Why Do Most Women Find Polygamy Hard to Accept?

The answer to why polygamy is so hard for most women to accept in many people’s minds might seem obvious – it goes something like this:

This is not how marriage is supposed to be. It’s not natural; what’s natural is for one man and one woman to be married, and polygamy is for exceptional reasons. Monogamy is the norm – the norm as a species and so the norm in most cultures.

So in having this mindset, when a husband takes another wife, it feels like adultery; the feelings of betrayal are the most overwhelming, pelting you down to the ground and kicking you where it hurts the most – your heart. If someone can be prepared to hurt you this much, do they really love you?

And then there is the worst of emotions, the big bad one that causes most of the issues in polygamy: jealousy. Polygamy takes away time and resources  from a woman and her children, but most significantly it takes away the exclusivity of attraction and attention which for many women (and men) supports their sense of self-worth.

But what if we look at these reasonings, unpick them and try to see where our thinking might be causing us more pain than necessary. Because many Muslim women, including myself, have an internal mental struggle between accepting the legitimacy of polygamy and their own aversion to it. We can conveniently brush the topic under the carpet, reserving the need to think about polygamy only in extreme cases such as when there were many widows from wars gone by or when a woman cannot bear children. But if we look at the previous post and accept that men naturally incline to more than one mate, and evidence from real life shows this, then we have to be brave enough to look at and challenge the reasons for disliking polygamy.

So coming up in future posts insha Allah, I’ll look more closely at betrayal, jealousy and the cultural influences that make polygamy hard for women to accept. 

What other factors might be making polygamy is so hard for women to accept? Let’s hear from you in the comments.


Why Do Men Choose Polygamy?

When you find out your husband wants to have another wife or has actually married again, one of the first questions that plagues you is: why?

Yes, it is allowed in Islam, often recommended, but so are many things which have less impact on people’s lives yet are conveniently forgotten – Qiyam ul Lail anyone?

But this question of ‘why?’ has roots grappling with a woman’ self-esteem and so I think is important to address.

I recently read about a woman whose husband had decided he wanted to get a second wife. She couldn’t understand it because he said he was happy with her, and she felt they had a perfect marriage. This assumption that men get another wife because their first isn’t enough or satisfying them often is false. Yes,  this can be a reason and maybe they stay with the first out of loyalty, or because of the children, or because things aren’t that bad. Maybe in the worst case scenario, things are actually fixable but due to lack of communication, the marital problems don’t get addressed. But if a man thinks another wife will automatically be the antidote to a failing marriage, he is entering dangerous territory. What if the husband is the main one at fault? Then the second marriage is likely to go down the same route.

There must be something wrong with me if my husband wants another wife!  

Assuming something is wrong with the first wife is a big mistake made by outsiders and well as the wife herself. The feeling of “Something’s wrong with me!” leads to a greater lack of self-esteem, which only magnifies the difficulties a woman faces being  in an unwilling polygamous marriage. Listen, chances are your husband is happy with you. You are a loving person, you are a great wife.

So if a man is happy with his current wife, why seek out another? All men are different and so all men have their different reasons to want to have more than one wife. There are the few who choose polygamy primarily in order to fufil the Sunnah, or to be a protector for a woman who, unfortunately in this day and age, would normally have difficulty finding a marriage partner (for example, older widows or divorcees with many children).

There is the usual reasoning of men generally having a higher sex drive, but marriage isn’t just about sex. A common reason is just because they have a natural inclination to it, and because they can – Allah SWT has given then that right. Of course, this reasoning doesn’t often make  a woman feel immediately at peace with the situation. Logically, yes, it makes sense,  but emotionally it can be really hard to accept. Logically, a woman should be pretty content with a fair and just husband who practices polygamy properly. ‘All’ she potentially loses is time, which in fact can make a relationship stronger and more intense and enjoyable – absence makes the heart grow stronger as they say. When you know you only have three nights a week with your husband, you don’t want to waste  it on bickering and sulks. And the extra effort you put in those days, you can recover from during your days off the ‘work’ of being a wife. But this is just logic. Logic is often a poor band-aid, especially in the early days, for the the raw emotions of jealousy, self-hatred and despair that may be triggered by a husband taking another wife. These feelings may not be the expected by the husband, especially if he thinks she has a high level of iman, but  these have to be acknowledged rather than dismissed.

Insha Allah, I will delve further into the reasons why women have such a difficult time accepting polygamy in the next post.

Unpicking Polygamy: My Husband Got a Second Wife!

I did not write about my experiences with polygamy in order to gain any sympathy, nor to discuss the rights and wrongs of what happened. Simply, it was to show where I am coming from and the background I have in the subject. When I was coming to terms with the being in the reality of polygamy, I really couldn’t find much online that  helped me, but did manage in the end to find online support groups and get different perspectives and advice from there, as well as face to face counselling.

So I decided to start writing my thoughts and reflections thus far to fill this gap, and I sincerely hope that  someone out there will benefit in some way. So, let’s start unpicking polygamy!

OK,  you find out your husband wants to or has already taken another wife and this was never on your agenda. What do you often  hear if you express your displeasure (and I am being polite here – for reasons I plan to discuss another day,  displeasure is usually an understatement) ?
You may get:

“Just deal with it!”

This is the worst thing anyone can say to you – especially a husband –  if you are having a hard time coming to terms with polygamy. You’ll probably also hear, “Well it’s part of Islam so you should just accept it.”`or even that “you should love it.”

This may be advice given with sincerity but is not helpful and for those of us not having polygamy in our culture, it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference. The heartache is still going to hurt; you’ll most likely feel torn apart.

Yes, most of us want to accept and be happy with what has been decreed in our life, but no one said it was going to be easy – and it’s not meant to be – sabr and tawwakul (patience and complete reliance on God) is not something you can order from Amazon – it takes work.

Help with this work is what you need. You want understanding and acceptance of your feelings; validation that you are actually feeling rock bottom and want to wake up from this nightmare. You need time – time to take it all  in,  time to let the sadness take its course which is necessary or else it will be bottled up,  ready to ferment and explode at a later date. A huge mental shift is being expected of you, let alone practical changes to your life.

But what do you do when the reality of polygamy hits? Talk to someone who is going to accept your feelings,  someone who  knows what you’re going through perhaps,  someone who has travelled that journey and can show you there is a life still full of light outside the dark hole you feel you’re trapped in right now.

If you have no one to talk to, find online groups (contact the Polygamy Unpicked FB page if you need recommendations),  write your feelings down. Just don’t shut it all in and be the heroine. The feelings you are having in this situation are akin to grief – the marriage you thought you had has gone (although you might not believe me now, there is strong possibility there  is something better for you going to replace that loss) and no one would expect someone grieving just to carry on as if nothing had happened nor seek help.

You need someone to hear your feelings, preferably your husband, and to respect them even if they disagree with them or find them uncomfortable. Because to move towards some sort of acceptance and corner-turning  in this situation, these feelings have be out and not archived for future attacks and bitterness. They need to be out so something better can replace them.

Polygamy, Monogamy – What’s Going on?

So after the initial, difficult realization I was back in polygamy, I’d somehow got myself on an even keel; although I knew I had a tough time ahead, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t had for a long time – the waves of the storm had eased to a gentle ripple on the shore. I got on with life, got on with being me rather than the obsession of coupledom.

About ten days later, hub returned and we were planning a trip to the other city to meet up, all of us – kids, wives and him. Then my new cowife kept contacting my husband, which to be honest, I wasn’t so happy about as now I finally had some time with him, I didn’t want it interrupted. But it was serious – her relatives had found out and were irate. Things went from bad to worse and then, suddenly, it was over – she wanted no more contact. Whatever her family had said to her, it changed her attitude completely, and there was no way to find out what it was.

So there we were, my husband and I, back in monogamy. Both other relationships had ended without any part played by me – I was so grateful that was the way, I would never want to be the source of any resentment.

I intend to keep on writing about the subject because my husband would like to be in polygamy again, and there is lots to be learned from this type of life experience – about self-esteem, relationships in general, facing hardships, the list goes on – so I hope you’ll keep following this blog and recommend it to others. Please feel free to comment and share your experiences for all to benefit.

As the saying goes, if it something doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. 

Is that the End of the Polygamy Story?

I wrote ‘Confessions of  a Reluctant Cowife’, which you can read here, about three months after finding out I was in polygamy. Thereafter was a strange,  twilight hour time of being in a polygamous relationship but at the same time, not. I’ll explain: I had a visit from my co and  their baby, and I tried my best to be friendly and accommodating,  but I think the meet up brought home the reality of the situation to her too – and this released a couple of issues from her side which were already brewing.  To cut a long story short, the main issue was she had doubts about Islam, the mainstream Islam that we as a family were following, and she had found her own way. So over the next few months of her being away from my husband a lot due to her own family issues, and because the daw’ah my husband gave her was getting nowhere,  it became clear that the marriage was not going to work. So this could have been the end of the story, but there was another chapter already in its first draft.

In the background, there had been another person wanting to get into what many would see as this weird setup. A coworker of my husband had wanted to marry him for a long time. She was very young and not practising Islam properly but was accepting of polygamy and had started to be interested in practising. I always thought this was all wishful thinking from both her and my husband’s sides; she was not moving forward much with her religion and our situation,  really,  who would want this complication when you could easily find a husband being so young and pretty? But as cowife #1 was disappearing into the horizon,  #2 was getting more impatient and was apparently trying to practice more, and so my husband started discussing more seriously about marrying her. Of course,  I was not happy – I was still trying to mend a broken heart. But to cut the story short again,  I did feel obliged to help this sister practise,  and she was always trying to help me and my kids – it was very different to the first scenario – so I tried to make the best of it.

Now I said in my last post,  I still wanted my husband to hide something from me. He was now being upfront with everything, which in itself was actually difficult. When you’re not wanting to be in polygamy, most of the time the feeling is you just wanted this all to go away! But I did ask one thing. That I did not be informed of the exact wedding date. I just had that biting dread of if I had to be at home alone, knowing what was going on, I would completely lose the plot. So he respected my wishes – this was possible because he worked away a lot so it could be any time he was away – but when he did tell me they had married, a few days later,  I was still devastated. But somehow, with a lot of du’a, and a lot of mental work I’d done on issues due to my first experience (which I plan to write on in the future),  I turned myself around and started to come to terms with what I thought was the new normal.
But within a couple of weeks,  all this transformation was turned on its head. I’ll let you know exactly how in the next post, inshaAllah.

Reactions to My Story

I am grateful for those who took the time to read my last post and to those who wrote a response. The latter reminded me that my own similar initial reactions – shock, disbelief, a sense of disrespect and injustice,  wanting to end things – were normal. But I knew, deep down, running away was not a good option, especially if it were a decision made in haste and anger, so initially I confided in people I thought would be able to give me balanced advice, who had experience of this particular sort of situation. It would have been all too easy to seek sympathy in friends and maybe family who would bolster support for a swift exit from my marriage.

Nothing changed in our relationship while he had a second wife. He was away on business regularly anyway. The second wife had agreed for the distribution of time as it was, and she was encouraging him to tell me. In a way, never knowing could have been easier. But this wouldn’t be practical, nor fair on the siblings, and the crux of the issue here – honesty – would inevitably be compromised. My husband had not wanted to keep things from me – there had never seemed to have been a right time to reveal all. I don’t believe there is ever a right time. But thereafter, he then promised to be upfront with me, and I was willing to try trusting him again.

Why I posted the story was to give a background to show where I am coming from and to give hope to anyone in a similar situation that feeling better is actually possible. Now, in this blog, I intend to look at why the whole thing of polygamy is such a big deal and how to handle the emotional turmoil that usually accompanies it.

Still, there is a bit more background to tell. So, several months later, why did I actually want him to hide something from me again? Had I gone mad? Find out in the next post.