Ask Polyamory Paradigm

Check out my new question and answer blog!

Monday, September 6, 2010


I like to talk about polyamory. Anyone who reads my articles will figure that out pretty quick. I like to learn new concepts and terms. I like to understand how people deal with problems and what about polyamory makes them happy.

Regular readers will also know that I hear and talk a lot about rules. Being a logical person I enjoy the definition rules provide. I also like to think I know when the use of rules should be avoided. And there are a lot of different rules out there to say the least!

Something I ran across recently wasn't exactly a rule but I'm going to lump it into that category since I don't know where else it fits. In a casual conversation someone made the statement, "Oh, that wouldn't be allowed." when talking about their partner. Incredulously I ask them to elaborate to which they replied, "I wouldn't let them do that." I expressed my confusion around how they would prevent their partner, obviously a human being possessing free will, from doing anything.

After some more conversation what I learned was that their relationship included "Veto" power over one another. Further definition revealed they have agreed that either of them may exercise a veto without providing cause for the veto.

For example; One partner wants to attend a "play party" and enjoy the ability to be intimate with someone if they so desire. The other partner can veto that desire without cause. The first partner will then not become intimate with the person. They will accept the veto as absolute.

Although having veto powers seems to work for the couple mentioned I would have serious concerns about such a thing. I would think it would be quite easy to exercise veto power to avoid dealing with things like jealousy, being lonely, ownership issues, and more. It could easily become a tool someone would use to avoid dealing with their personal, or even their relationship, issues. It would also concern me in an "absolute veto" situation that the other person might not have consideration for my needs or desires in mind when they exercised their veto power.

But as always, I like to try and be fair and understand both sides of something. In thinking about this some more I realized I couldn't completely comprehend the situation because I've never existed in a relationship with veto power. The closest I could come was to relate it to a disagreement between two partners.

Let's put two people without veto power into the situation I mentioned above. One partner wants to attend a "play party" and enjoy the ability to be intimate with someone if they so desire. The other partner voices concerns, saying yes they can go to the party but would rather they didn't become intimate with someone.

They now have a disagreement over the actions of the first partner.

Now this is a rough example and the person hasn't actually been told, "No. You can't do that." But they know they now have a choice to make; respect the wishes of their partner or go against those wishes.

Has the person voicing their disagreement exercised what is in effect a veto? In other words, is refusing to agree with something your partner has proposed the equivalent of exercising veto power?

I don't think it is. A veto implies a final ruling, with no exceptions or explanations, has been made. A disagreement on the other hand is a negotiable situation. The two parties can talk to try and understand their positions and even compromise if they find mutual ground.

My own beliefs are actually different than those already mentioned. I personally believe in choices. If I don't agree with my partner I am happy to engage in a conversation and explain why I don't agree. I won't try to change their opinion or control their actions in that conversation. What I will do however is have a "What if?" conversation and let them know what effect their choices may have, and what actions I may take as a result.

Putting myself in the example above my response would be something like; "If you go to the party and have intimate relations with the people there, whom I don't think are safe, I wouldn't be comfortable having unprotected sex with you again until you had completed STD testing. If you go and aren't intimate with anyone our relationship can continue with fluid bonding intact."

Notice I don't say I would be mad or that I would end the relationship. I very simply state how I would expect to react to the possible choices I believe my partner has available. My partner then has all the information they should need to make a choice, knowing exactly what risks they would be taking, and what the result of their choice will be. As clarification, I try to be clear in my relationships that I will never be angry or end a relationship solely because of a choice someone has made, assuming the choice contained no malice or bad intent. I believe everyone has choices and a by-product of that concept is that being humans we sometimes make bad choices. Partnering with someone in a relationship to me means that we will work through bad choices without creating a permanent scar on our relationship.

Where I'm not clear on veto power is what will happen when a veto is ignored. It was a question I asked but the only answer I got was "That won't happen. They know if I veto something they can't do it." Which I believe is a completely unrealistic expectation. Sooner or later a veto will be broken.

Wrapping this up I would have to say that I don't think veto power is very healthy. I can respect that it might work for some folks but I don't see it ever being a part of my relationships. Of course everyone has deal-breakers, bottom lines, moral boundaries and such, but those things are often negotiable and sometimes misunderstood when in reality the partners are more in agreement than disagreement. As I understand veto power I don't see much, if any, flexibility.

Do you have veto powers in your relationship? Have you ever been in a relationship where you had veto power? Is veto power healthy or dangerous? What would have to happen in a relationship for you to allow someone to have veto power over your actions?


  1. Don't you think the veto rule can be easily compromised? Let's say my partner wants a date with someone i really dislike, but i have already used the veto on someone else (assuming we have each an equal number of veto). I mighg "gain" a new extra veto right by pretending i want a date with someone i know for sure my partner will have to veto out. There you go.. Veto rule completely compromised by the twisted human nature.

  2. Lovejunkie84,
    Thanks for the comment, you make a very good point!

    I would hope that the partners involved in a relationship that included veto power would have the maturity to avoid what you suggest. At the same time I’m somewhat of a realist and I agree with you, that it could easily happen resulting possibly in a subconscious “score-card” type situation.

    Just another reason why I don’t see Veto power ever being a component of my relationships and am not convinced it is healthy. I know there are some folks who make it work though I still can’t say I completely understand how.