In my previous post I highlighted some issues that are important to consider if you are planning on taking a second wife. I encouraged you to reflect on your motives and what doing the right thing may mean. I also mentioned that you must be able to have frank conversations with all parties involved.
In this second part I will expand on some other issues that the polygynous couples I work with have faced.
1. Trust in your first marriage
Your future second wife is, hopefully, aware of the presence of a first wife. Unless you had a very open and frank conversation about your plans for multiple wives when you were about to get married to your first wife, your first wife married you expecting to remain the only wife. It is not an unreasonable expectation to hold.
When you bring up the topic of a second wife, you are destroying your first wife’s expectations of her marriage to you. She was not expecting her life to change in this way. Her trust in you will be deeply eroded.
Regardless of what the law says about polygyny it does not mean every Muslim woman enters a marriage believing it will happen to her. I dare say that most Muslim women marrying, believe that they will be the only one.
2. Commitment in the second marriage
It is worth looking at trust from another angle as well. In my experience divorce is something that the second wife and her husband are more likely to discuss or use as a threat than between the first wife and the husband.
The second marriage is younger. There may not be children yet. If the husband was not willing to or able to divorce his first wife in order to marry the second, that is unlikely to change in the future.
The second wife is often aware of how much more precarious her situation is. She does not feel safe enough to trust and commit to her husband and may be keeping divorce as an exit. A relationship with little trust and commitment is unlikely to flourish. You may remain married but the joys of a long-term relationship will elude you.
In my experience the second marriage is likely to be far more turbulent and volatile than the first one.
3. Competing alliances
For both of your marriages to work, it is extremely important that both wives feel sufficiently safe in order to be able to trust you. This means that they should not see the other wife as competition.
If you have told her a story of a loveless first marriage, she will see herself as the real love. The second wife will easily compare herself positively to the first wife. She may even see herself as someone who saves you from the misery of your first marriage or tense family relations.
As you can see, the picture you paint to your prospective second wife matters. It determines how she perceives your existing marriage and family. If you make them sound bad, she will want to save you from what she understands to be a toxic environment. When you continue to be loyal to your first wife and family, she gets confused, frustrated and betrayed.
Unless you are able to create at least an acceptance of the other wife in both households, you will find yourself in the eye of the storm. You may find that you have two unhappy wives, children being pulled into marital matters. Your own happiness will be at stake.
A man with two wives will very soon find out that time becomes an issue. In my experience many husbands in polygynous marriages find that they have insufficient time to keep everyone happy. They want and need to spend quality time with each wife and their children. This may result in difficult issues not discussed in order not to disturb the time spent together.
Some husbands also use time to control others. If he is deliberately obscure about where and with whom he spends time with, his wives will feel unsafe and betrayed as they don’t know what is going on. The wife who thinks she gets less of your time may feel hard done by, or may feel superior to the other wife when she gets a lot of your time.
Think carefully at all the commitments and responsibilities that you already have. Do you have enough time for work and both families without your well-being suffering? How do you feel about the thought of your time with your friends needing to be cut down significantly? You may not have time for your own interests or hobbies. Can you manage that?
5. Strength of character
Polygynous marriages bring up difficult emotions in all involved parties. As the husband who is at the center of the dynamic you will need to be fair, honest and transparent in your communication and dealings with your wives and children.
The wives will easily start to compete with each other or put the other wife down in order to ease their anxieties. Your task is to ease the anxieties and create a dynamic where no one is the enemy. You need to be able to create a strong bond individually with each wife.
It is also absolutely vital that you do not negatively compare the wives with each other, even at your weakest hour. You must be able to behave honorably and not try to use your power in order to coerce or to gain control in the relationship.
The success of both marriages and families will rest heavily on your shoulders. You are not entering an easy path. Most men would say that nourishing one happy marriage and building a healthy family is challenging and fulfilling enough. Relationships are tough and complex. And handling these complexities with respect, kindness, fairness, and honesty is a big ask. How much can you handle?
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.