When working with couples who have difficulty in making decisions regarding various facets of their joint life, I find that effective use of the “veto” can be helpful. Obviously I do not use the word “veto” in the sense of government and Constitutional power. One of the definitions of veto is to prohibit from going forth. I think there is a productive use of a veto in a marriage. Let me explain why I choose such an emphatic term.
In a committed relationship there is an exchange of power. The goal in this exchange is to make decisions that are respectful of each person’s interest and results in a win-win decision, not win-lose. Too often in marriage one person is more the controller, usually more self-centered than his or her pleaser type who tends to give in on an issue.
The “veto” says that a suggestion, idea, direction is not going to happen. The person using the veto is establishing a boundary that prohibits any further consideration of a proposal.
Let me use a couple of examples that have come up in marriage counseling which have divided a couple and left each one “frustrated” (female) or “angry” (male). (Yes, this is a stereotype but it fits so many couples.)
- Buying an object for their home. Joe wants a deer head in the den. Sally doesn’t like the idea. This argument could go on and on, but if Sally employs the “veto”, it’s over. The decision is made – no deer head in the den. Or, Sally thinks this feminine pink love seat would look great in the living room. Joe says, “over my dead body” and yells “veto”! Sally ponders his statement of his demise and then agrees to the veto and gives up the idea of the preferred love seat. In each of these cases, once the deer head and the love seat were off the table, the couple was able to further communicate, compromise, and come up with something for the den and the living room that each could live with.
- Where to go out for dinner. Sally wants to try out a new sushi restaurant. Joe says he doesn’t eat “bait” and says he won’t go to it. He plays the veto card. Sally is frustrated because she has heard some good reviews from her girl friends. Joe says he wants to go to the sports bar so he can watch the ball games. Sally doesn’t want that because she wants to have her husband’s attention and some conversation. Veto is her response to that. As a result of each veto the couple’s disagreement doesn’t escalate and they find a nice Italian restaurant that both can live with.
These two situations may seem silly or mundane to some of you but I can assure you that so many arguments I witness in counseling are about these topics or other seemingly mundane issues. People get invested in their choices and often excessively push them on to their partner. Perhaps you can think of an example or two when you two disagree about what to do and each stridently tries to influence the other to agree to his or her way.
By employing the veto you can stop the argument from escalating and can rather spend the time looking at alternatives that each of you can buy into for a win-win solution. To do this effectively one of you (usually the most “enlightened” of you two) needs to say to the other, “I read this great idea from Dr. Stathas about using a veto to stop debate, and potential arguments, by using a veto when either of us proposes something that the other person cannot comfortably accept. Let’s agree to do that”.”Yes, Dear”!
“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates