection Exercise 

This exercise is an oldie but a goody. It can be helpful both for solo reflection and in a relationship. 

To do this exercise, you will choose something you want to reflect on. It could be a specific incident, an action, an impulse, or the way you respond to something.  

Then you will make three lists: Start, Stop, and Continue.

The Lists

The Start list is for solutions/actions/choices that will help you overcome the issue or contribute to positive changes in behaviour. 

The Stop list is for behaviours and actions that are not constructive, that you will commit to no longer doing. 

The Continue list is for the things you are already doing that are working fine as they are.

Try it alone

If you are doing this exercise alone, go ahead and make your lists. Each one does not have to have the same number of items. It may be that your Stop list is really long, your Start list is short, and you have nothing to add to the Continue list – or any other combination! The trick is to be specific and honest. Really look at the Thoughts/Actions/Response in question and build your lists accordingly. It may be uncomfortable, you may have some important realisations along the way. That’s okay. If it helps, once you’re finished, re-order your Start and Stop lists in terms of priority or what you’re committing to doing differently next time.

Try it together

If you are doing this exercise with a partner, ask them to supply you with the Thoughts/Actions/Response of yours that they find most challenging. Have them make the three lists as well and then compare your notes and discuss. What you may find is that what you think you need to stop/start/continue doing is not at all what they need. The more dissimilar your lists are, the more work you’ll both need to do to create change and foster communication. Take turns supplying each other with the actions and issues that need to be addressed.

As you begin to tackle problematic thoughts, actions and responses, alone or within a relationship, you will become more adept at recognising them, analysing them and taking action to change them. These lists are excellent to revisit and help you hold yourself accountable. Whether you hand write them in a journal or build yourself a spreadsheet, look back at them, especially if you have repeated the thought/action/response in question.

In Summary

Engaging in self reflection is an important skill to develop for individuals and couples, regardless of your kink or vanilla preferences. It can help you get in touch with yourself or your partner, uncover what turns you on, help you manage conflict and learn how to communicate better. If you have any tips, tricks or strategies for self reflection that have worked well for you, please share them in the comments!


Violet Fawkes

Violet Fawkes (she/her) is a freelance writer and sex blogger focusing on pleasure education, erotic fiction, and the intersection of identity, kink and mental health.