In her research article, Anne-Laure Le Cunff defines veto as an agreement in polyamorous relationships that gives one person the power to end their partner’s other relationships. From my experience, her definition could be applied to any kind of relationship – monogamous, non-monogamous, friendship, or other.
Exercising a veto can be one of the most damaging behaviors in a relationship. Sure, there are couples that agreed to the veto power and are still together, but I’ve seen far more cases where the relationship fell apart thanks to the toxicity of the veto. Luckily I’ve never felt like I had to veto any of my partner’s partners, so I may be biased, but regardless, I don’t think it would be right for me to dictate their life in this way. Essentially, it is not my business. But I have been vetoed as a secondary partner… and I’m still recovering from that.
I usually ask my new poly friends how they feel about veto as early as possible, if I’m seeking a relationship with them. If they are for it, I know right away not to get involved. Unfortunately, sometimes the primary partner changes their mind after the new relationship has already began – as it happened to me recently and to Rae912, a Reddit user, as they shared in this very informative thread. I remember my best friend in second grade telling me that she didn’t want me to hang out with this other girl I wanted to be friends with. I knew it was my choice who to hang out with, but even just hearing that from my beloved best friend put a strain on our friendship.
I see why some couples might think veto power is a good idea. It might help them avoid dealing with jealousy, loneliness, and other types of triggering feelings. But it gives a false sense of control over the situation to the couple – “if this open thing causes pain, there’s always veto, right?”.. WRONG! Veto will only cause more pain to the person who agrees to it, the other partner, and eventually to the one who originally imposed it. It’s a hard pill to swallow when your primary partner prioritizes their comfort over your happiness, even if with someone else.
Mistress Mattisse thinks there are two possible outcomes in a situation where veto is invoked – either the person asked to end their “secondary” relationship will do so and will then become resentful towards their “primary” partner, or they won’t, in which case the veto requestor’s only choice is to leave the relationship.
Exercising veto power towards an established relationship is similar to revoking consent to polyamory in a marriage that has been open for a while. I came across this Reddit thread which I found very relevant. The original poster had informed his wife after months of being in an open marriage (which they both agreed to) that he wanted her to stop seeing her other partners. He asked the Reddit community for their opinion on who’s right and got a slew of responses. The general consensus among Reddit’s poly members was that it it’s not up to the husband to consent or not consent to his wife’s other relationships. The only thing he could consent to is whether or not he stayed in his marriage knowing that his wife had other relationships.
In her article “When your partner pulls a veto”, Lola Phoenix suggests that when one partner is polyamorous and the other one isn’t sure anymore, the best choice may be to go separate ways. That is if they’ve tried talking about it and could not find a way to stay in a mono/poly relationship. I agree with Lola, I think mono/poly relationships are possible if both partners focus on communicating and addressing each other’s needs while respecting each other’s preferences. It is not an easy route to take though.
Chris Eppstein suggests these alternatives to vetoing – talking things through, keeping relationships (and metamours) completely siloed, ending the relationship if it’s not working out, and having a vetting process very early on before things get serious with a new partner. I can see the benefit of a vetting process, but even that is unnecessary, in my opinion. Poly people on Quora agree: it might be okay to use the veto only when it comes to unhealthy, toxic or abusive metamours. Although, I think my partners can sense the toxicity even before I do and make solid judgements about whether their potential new dates are safe choices.
Page Turner , the author of “Poly Land” compares exercising veto power to being a strict parent. “Even if you’ve never gone through this as a polyamorous person, some of you who had strict parents might understand this”, she writes. “You’re breaking up with her, and that’s final!” . I heard a version of this during my childhood when I hung out with some shady friends. Did my parents’ demands stop me from hanging out with the wrong crowd? No, it just made me more careful about when I did.
Another reason not to veto – remember that the forbidden fruit is so much sweeter. If you forbid your partner to see someone they really want to see, all they will think about is how badly they want to see that person and how horrible you are for not letting them do that. I wouldn’t want to be the bad guy to anyone I love, would you?
All relationships – poly or not – should be based on mutual respect and veto spits in the face of that by shifting the delicate balance of trust and power dynamics. I leave it up to you to decide whether the risk is worth it, but from all the research I’ve done and from everything I’ve seen and experienced personally, veto power is the slow death of any relationship.