I’ve been asked on several occasions how long it took me to accept being in a polygamous situation. Two metaphorical pieces of string are involved here. Firstly, what is acceptance? Yes, I accept polygamy is part of Islam – how can I deny that? Whether it is ‘right’ for our family, or my marital relationship is another matter. Basic acceptance at logical level is the first step, and shouldn’t take so long if things are being done fairly and everyone involved is following their religion. But being happy and grateful for the change in lifestyle I think is something that will likely take a long time.
The length of the second piece of string is due to a person’s individual situation and opinions, past experiences, level of iman and many other factors – including the way polygamy is done.
I remember asking a friend in the early days, who was happily in polygamy, how long am I going to feel this bad? She replied, a couple of months. Six months later, still struggling, I asked her again and she said it could take a year. My situation wasn’t straightforward though. It involved two other cowives, a miscarriage, a failing business and what I believe took the longest to overcome – trust issues.
At the time I felt like I was occupying a dark period in my life, but at the same time, it wasn’t a 24/7 living hell. Life went on, the kids needed their sandwiches made, work tasks needed to be done. However, I knew the daily crying sessions were not sustainable and all I wanted was to feel at peace, have sakinah. This didn’t necessarily mean that polygamy should disappear from my life altogether, although this did seem to be the obvious and quickest way back to a sense of serenity.
It is now, about two years on and no longer in that particular polygamy situation, that I appreciate a day without a pain in the stomach appearing at least once. I still get triggered by certain thoughts that randomly pop up, or other external triggers such as ‘on this day’ on Facebook, and even dreams/nightmares.
I have read about a lot of people, initially unhappy (and I put this mildly) about being part of polygamy, but in time have come to accept and maybe even thrive in it.
But what if you don’t or can’t accept it? Well then the option is to seek a divorce, which only you know is right for you and will be a better situation for you than in a polygamous one. When I myself considered this, I did take into account the hadith “If a women asks her husband for a divorce, for no reason, then the smell of paradise is forbidden for her”. (At-Tirmidhi) and I am glad I didn’t go that far. So please consult a trustworthy sheikh who may well say you have grounds for seeking khula.
So logically I am in a total place of acceptance of polygamy if it is done according to Qur’an and Sunnah with full justice and amicability between all involved. Emotionally I don’t know when that will be. Before my marriage became monogamous again due to outside factors, I felt like that the emotional acceptance would come as time goes on and the situation became the norm for me, but this would be a long process after 15 plus years of monogamy. Like someone who is used to being a couch potato, they would have a lot of painful sessions at the gym and sacrifices of their favourite foods in order to become fit and healthy. The long term benefits of a healthy lifestyle wouldn’t be noticeable for many months and the extended life expectancy wouldn’t be apparent for years. But all the initial difficulties that would have to be overcome, would in time seem worth it.
When I mentioned to someone that it felt like a period of grief when I found out I was in polygamy, someone who was fully positive about polygamy did actually agree with me. Grief involves denial and finally acceptance. We don’t expect people to get over the death of a loved one overnight, so why should anyone expect a woman not wanting polygamy to ‘get over’ her feelings in a short space of time. It may be tough for the man involved to see his wife hurt and upset, but this is likely a necessary part of the process to firstly at least logically accept things, and eventually emotionally be in place of peace.
Unfortunately there are no quick fixes to this situation – just patience, prayer and love.
Wishing these for all those having a difficult time right now in polygamy so they can feel peace again in their heart.