Advice to Men Considering Polygamy

Last week, I wrote about the Second Wife’s perspective in polygamy. Today I’m sharing some sincere advice for the men thinking of polygamy (polygyny) written by Hasan Clay, MBA, ABD and Naaila Moumaris-Clay

I think this is of course useful for any men out there to read, but also for women. It shows that polygamy is not an easy path to take if done properly. But the men that do their duties as they should deserve some credit.

Remembering which key is to which house is the least of a polygamous man’s worries

POLYGYNY: All Things Considered

1. You will miss your wife while with the other wife.
2. It will feel awkward initially when establishing a home with the new wife. You may not feel so comfortable and desire to be “at home”, the other house.
3. You will miss seeing your children. This may make it harder to fairly implement time.
4. You will have to resist submitting to your wife’s emotions, and may appear insensitive, to limit manipulation.
5. Find ways to be sensitive and to do more to show love and appreciation. No matter what you do, emotionally and mentally, you will come up short. Do and be extra when you can.
6. You will never be able to control the relationship of your wives. For this reason, selection is key.
7. You will be forced to make decisions you do not want to make. These women and families are intertwined due to you. Don’t ever take a back seat on leadership.
8. You may briefly lose some of the closeness you had with your existing wife as she learns to trust your decision to take another wife. It can be regained.
9. Unless you are wealthy, you will likely encounter a financial struggle with one or both homes, unexpectedly. Even if you do not have to initially, plan to take care of each household. You may have to.
10. With the additional responsibilities, you may periodically tire of the sexual benefit of multiple wives.
11. Your children deserve an explanation for your absence in the home. You should inform them.
12. Giving one wife more benefits or time will likely give her a feeling of superiority. This will come back to haunt you.
13. When you insist upon keeping your wives separate, you create doubt and lack of trust. It allows for a man to be raggedy and you know it. Don’t do it. You look like a man with poor character.

Hasan Clay, MBA, ABD and Naaila Moumaris-Clay, MS, NCC ©2017

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The Second Wife

Most of this blog looks at polygamy from the perspective of the first wife – that’s the role I’ve had and it’s most often the first wife who has issues with polygamy. A second wife should have no problems with polygamy, she chose it after all, right? Really, how can someone coming into a marriage knowing her husband is already married really complain? The words ‘homewrecker’ and ‘selfish’ often come up in conversations about second wives.

Woah! Hold on!

Yes, some of the above is sometimes the case, but polygamy is not an easy option, whatever the ‘wife order’ (which by the way, irks a lot of people because wives are supposed to be treated justly and having the 1st, 2nd etc. gives a sense that the first is somehow superior.)

From what I’ve seen, jealousy is also an issue for subsequent wives. They can feel jealous because of the stereotype in brackets above, or even because the husband has alluded or outright stated his preference. They can sense the green monster creeping up on them when they think about all that time their husband had with wife #1 before he became polygamous, and all the firsts they have together. Jealousy is something almost everyone is afflicted with at some point and just because someone chose to be in a polygamous marriage doesn’t mean they deserve less sympathy than anyone else.

Some second wives may have unknowingly become #2 and had thought they were in monogamy, until the husband plucks up the courage to reveal they have another wife, probably in another country.

Some may have difficulties finding a husband of good deen and character and the only other option is spinsterhood.

Some may want to follow the Sunnah and have overcome their nafs to go for polygamy.

Some may be in a situation such as being a divorcee or widow and also having several young children, which makes it extremely hard to find a husband (through no fault of their own but rather through the ignorant bias of their community.)

Some may just like a bit of time to themselves and find being a ‘part-time’ wife convenient to their lifestyle.

I don’t have the statistics, but going out to be a homewrecker, expecting their husband to divorce his first wife so she can have him to herself is hopefully not as common as it seems.

It does happen, but occasionally I come across stories which alter your perspective on second wifedom. Take, for example that of a sister,  let’s call her sister A, who begged her husband not to take a second wife. He complied and so the lady lined up (who was in a difficult situation, I believe widowed with young children) was rejected. Not long after, the husband died and sister A  found herself in a similar situation to the woman who could been her cowife. And guess what, sister A remarried and became a second wife herself, despite her new husband’s first wife having a hard time accepting polygamy. This first wife overcame her negative attitude to having a cowife, seeing how it could benefit a fellow sister – and of course a wave of guilt overcame sister A.

Yes, have sympathy and support those sisters whose husbands want to or have taken a second wife and find polygamy hard, but don’t assume those who become second wives have it so easy.

They often have all the struggles like anyone else and need support too.

  (Here’s a link to a book showing a different perspective of a second wife, His Other Wife by Umm Zakiyyah -worth a read! Also, check out Polygamy Unpicked’s  Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter!)

 

 

Polygamy in ‘The Color Purple’

Polygamy, especially as it’s often discussed in an Islamic context, is usually seen as an Arab institution. Of course the Prophet (SAW) and his companions were mostly Arabs and to have multiple wives, not just four, was the norm. So although jealousy is a natural part of us all, the culture around presumably made things more acceptable to most women’s minds (I have written more about culture and polygamy here.)

So it was interesting to me when reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker, that the character Samuel, who is a black Christian missionary to Africa from the US, expressed his views on polygamy.  Where they were living in Africa, carrying out their missionary duties, polygamy was also the norm. There was a feeling that the locals thought that the character Nettie was his second wife, and Samuel was not happy about this; you also get the sense his wife is jealous about this.

Later in the book, we are shown how Samuel has a mental shift about polygamy. He has observed friendship between co wives in the village where they are living and how they help each other, so that he then questions his own condemnation of polygamy.

Coming across this was interesting to me because,

  1. This showed a man who thought polygamy was wrong (I would think that most men would quietly think it was at least acceptable, if not desirable, especially if all parties are happy with the idea – even though they might publicly denounce it.) Maybe the culture of his Christian faith was a factor in cultivating the original mindset.
  1. This showed the the relationship between co wives is incredibly important in making a polygamy situation acceptable to all involved.  

Maybe for some it works to keep the wives and their children (although this is another issue, which I have written about here) completely separate, but overall from what I’ve seen, the happiest women in polygamy are those who have a great relationship with their co(s), and I wonder if the husband might even get jealous of them!

Coming across polygamy in a context other than Islamic texts or discussions, if shown in a positive way, can help those of us having been brought up or living in a non-Muslim culture involved in polygamy. It can help us move towards a feeling of normalization of polygamy, and hence an easier acceptance of sharing a husband. So although it was not at all a major theme in The Color Purple, my ears pricked up, so to speak, when I came across these small snippets about polygamy in the book and I thought I must write about this!

Seeing Jealousy from a Different Perspective

I’ve written about jealousy before in the blog here – it’s what puts most people off polygamy, and affects almost everyone in a polygamous relationship one way or another.

 

I’ve recently had first-hand experience of jealousy of a different kind – that of a child towards his new little sibling. Now I know some may get offended at their emotions involved in a marital relationship being compared to a child’s emotions on getting a new baby brother or sister, but at its heart, jealousy is the same whatever age we are. It’s how we react that is most going to be affected by age. So what have I learnt?

 

  1. Behaving badly backfires

When the older sibling acts out and maybe attacks the baby, it does not increase the love a parent has for his or her child. It takes a lot of gritting of teeth to avoid increasing the jealousy and removing the older child from the room, and a lot of pretending to be more affectionate to the older sibling when your baby is being attacked. In fact it can come to  a point where patience wears too thin and the baby does get all the attention and protection and the older child is practically abandoned due to their dangerous behaviour towards the baby.

And conversely:

  1. Being kind and affectionate to the new baby makes your parents love you more

There’s nothing sweeter to see than a toddler stroking the new baby carefully and planting a sloppy kiss on baby’s forehead. Showing care for a new sibling makes a parent want to spend time with the older child and time altogether as a family.

  1. It’s hard work trying to give the first child attention

However much you don’t want to admit it, a new baby does draw out the parental loving instincts and these sometimes have to be fought off as you try to pay more attention and show love to the older child so as to avoid this big bad beast of jealousy. This tug between the two is exhausting and feelings of guilt may crop up that the new baby is missing out somehow. That’s why point #2 has the happiest outcome for all involved in this new family dynamic – parent – first child -second, new child.

  1. In time, things usually get better, although there will always be some jealousy/sibling rivalry – this is normal.

Now I’ll translate this into polygamy terms: if a husband gets a new wife when the first is not happy about this, jealousy is going to happen – it’s a natural emotion that strikes the best of us. But if the first wife kicks up a huge fuss, is this going to help her achieve her aims – a happy marital relationship? Or will it backfire? Will her husband resent her, will he show her more attention because he feels he has to or because he wants to? How is the new wife affected? Is jealousy always going to be a major issue?

To the last question, I often thought ‘Can’t this just end? If it all goes away, this polygamy deal, so will the jealousy and so will the pain.’

But there are polygamous families out there that do work, that are happy; long-term, happiness and polygamy can be a reality I believe for those who find it hard to start with.

Insha Allah these two children I now witness as arch rivals will one day build sandcastles together, play hide and seek and stick up for each other at school.

As someone once comforted me in those early days of being in polygamy, ‘After the storm comes a rainbow.’

 

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The Ego and Control

We all want to be in control – it’s a natural instinct. When things are out of our control, we feel helpless and frustrated. We feel injustice may be carried out on us. Inside of us is our ego, which tries to look out for us, to have our back, but sometimes it makes things worse. What if we controlled our ego, stood back from always having the upper hand and being right, and look at the bigger picture?

A typical example of this in polygamy where our ego can be triggered is if a man says, it’s my right to marry again, I don’t have to ask my wife’s permission. Of course, it is good manners and advisable for a man to consult his wife on a major family-affecting event such as marrying again, but actually gaining her permission as opposed to support or at least acceptance – who is in control here? So say a husband doesn’t marry again because his wife says ‘no’, has her life been bettered for that? Her ego is not bruised, unlike her husband’s no doubt, but long-term, how is her relationship with her husband affected? Does he feel resentment to her for her unnecessarily denying him his rights? If you ever have read The Surrendered Wife, you’ll see how belittling a husband really isn’t the way to go. *Ducks from feminists throwing said book at me*

 

By the way, all the above is easy to write when you are not currently in that situation of prospective polygamy. When you are, and the emotions are taking hold and the ego is taking a battering, it is so hard for many women, including myself to think in a logical, long-term way. I get that. So this is a reminder mostly to myself if I ever find myself in this situation again.  

But how much are we really in control? One of the most useful things I learnt after going through all of the trials of polygamy is to remember to say ‘Qadr Allahu wa Masha Fa’al’ (which means: Allah has decreed it and what He willed has happened (Much like the common phase, ‘que sera sera’, but obviously with more depth.)

Continuously fighting and struggling against your destiny leaves you drained and will not change anything. Your ego wants to always have control but it’s not necessarily doing you any favours. Of course stand up for your rights, express how you feel, but if things don’t always turn out how you want or have planned then remember, you may well look back and see that things had to happen that way for you to be in a higher place, mentally and insha Allah in the long-term, in akhirah. This is what really matters.

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Polygamy is Not Gonna Change

Rock. Hard Place.

I have often thought of myself as being a resident of this No Man’s Land, the place between these two locations. The Rock is Polygamy and the Hard place is leaving it all and being single.

But No Man’s Land isn’t somewhere you can reside, settle down and feel content. It’s somewhere you need to leave as quickly as possible, for the sake of self-preservation.

So how?

Polygamy and its legitimacy isn’t going to change, and so the only thing that’s going to work is a change in myself. But it’s a big change in mindset that’s needed, one that’s has been cemented in place by society, culture and the ego. But we are all changing –  growing,  adjusting – it’s  part of our nature. We are not made of cement but of soft clay that can be remoulded. I once thought I could never have a decent night’s sleep if I cosleep with my baby, but I now do this all the time – I changed. I thought I could never be happy and stress-free in polygamy, but now I think there is a chance.

There are certain things that can’t change: the need to eat for example – our basic instincts. Jealousy is a natural trait and it doesn’t help to deny that and try to change this. But we can change perspectives on the triggers of jealousy – realising love can be shared for example – and also reconsider our overwhelming reactions, which can often lead to regret. How could giving the cold shoulder because a husband spent one hour extra at the other wife’s place actually increase our husband’s love for us and cause him to consider our feelings more?

Change is hard, and it hurts, like a marathon runner hitting the wall and getting through it –  you won’t expect a smile beaming from their face, but rather a grimace of pain. Change means feeling uncomfortable, and that’s OK, because to move forward and move upwards will be worth it insha Allah.

The No Man’s Land I inhabited was certainly not a comfort zone which is why I knew I had to change. But how was another matter; I knew I couldn’t just snap my fingers, smile serenely and feel ‘Hey! Polygamy is cool by me.’

So this is a big part of why I started this blog, and so I hope some of my thoughts are helping anyone else who is a position that they too have to change, and get out of the monogamy comfort zone and away from any hard places. 

Ownership and Polygamy

When trying to unpick polygamy and understand why it is so hard for many women to accept, the sense of ownership in a marriage must play a part. When something is ours, it is up to us if we share it or not.  Young children find this especially hard, but even as adults it is not always easy. When someone mentions their reluctance to share their husband in polygamy, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the paraphrased hadith of wanting for your sister what you want for yourself.

(Th original hadith is: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” Related by Bukhari & Muslim)

In fact there is a book with a title similar to this, which I hope to read at some point:

My… Our…husband

OK, so there’s no arguing with the hadith, and we would be happy to be on the receiving end of a sister wanting good for us, so how can we look at this from a different angle and make it easier to share?

One way is to rethink our sense of ownership. Although a woman of course says “MY husband is….” we do not own him, he is not our possession, as much as we are not our husband’s possessions.  This is similar to  “MY children”  Our husband does not belong to us and our children are also simply entrusted to us, not our possession.

We all belong to Allah (SWT).

Men as well as women are guilty of this sense of ownership, with the classic abusive jealous man saying “If I can’t have you, nobody can.”

If we stand back and look at it, the ownership of a person is limited to slaves and we know how slavery is repugnant and is to be abolished from this world.  So really, our husband is not ours to share in the first place. If Allah (SWT) has made is qadr (destiny) to have more than one wife then that’s it. But this is hard – really hard – to accept, but gently trying to unlearn the sense of ownership should help.

One way to unlearn this thought pattern is if  we think about this: when we start to claim ownership to someone and take away their rights, it pushes them away from us rather than draw them closer. When a husband is free and does want to be be with you, it’s a fulfilling feeling that he has chosen this, rather than from a sense of duty or obligation.

In the end, we should focus back on Allah (SWT), and on that we are all His slaves and owned solely by Him.

But Polygamy Isn’t Even Legal

Most of this blog focuses on emotional issues, but there have been requests for a look at the legal aspects of polygamy. For many Muslims living outside of Muslim countries, the secular legal status in of their polygamous marriage is questionable. Even in Muslim countries such as Kurdistan, there are fines for men who have more than one wife. Under shariah law, the nikah will be accepted, but when it comes to issues of inheritance or child maintenance, for example, many people do not fully think this through nor make arrangements to secure things as they would want when living under non-shariah law. While the case for polygamy legalization is now and again brought up in non-Muslim countries, by mainly followers of particular Christian denominations in the States, the frequency of non-Muslim countries taking a more strict approach against this comes up in the media quite often nowadays. 

 

Since homosexual marriages have become legal in many countries, polygamy supporters have increasingly called for legalization of plural marriages. Here we can see how culture also has an effect on the practicalities of polygamy (see here for cultural effects at an emotional level). Up until fairly recently, homosexuality was culturally a no no, and the law reflected that. This is currently the case for polygamy in most of the world.

But whether it’s legal or not it doesn’t stop it happening; there is nothing  in these countries forbidding extra marital affairs, two,  three or four-timing with numerous girlfriends, nor the fathering of children outside of marriage. In fact I’ve read of some non-Muslims being more ‘cool’ about someone being in polygamy than the average Muslim who would find it, whether openly or in their heart, repulsive.

So usually the first wife is married legally in whichever country they reside, and any subsequent wives have the same legal status as a girlfriend i.e. no legal rights. Any children are not automatically assumed to be the father’s, and a husband’s medical insurance would probably not cover the subsequent wives (most relevant in the USA where medical costs are high and not covered by the state). In the program Sister Wives, there was the drama of the first wife getting a divorce from the husband in order to have custody of his other wives’ children.

If a husband wants to acquire the same nationality or residence permit for a second wife, it is likely to be problematic if he already has a wife legally registered in that country.

 

Inheritance 

It is particularly important for a man to have a will drawn up in these situations where multiple wives are involved because if not, only the first wife and their children will receive any assets on her husband’s passing. If not, it will then be up to to her to then distribute it fairly in accordance with Islam, which will not be legally obliged on her by the non-Muslim country of residence.

So just because polygamy is illegal in most countries does not mean a Muslim woman can turn round and say her husband cannot marry again, but it does bring up issues which men especially have to consider. Polygamy, as in marriage in general,  is nothing to go into without careful thought. There are so many aspects to consider: emotional, financial, as well as legal, that sometimes I wonder why a man would want to cause themselves so many potential headaches, (and I looked at the reasons here). But I am not a man, and I have to trust the Creator for making them like they are, and pray that those that choose the path of polygamy do it in a wise, considered way.

Help, I Need Therapy!

This was the kind of thing I was thinking in the early days after finding out I was in polygamy. With all the negative feelings I was having, I knew I couldn’t deal with this alone. I had to get my emotions out in the fresh air, give my situation a fresh pair of eyes, and find some other perspectives besides my own and my husband’s. But I knew that I had to choose carefully who to reveal what I had gone through; I didn’t want someone who would be more upset than me about it to be giving me ‘advice.’ I needed a steady hand to hold, someone who had maybe been through what I was going through or could see the other side of polygamy, the positive side, because polygamy is part of Islam, whether I liked it or not. I didn’t want my deen to suffer – I was really worried about this, and needed those who would listen and respond in a way that wouldn’t drive me away from my husband or my religion. But I did want my feelings validated, at least to some extent – someone to listen and let me know I wasn’t going crazy, and that I wasn’t alone in all of this. However, from some of those I first talked to, there were some comments that were hard to swallow initially, like that I was very wrong to expect my husband to divorce his second wife, that I’d be splitting a family, that it’s ‘just sex’. In those first few days, this was hard to hear – hadn’t she, the other wife, chosen to go behind my back too? She must have had thoughts of my and my husband’s marriage being at risk from all of this? When someone is unaware of the details of polygamy in Islam, the rights of all wives, the absolute need not to to encourage divorce – especially with no Islamic reason – the significance of (non-nuclear) family ties – these were things I had to learn, even if it hurt like hell. This hurting had no obvious reason because I had probably as much time and love with my husband whether he’d married again or not, but still, the pain was real.

Pain makes you act to get rid of it, and I had to talk to someone, get it out and unburden myself little by little. I needed to try to understand the whys coming in my head, and my own reactions. I found solace first with a sister who was happily in polygamy, and with a Facebook group of mostly similar sisters. But I felt I needed a real life person to talk to, preferably someone qualified who would help me heal rather than fan the flames of resentment towards my husband and religion.

Alhamdulillah, I found a sister and friend who was training as a counsellor. She did listen, she didn’t judge and she gave me a few things to think about. Still I felt I needed to have someone present me with certain questions or some other therapeutic method in order to get over issues brought up by all of this, such as getting over trust issues and jealousy. I also went to a non-Muslim counsellor as later on that year I was referred by the doctor for stress, and again it was good to get things off my chest. Although she didn’t appear to judge me, it felt always more difficult when someone is not of your faith or worldview. I came across other online Muslim therapists, but I couldn’t afford the fees. So in the end, I took to journaling and eventually this blog to sort through my feelings and issues with polygamy, and hopefully help some other people along the way.

I still feel there must be a Muslim therapist out there that could help me truly ‘move on’, but for now, self-help and good old-fashioned time are keeping me on the right track, although there are plenty of derailments along the way. If you’ve had to sort through some difficult emotions and reach out for help, have you managed to find it?

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Book Review: Constructive Wallowing How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them, by Tina Gilbertson

The reason you are here, I am guessing , is because polygamy is a struggle for you. It certainly is for me, and the main struggle is the inner torment of thoughts and subsequent negative feelings. We’ve looked at jealousy and betrayal and feelings about self-worth. There are no doubt a lot of feelings going on because we are talking about emotional relationships. And even if the men (and some women) involved here say “Stop being so emotional!” or something along the lines of “This is your religion and you can’t dislike something Allah (SWT) has prescribed!”,  having negative feelings isn’t a choice you make – it’s how you handle them that is important.

I have mentioned how some people just simply block their feelings off, but those feelings are still there, just stored up for the future.  So how can we deal with our negative feelings more effectively?

I found this book, Constructive Wallowing: How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them, by Tina Gilbertson, pinpoints a sensible approach. I think the title containing  the word ‘Wallowing’, however,  is a bit misleading,  as we have negative connotations of this word, but in fact the author does early on in the book put a bracket around the ‘w’ which then emphasizes the word ‘allow’.  It is perfectly fine,  and we should allow ourselves, to acknowledge and dwell to a certain extent on our feelings, including what we see as negative ones. As long as we do this with kindness to ourselves and not attempt to manage them (by blocking them off for example; Gilbertson refers to this as ‘stuffing’ our feelings and describes the consequences as the Escalation Cycle) or act out our feelings,  such as violence or maybe in the case of jealousy, verbally harm someone. So the book gives us the permission to have these feelings without feeling bad about this (we are hard on ourselves aren’t we!) and to allow us to put a name to those feelings, work through these and let the tears flow if we feel like it. The author also emphasizes self-compassion, much like the area of self-esteem I wrote about here.

There is also a chapter where the author talks about how life is about the good and the bad times,  the fact we appreciate the good because of the bad. We don’t try to manage or stop good feelings and accept that they too will pass – all good things come to an  end. There’s no reason why bad feelings will not also end, if we work through them.

Overall the book is written in a lighthearted style, with practical examples and  exercises, quite a few diagrams to explain things along the way, and I particularly like the fact there are summaries of each chapter as when in a funk, my brain is not functioning at its best!

I like to remember that even the Prophet’s wives felt jealous – they didn’t restrict themselves by not allowing themselves to feel jealous. If a husband says to you as his wife, “Don’t be jealous,” this is really a waste of his breath.  Helping you acknowledge you are feeling what you feel and finding out why (in which case he might be able to rectify a jealousy-inducing situation) will be more helpful, and that these negative feelings will pass, if you work through them. 

Have you read any good self-help books, perhaps especially useful for those in polygamy? Do share the titles in the comments section!