September 12, 2007
Control Tower & Kink Calendar
The Veto

By Mistress Matisse

It's something you hear a lot when a previously monogamous couple decides to become polyamorous and start seeing other people. They say, "Of course we have veto power over each other's other partners. If something doesn't feel okay to me, then I tell my partner they have to end the other relationship."

I understand why people say this. My lovers and I said the same thing when I began practicing poly. I said it so my partner wouldn't feel insecure; my partners said it as a way of reassuring themselves that they had some control over the situation. Those aren't bad things to want. It's just that the veto clause is rather like the nuclear weapon of poly: Using it might neutralize one set of threats, but it's going to create other problems that won't have a quick fix.

Let's break down the potential chain of events. Your honey starts seeing someone else. It's great for a while, but then something happens and you feel jealous and scared and it isn't fun anymore. So you invoke the veto and demand that your partner dump the other person.

One of two things will happen. Outcome A is that your sweetie will indeed break up with the other lover. But you can bet he/she won't be happy about it, so you'll have a resentful partner who's lost some trust in you. And since the two of you will not have worked out whatever issue it was that made you call veto, the same scenario will occur over and over again. If not corrected, the tension and emotional distance this cycle creates will poison your relationship.

Outcome B is that your partner will say, "No, I won't break it off." Then what will you do? Throw a fit? Pack your bags and leave? Stay and sulk? You don't have any really good options there.

Instead of making demands, I find it's better to work on listening to each other without defensiveness. I don't expect to never feel jealous or insecure in my poly life. Everybody feels that way at some time or other—including monogamous people—so you need to learn to fix the underlying problem instead of just pushing the red button. If Max, or one of Max's other partners, did something that I felt was inappropriate, I'd talk to him about that behavior. If necessary, all three of us would talk about it. If Max completely disagreed with my perceptions about the situation, then the problem isn't really her. The problem is that either I've misunderstood something, or Max and I have a major disconnect in our idea of what types of behaviors are okay and what aren't.

There is one point in time when you may invoke a veto without the nuclear fallout, and that time is before any relationship starts. I mean, way before. For example: Poly couple Pat and Chris meet Bob at a party. Pat thinks Bob is cute. Chris thinks he's crazy as a bedbug, but notices that Pat is flirting with Bob. In the car on the way home, Chris calmly remarks to Pat that apparently Bob often hears voices talking to him from electrical outlets. "So it's fine that you were flirting, but based on that, I'd be uncomfortable with you dating him."

That's an appropriately executed poly veto. It's not a guarantee that Pat will never date Bob. But starting the feedback before emotions and slippery bits get involved gives you a better chance of avoiding all-out war.