I wanna talk a bit about vetos.
I don’t like ‘em – not one tiny little bit. I don’t like the ramifications of a veto. There is an implication of ownership overlaid with a serious lack of trust. No, don’t whine at me about this. If you need a veto, there is a desire to protect yourself. This isn’t meant to activate some macho thing. You know, “I don’t need to protect myself!” Sometimes you do, and there’s no use at all in fooling yourself about it.
My concern with the veto power is that I think it actually promotes a lack of trust between partners. To me a veto says, “I don’t really trust your judgment, and I feel fairly sure that at some point, if you meet someone <more attractive><more intelligent><better in bed><name your insecurity>, and you will <leave me><screw me over><take your pick of your personal relationship “disaster”>.”
A veto also says, “I need something with more ‘firepower’ than merely asking for what I want.”
If that’s the way you feel, and feel it strongly enough to want yes or no say over someone else’s choices, is that relationship really a good idea for you? I mean seriously, think about it a minute.
Have I ever felt the need for a veto? Yep, sure did. And I took away from that experience that a desire for a veto is a big ole waving red flag that the particular relationship was Not Healthy for Mama Java, and I need to examine stuff really closely.
Now, I know how stuff like this can be twisted, so don’t take this article as an excuse to beat someone over the head, saying, “If you want a veto you don’t trust me. If you really love and trust me, you won’t even ask for such a thing!” If you get asked for a veto, it’s time for some introspection. Your partner knows you1. If you habitually lie, your partner knows it. If it is your habit to get obsessed and disregard agreements, your partner knows this. If you do not ask for what you want, but what you think you can “get away with”, your partner knows this, too.
Now look me in the eye and say, “But he should just trust me!” I’ll laugh my ass off, I will!
I suppose what it really boils down to is the emotional bank account. The emotional bank account is the amount of trust that has been built up in the relationship. Is it high? If it’s not, I am strongly of the opinion that polyamory with veto conditions is not the way to make those deposits. The very need for vetos means that the emotional bank account with your partner is not very high. You need to work on other things. The very veto agreement will prey on your mind – a constant reminder of the difficulties in the relationship.
This is not to say that I think boundaries in relationships are not needed. Of course I don’t think that! Agreements are important. Mutual understanding is very important. But the very concept of the veto is inherently false, as it says, “I get a say in what you do.” You don’t. You get to ask, but you don’t have the power to choose for someone else, so why pretend?
I think it’s important to keep things rooted in reality. In reality, if you’re edgy about someone’s new interest, you can ask for what you want and set your boundaries2 for what’s okay. It’s also fine to point out things that might concern you because you’re concerned about someone you love being hurt. That’s different from saying, “No, you can’t.” and is a lot more respectful of your partner’s boundaries.
1If you don’t feel like your partner knows you really well, you are a fucking idiot for even considering handing that person a veto. Sorry. I can’t sugarcoat that. It’s shooting yourself in the balls.
2Remember when you set your boundaries that this can only be done when you’re very clear on your locus of control. Don’t mix it up with what is genuinely not under your control!
This isn’t part of the article, but when I noticed the date it was going out, something in my own life hit me, so I have to say this. If you love someone, tell them. Love is a pretty simple and basic thing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean “I want to have your babies” or “I want a lifetime commitment.” It can be a lot simpler than that. I’m talking about friends and family just as much as any romantic relationship you have. Love is love! But…
Don’t let the opportunity pass. You never know if you might lose it. When the chance is gone, it’s gone forever. I know this sounds awful fluffybunny, but love ain’t fluffy and it is important.
23 thoughts on “Vetos”
I have never tried vetoes. The closest thing we have to that is a “if this progresses past this point a phone call is required” deal. And if I call my partner and he says I know you want to do action x with this person, but I can’t handle that right now, then I’ll probably say to ther person, hey can we do something else and do that another time. Then later a long discussion with partner on the whys will occur. But no outright, no you can’t do this.
Vetoes say to me, I can’t trust you to take my feelings into account in your decisions.
Vetoes allow for a lack of discussion and abuse of use.
The closest thing Master and I have to a veto is an old safeword that basically means we take a step back from the relationship and be “just” boyfriend and girlfriend for a second. Since we started out as close friends before our relationship started, we needed time to adjust, so we used it a lot early on. Since then, we’ve decided to take that word away from me – only Master can use it. I’ve requested it (twice, in four months) but he can choose whether or not it would be good for me. The amount of time we spend that way also depends completely on him. Since none of the control rests with me, I guess it doesn’t come close to being a veto.
The only way I think veto power would be okay is if the slave got ONE veto per month (or, say 12 per year, to be used whenever) so they’d save them for something they REALLY didn’t want to do. Even then, I think in a healthy relationship, no veto power should be required at all – if a slave feels that strongly about something, it should be a limit, and if it’s not, a good Master will assess the slave’s emotional state correctly. It really is about trust, and the whole idea of a veto kind of screams “I trust you, but only most of the time!”
I have to say that I both agree and disagree with you. To me, a veto is a method of cutting through the wild rush of oxytocin-and-whatever hormones that takes place during the New Relationship Energy phase. I think that not having one is not being realistic about the human condition: people make mistakes. People who are in LURVE make even more mistakes. A veto option is, to me, a sign that a relationship is extremely healthy: it says, “Hey I love you even when you’re stupid and irrational because of sex chemicals.”
Now *exercising* the veto option is a very different thing, to me, than having it and not using it. Exercising the veto means a big mistake has been made on the part of one or both of the people in the dyad. It *is* a red flag that says “Our relationship is unstable.” It *is* a sign you should immediately switch to “emergency relationship repair and renovation mode.”
And if you have to use it once a month? Um, what are you doing, doing poly that way? I would suspect less a relationship and more an unhealthy, co-dependent mess.
To me, a veto is like owning a handgun. I hope I never have to use mine, especially not in anger, but I am damn well not so Pollyanna as to think I’m totally safe without one.
“To me, a veto is like owning a handgun. I hope I never have to use mine, especially not in anger, but I am damn well not so Pollyanna as to think I’m totally safe without one.”
But its not like you’re safe with one either.
And heres where veto agreements to me seem more than a bit absurd. The assumption is, if we agree I have veto power, then we agree that when I say stop you’ll stop … in other words I’m TRUSTING you to stop when I say so. If I can’t trust my partner to listen to me because I’m in pain, or afraid, or seeing something detrimental going on … why do I think I can trust my partner to listen when I yell “veto!”? And if I can’t trust them to listen and take into account my feelings, then as mentioned in the article, do I really need to be involved with them?
If there is something wrong with my relationship, on what planet is telling my partner what to do, as if they are a child, going to help fix that? It might feel like a protection, or a safety outlet, but in reality, its exactly what the two people involved, make it. Just like the relationship to begin with.
Personally I feel use of veto power is a shortcut. Its a cop out. Its destructive and harmful. And why would you have an agreement you can’t use without causing more harm to your relationship?
I know that I speak from less experience than a seasoned polymonger, however I don’t think that a veto necessarily reflects insecurity.
Instead consider the possibility that your partner’s “got your back” and may see something that you don’t. I like having my judgment reconsidered because I’ve been wrong before and will be again. It’s a hubris check.
Yeah, I don’t necessarily agree with the results, but there’s a leap of faith that a person takes in a long term relationship. It’s a trust beyond one’s own judgment and into an investment of trust in that of your partner. And of course, your mileage may vary.
Well, Jordan, there’s a huge difference in my mind to giving someone whose opinion you respect a detailed and thoughtful listen and saying, “You have the power to tell me that I can or cannot do something.”
I can name ten people off the top of my head who if they said, “Java, you’re being a hormally crazed doofus,” I would reply, “Gosh, really? What do you see happening?” and then think really hard and carefully about what they had to say before choosing how next to act.
You’ve made a lot of good points about good judgment, and I particularly like your phrase “emotional bank account.” But I don’t agree with the central assumption of this post–that vetos are something special and different from boundaries, and that, as a result, they render unusual control and “ownership” to a partner with veto power. As I understand it, you’re using “veto” to refer to a way of forbidding intimate interaction with a particular person, yes? In other words: “If you sleep with/love/kiss/whatever this person, I will not continue my relationship with you.” I’ve got a few relationship rules that start with “If you…” and end in “I will not continue my relationship with you,” and I imagine I’m not the only person with such rules–even if they’re not made explicit. I can’t make people refrain from activities I don’t like, but I can make sure I don’t have intimate relationships with people who do certain things. It’s important, of course, to distinguish rules from preferences–to recognize that there are activities that one dislikes and puts up with, and there are activities that one dislikes and doesn’t put up with–but that’s an issue of discernment and precise thinking, and that’s a related but different point. In sum, when I express firm requirements by saying that I won’t have a relationship if you do X, I’m not forbidding my partner from doing something–I’m telling him or her that if he or she does it, he or she will stop being my partner.
Your partners do have a veto, and so do you, whether you’ve said so or not. You can veto with your feet, by leaving. Your partner knows this.
However, asking for “consultation rights” sounds more respectful than asking for “veto power.” Politeness and respect matter.
Just wanted to add my voice of support for this article; I agree with almost everything you wrote here, and a lot of the people throwing fits are missing the finer distinction points. Thanks for being bold and stating an unpopular position so eruditely!
Well, we could use sophistry and say that we’ll “consult seriously with each other” about new relationships, when what that really means is “use a veto” about new SOs when we really have serious concerns about them.
We know damned well that we cannot force anyone else to do as we ask, and that the only thing we actually control is our own behavior. So what a veto really means might be, “If I say, ‘No’ to this new plaything and you insist on bumping fuzzies, don’t be surprised when I change the locks/you come home to an empty house/you hear from the divorce lawyer/etc.” but we don’t spell all that out, either.
The shortcut there is “we have a veto arrangment.” It’s much simpler that way.
In practice, one doesn’t just say, “She’s vetoed” and refuse to talk further. (Well, not in our relationship, anyway – not in any healthy one that I can imagine.) The one time a veto has been used, it was more like this:
Sam: “S has expressed interest in (…) with me. What do you think?” (Note that Sam did not express any desire or serious interest here.)
(…..silence for a few minutes. okay, it would have been silence in a house without kids in other rooms.)
Sam: “You don’t like it.”
Cyn: “I’m thinking. What do you want?”
Sam: “It would be interesting, and she said it would help her and Y out.” (Again, note lack of emotional words.)
Cyn: “It isn’t that I don’t like S, exactly. She’s just – a tar baby. And I defintely hadn’t thought of her like that before. She seems to have a lot of . . . blow-ups in her life. Like, big explosions and drama every week.”
Sam: “She is very dramatic.”
Cyn: “I don’t do drama.”
Sam: “You won’t have to. There will be very definite boundaries.”
Cyn: “This just feels . . . . I don’t want to be the next person on her hit-list. I’m sorry.”
Sam: “That’s fine. I’ll tell her I just don’t have time right now.”
Cyn: “Thank you, honey.”
I’m gonna choose to stick to semantics a bit here.
Veto means to “forbid”. I have a hard time seeing you being so disrespectful as to FORBID a partner.
You reported what I would call a discussion and and agreement, not anyone being forbidden anything.
I can explain my need for a veto by referencing my previous marriage.
Wife: I love you, husband, and will remain with you for the rest of our lives.
Husband: I love you, wife, and will remain with you for the rest of our lives. You don’t need a veto.
New woman: Your wife hates me and treats me like dirt (not true).
Husband: I love you, new woman, and I want you to marry me. I will make a lifetime commitment with you without asking my wife. In fact: Wife, get thee gone.
New woman: I don’t want you, man.
Husband: Will you marry me, new woman?
New woman: No.
Husband: *shoots self in the head, dies*
Nowadays I have a veto so that if someone tries to break up my new marriage, I can say no.
If you actually expect that to happen, your relationship is not healthy and has problems that no amount of veto power is going to solve. If that actually happens, your relationship is even less healthy and still has problems that no amount of veto power is going to solve. Your comment sounds dangerously similar to that “I trust you, I don’t trust the other women” mentality that is stereotypical of ye olde jealous monogomaous girlfriend.
Wow – I got this reputation as a controlling bitch over a respectful discussion and agreement? 😉
It was, in fact, a veto – a forbiddance. However respectfully negotiated, the only way to express the agreement we have with regard to such things without going in to laborious explanation is that Sam and I have veto rights over each others’ involvements with others.
Thank you for the reminder about telling people to tell others you love them. I got very lucky, and spent the last 1/2 hour my dear husband was still aware, just being with him and letting him know I love him. He then had a massive stroke and died 4 days later. It’s important — I’m not sure I’d have survived knowing I hadn’t told him.
My primary and I both came to the same conclusions on vetoes, back before we ever got involved romantically: NEEDING a veto means the relationship is doomed. A veto is an ultimatum, and an ultimatum is the (eventual, if not immediate) death of a relationship. When you say, “You can’t do X, it is unacceptable to me” — which is either a veto or an ultimatum, depending on your perspective — the unspoken subtext is, “And if you do, I’m leaving.” If someone feels so strongly about doing — or preventing their partner from doing — something, that they are willing to run roughshod over their partner to do it, clearly the relationship is doomed …or extremely dysfunctional if it does last!
In my experience, every time that I felt I needed a veto, the relationship was horribly broken. If my experience ever changes, I will reconsider my position on vetoes.
I tend to agree and prefer not to use veto power in my relationships. If I object to someone strongly, I’ll talk about why and I’ll set up the boundaries I need to take care of myself and my kids but I won’t do an ultimatum or a veto.
I *have*, in the past, had to say something like, “If you sleep with X, I will be uncomfortable exposing myself to STD risk and you and I will not be intimate so long as your sexual involvement with her lasts. You will need to get an STD panel if we get reinvolved at some later date and I am seriously questioning your judgement here.” and did not feel that was unreasonable. The ultimate responsibility for my safety lies here, with me, and I take it very seriously. That’s about as close as a veto as I’ll get and if necessary I will terminate a relationship on my end so as to protect myself and my family, rather than give my partner an ultimatum once discussion and negotiation fail. Because that’s the point of boundaries, non?
“Here is my hard line. Do what you will, it’s fine, but here is the line that for me is uncrossable and if you must go beyond that line, then here is the result of that choice.”
I totally agree with what Rainy said also, btw. (BTDT. *sigh*)
What an interesting subtlely. This summer I had a situation that went round and round for a little while along the lines of him: “I’m really NOT comfortable with that” “You’re a grown woman though you can make your own decisions, but I’m REALLY not comfortable with that”. I suppose that wasn’t a veto, but in a lot of ways it felt like one at the time, because I knew potentially irreparable damage could ensue. In retrospect though it wasn’t a good situation, but not for the reasons he thought it was.
I always like reading what you have to say though, keep it up 🙂
When someone is saying you can make your own decisions, no, that’s not a veto.
However, boundaries are IMPORTANT in a relationship and talking about wants and needs is also important.
To me, a veto is like owning a handgun.
Owning a handgun means that you have made a decision that, if need be, you are willing to use deadly force. It’s not merely a backup measure.
As someone already said, everybody really has a veto: If you do this, our relationship is over. To me, a veto is too tempting a way to shortcut communication. If you’re the veto-ee, you don’t have to listen to your partner so much because if you’re really acting like an addled moron, they’ll veto you; if you’re the veto-er, you don’t have to deal with unpleasant feelings, you just hit the “stop” button.
And I’ve seen far too many “poly” relationships where one secondary after another gets a veto until the veto-ee finally figures out that the veto is not a last safety measure, but emotional blackmail.
I have a veto over my husband’s relationships, for the simple reason that my husband is poly, but he’s also got a lot of growing up to do. He’s new to poly and he’s also new to committed relationships, so his judgment unfortunately isn’t very good yet. He felt he couldn’t work on commitment and social skills issues if his poly drive was being suppressed, so our relationship is open on his side. But his relationship skills are barely up to maintaining even one healthy relationship, so I have a veto. I use it when he wants to pursue people whose values clash badly with mine and who don’t respect boundaries, or people who represent a significant health risk (my husband thinks people who swing without condoms are fine; I don’t, especially because my husband often does not use condoms, either). I agree that if a relationship is truly mature and healthy, and the partners treat each other with love and respect, there should be no need for a veto. My husband is getting better at his relationship skills all the time. I think in a couple of years I won’t need a veto, and I’ll be happy about that – I would much rather just be able to trust his judgment. But until that day comes, I think it only makes sense to have one. It’s kind of like training wheels on a bicycle for us.