We are surrounded by rules. Obvious rules that we can see and touch and generally all agree on as existing as facts (whether we agree with the rule itself or not) things like signposts, grammar and spelling the legal system and those T&C check boxes we keep selecting on websites and have probably agreed to do something dreadful. There are unconscious rules that we have absorbed as part of our life, probably without really knowing it, but ones that we accept as true, even though they might not be: social conventions are a good example, gender is another, things that are really truisms and stuff our parents said.
We can divide up rules into all sorts of categories. Rules we actively chose to abide by like diets and rules that are given to us without our consent, like laws. Some rules are more important to us than others, some are better enforced than others, either by ourselves or by external agents. This may well change according to what day it is, where we are in the world and whether it's raining or not. Some rules are only really important if we get caught breaking them - like a lot of the legislation around BDSM. The same rule might fall into different categories for different people - religious rules for example might be inherited from our families and fall into the background, subconscious sort of rule that we live by but don't think too much about, or it may be an active choice that we signed up to. No matter what kind of rule it is, it's always, always personal because of the relationship between holding to and breaking the rule in your life.
This has been a week of rules.The sort of rules you give out as a dominant not only reflect the kind of D/s situations you want to create but they say things about you. In effect, you can think of them like the rules of a game. If you don't "play by the rules" then you are not really playing the game. The rules that you build create certain games - change the rules and you change the game. I'm always amused by the completely opposing value of rules within the two D/s relationships in my life.
Mannequin does not need or respond well to having a rigid set of rules. If I am not actively present, things like sending emails at certain times or any kind of remote control rule is likely to not be done and then cause anxiety and upset over it being left. Because I don't really enjoy chasing up on tasks (that sounds like work to me!) and she doesn't enjoy getting annoyed messages from me we don't have rules. We have an ongoing contract that stipulates obedience and whenever I need a particular thing from her I ask and I get it, but there isn't a rigid framework with specific tasks and deadlines. She has a list of things that I enjoy seeing her do, or having her do for me and it is up to her to ensure I am generally satisfied. If at any point she does something I don't like, I correct it then and there: this is currently more of a theory than practice given that she is rather good at giving me what I want.
Mr Smith on the other hand, really, really likes ongoing, set rules. They give him a sense of order and security in what can be a rather chaotic life. For him, lack of rules generates anxiety and a complete absence of focus. Rules remind him of my ownership, they give him "things to do" which correlate directly onto pleasing me. He is under a variety of rules at the moment including a diet and exercise plan, a structured way of behaving in public and private, formalities around greetings, communicating with me and small rituals to perform during the day. These sit alongside existing rules about saying thank-you after orgasm and how he is allowed to have sexual activity outside our relationship. They are quite extensive and detailed, having their origins in a series of conversations about his life, the sort of person (and submissive) he wants to be for himself and for me, the things that give him satisfaction, that scare him, that worry him.
Such a long list might seem onderous but they actually make both of our lives easier and more pleasurable. The rules are part of training. I enjoy the control I have over him, and the fact that I get regular updates, as well as the satisfaction of knowing he is doing things for me in my absence. The rules that we have are clear and simple, even though there are many of them. It is obvious how they can be followed, and equally obvious how they are broken. If he breaks a rule, he is punished. There is no argument, no sulks or stress - he accepts his wrongdoing, submits to punishment and afterwards the slate is clean, except for perhaps a little physical discomfort, but that's a good reminder of doing better next time. Following the rules is not precisely rewarded, instead, following the rules constitutes his submission to me, so its a reward in itself, really.
The difference between the attitudes of my submissives neatly expresses my opinion on rules in D/s relationships: they are worth giving out if my life is directly improved by their existence; they either make my life easier, generate better and more interesting kinky sex or perform another function that serves my purposes. If rules get in the way, prevent me from doing something I want with my partners or make life complicated or stressful then they are pointless. Pointless rules are generally a bad idea. Which isn't do say that D/s rules need to make sense or be logical. The rule "You must always wear yellow on Tuesday" to take a random example could seem fairly pointless without a decent context - good D/s rules follow from good D/s (this is me winning a states-the-obvious-award). So if Tuesday is date night, and yellow is the dominant's favourite colour then that rule might serve to remind the submissive of the evening to come. Or Tuesday is a day that the dominant isn't going to be around, and they want to be present in some other fashion. Or it's a hated colour and it's being done as a punishment and Tuesday is just a good, regular day to pick. There are many reasons why it might work, the point is that the rule does something for both the dominant and the submissive.