Where Will the Brineys Live? (or Living Arrangements in Polygamous Families)

In the final episode of Seeking Sister Wife‘s first season, the Briney family is getting ready to move out of state, but there was a difference in point of view about whether all the wives should continue to live together or not.  In the final scenes Auralee is an absolute saint.  She extends the olive branch in an amazing way to her sister wife, April.  Angela chimes in as well, and they all end up coming together in a beautiful way for the good of the family in both practical and emotional ways.

family chat

As may be expected, working out where everyone lives is a very common dilemma facing plural families, and it can be handled in a variety of ways.  Some families live in a single dwelling, sharing the same kitchen and living room (like the Alldredges do).  Some families may live in a single dwelling with separate apartments like my house or like the Fosters or Morrisons.  Some families have separate houses for the wives, but they are all in close proximity to one another, on the same property (or in the same cul-de-sac, like the Brown family currently does).  Some families may have separate houses for each wife, and those houses may be in separate cities or states.  I even know one family where the wives are in separate countries halfway around the world from each other (although they are working toward living all together).

Furthermore, many plural families are somewhere in between these various solutions, scalesor in transition between them.  For example, I know a family with three wives.  Two of them lived together in a single dwelling while the third (who was reportedly more difficult to live with) lived in a separate city.  Later on, the third, separate-city wife moved to a separate house next door to the other two, and lived there for a while.  Now they are all living together under one roof!  Ultimately, the solution to this problem will be different for each family, and lies in finding the correct balance between the practical and the emotional.  Both are very real issues, and need to be addressed.

The practical side of the question deals with resources like time and expense.  It is certainly more expensive to live apart: There are multiple rents or mortgages to pay, separate utility bills will add up to greater expense than a combined bill, more property taxes, more home insurance, more time and expense for home maintenance, added expense for owning duplicates of many items, and additional time and expense is involved in travel between homes.  These, and a great many other things, are practical factors that must be considered.  I think a general consideration of practical factors will favor living together.

The emotional side of the question deals with feelings, perceptions, and jealousies.  Some wives may not be able to stand seeing their husband show affection for another wife, may not be able to abide sharing a kitchen or other living areas, or may have or want different rules for their children.  Kody Brown once said, “I have two wives who think sharing a kitchen is abusive”.  This is in contrast to the Darger family whose philosophy is: If you can’t share a kitchen, what business do you have sharing a husband?  Of course, the Dargers are somewhat of a special case as the wives are already close relatives (which I am sure has been a blessing to their family).  I mean, how different could their kitchen management styles be?  They all have the same grandma.  They probably all have the same book of family recipes.

One plural wife I spoke with told me it can be harder to share a kitchen than to share a husband.  So, if you are adding an extra master bedroom to your house to accommodate a new sister wife, you may want to consider adding another kitchen too.  Each family will have to find what works best for them.

Children further complicate emotional considerations.  Children from different wives may have rivalries (especially if they are from previous marriages) or resentments.  In addition, there may be worries about societal perceptions. (What will the neighbors think?  What will my friends think?  What will our extended families think?)  Finally, some people may just be plain old difficult to live with — there are personality conflicts of all kinds.  These, and a great many other things, are emotional factors that must be given consideration.  I think a general consideration of emotional factors will favor living apart.

From my point of view, I think most (perhaps all) polygamist men want to have their families together as much and as close as possible.  If a plural family is not living together, it is very often because of difficulties between wives, or children from different wives (think of Sarah and Hagar, and Isaac and Ishmael, for example).  I was once talking with my grandpa about the scriptures when the subject of Abraham’s wives came up.  He said it was a shame that Abraham had married Hagar (because it led to difficulties that separated his family) and that he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.  I told him the shame was not that they married, but that they didn’t stay together and try to work out their problems.  Well, I’m not trying to pass any judgment on Abram, or his views on marriage and family, but I do think it is generally better to work on problems while problems can be worked on – even if some separation is warranted while the problems are being resolved (it may take years in some cases).  Anything worth having is worth working for.

Why would plural husbands generally want their family together?  There are certainly the financial pieces, which I mentioned above, and this weighs heavily on most husbands’ minds.  In addition, a husband will be able to more effectively portion his time between the members of his family and his other household duties.  Another important factor is the way that close-living facilitates family activities, family teaching, and family worship.  Finally, there is a desire among men, even if subconscious, to have their wives and children close for the sake of protecting them.

From a Biblical perspective, during the time when a couple was engaged to be married, the bridegroom would go away for a time and busy himself preparing a home for his new bride to live in.  If the man had more than one wife, he would have prepared a home for each of them in turn.  The home(s) would be built on the ancestral lands of the bridegroom’s father.  The bride-to-be fully expected to receive her own home to live in (whether this was a separate dwelling, or an extension of the existing family dwelling, would depend on the particular family and circumstance), and providing one for her was part of the future husband’s duties toward her.  When the home was made ready, the bridegroom would return for his bride, receive her to himself, and lead her to her new home which would become her responsibility to tend and care for.

In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. – John 14:2,3

Are the Snowdens Married? (Or the Alldredges, or the Brineys?) – What is Marriage?

In the first episode of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Snowden family, Dimitri and Ashley.  A little after 7 minutes in Dimitri tells us that after dating for 2 years they, “Committed [themselves] to each other.” Additionally, on TLC’s, Meet The Families of Seeking Sister Wife, page we learn they have purposefully abstained from a legal marriage under the eyes of the law in order to ensure equality with their future wife.  They consider one another spouses, they have 3 children together, they share finances and many other things, and they also let us know that they have no marriage license from the state of Georgia (or any other state).

We Committed

In light of the several comments and questions my posts have generated (see here and here) about the nature of marriage – especially in the Snowden family, but also in the Alldredge and Briney families as well (and all other plural families too), I have decided to write a post on my views about what constitutes a marriage.

A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage.  They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony.  It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other.  It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing.  You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances.  This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence.  When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience.  Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.

This post, and my future post about the Mormon concept of Sealing, are adaptations of the words I prepared for that marriage rededication ceremony.  Here it goes:

In 1774, Thomas Jefferson said these words, “A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” This was two years before the Declaration of Independence.  At the time these were radical words – treasonous words even.

The common model of government at the time was that no rights existed for the common people – except those granted to them by the King.  The King owned all the land, the people were subject to his mandates, and any privileges the people had were granted to them by their Sovereign Lord.  He in turn received all his power from God by virtue of the Divine Right of Kings.  Alas, there are many unfortunate parallels between government and religious authorities.

As powerful as they think they may be, governments are run by men – mortals all.  Governments do not possess any powers unless those powers have been delegated to it by the people who are governed.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence correctly proclaims this fact.  It reads in part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Eleven years later these ideas were crystallized in the Constitution of the United States of America.  It was the fulfillment of the promise made in the Declaration of Independence.  And yet, despite the Constitution being the founding document of our nation’s government, our Constitution is widely misunderstood; and here is the misunderstanding:

constitutional-convention

The Constitution does not grant you the right to free speech.  It does not give you the right to print what you please, or to choose your own religion.  The Constitution does not grant you the right to carry arms for your defense, to assemble or associate with whom you please, or any of the other things we have imagined it to grant to us.

If you will take the Bill of Rights, and actually read it, you will discover that in every case, the rights mentioned are not granted.  It does not say anything to the effect that, “the citizens of the United States are hereby granted the right to worship as they choose…”  No, No!  On the contrary, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”  It does not say anything like, “you may carry arms for your defense.”  Rather it says, “the right shall not be infringed”, and on and on.

Indeed, the government cannot grant us anything we do not already have – we, in fact, are the ones that have granted powers to the government – the government does not have anything the people have not given to it.  Rather than being granted, all the rights mentioned are protected.  They are not extensions of our privileges, they are limits and restraints upon the government!

Well, what does all this talk about government and rights have to do with marriage?

The truth is: if the government has any authority at all, to marry anyone, then they have received that power from the people, and their receiving of that power from the people in no way diminishes the rights of the people (unless we let it).  The powers are delegated, yet still retained by the people – because they are inalienable.  They cannot be separated from us.  They are inherent both to our being and to our existence.

The sanctity of marriage is reduced by getting the government to protect it.  Orthodox Christian theologian Davd J. Dunn writes,

“Today’s Christian conservatives seem to be worshiping America, or at least a certain idea of it, when they ask the government to protect the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. In doing this, they have vested the state with the power to sanctify…Christians who demand the state take up the task of defending marital sanctity are effectively making the state their god. They seem to think that their local capitol can perform miracles when [in reality] only the Holy Spirit has the power to sanctify.”

Well, there are some, no doubt, who do not feel the same way about things.  They are upset with anyone who does something out of the ordinary.  And in particular with anyone who exercises their rights while ignoring the religious or civil authorities.  There are many who feel that marriages are illegitimate without the approval of the government, or the Church, or both.

But it has not always been that way.

Marriage in the scriptures, and for most of human history, has simply consisted of a man and woman (usually with the consent of the woman’s father), living together and attempting procreation.  No priest, no license, and no registration.  These are all recent innovations within the last 500 years.  The Catholic Church did not require marriages to be officiated by a priest until 1563.  The Anglican Church did not get around to making this requirement until 1753.  For most of human history, marriage has simply been an agreement (contract), recognized or arranged by the immediate families, for a man and woman to live together.

He calls her wife, she calls him husband.  They share a home, they share a bed.  They have and raise children together, and they have cast their lots together for good or ill.  They are married.  Are the Snowdens married?  Absolutely yes!

Does that mean that any two people can just live together and call it marriage?  The answer is no; that’s just called shacking up.  The other elements are required also, namely the commitment to live as husband and wife – with all the duties and privileges that are connected thereto.  Shacking up, without commitment – without the man taking the woman as wife, is sin.

You could classify marriages into three sorts: social marriage, religious marriage, and civil (or government) marriage.  Social marriage is rooted in the ideas of Common Law and Natural Rights, which I have discussed somewhat above.  It has probably been the most common type of marriage thruout the history of mankind, and perhaps the oldest as well (tho this is debatable I am sure).  Either way, it is certain that of the three, civil marriage is by far the late comer to the party.

What about all this business with government issued marriage licenses then?  When did that become a thing, and why?  First, let us take a look at the legal definition of the word “License”.  From Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition, published in 1910) we have:

“A permission, accorded by a competent authority, conferring the right to do some act which without such authorization would be illegal.”

In other words, a license is permission to do something which would otherwise be illegal.  The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that marriage is a fundamental right for all.  And even without the Court’s decisions, marriage (both monogamous and polygamous) has existed for thousands of years as a fundamental aspect of human life and society which stems from our rights to associate and to contract.  Marriage predates all our modern laws, governments, and licensing requirements. How then can getting married be illegal?  Of course the answer to this question has everything to do with polygamy.  Licensing of marriage by governments had its origins in efforts to stamp out plural marriage among the early Mormon people (and also to prevent interracial marriage – which is beyond the scope of this post).

In closing, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself (or your friends and family – if you like those stimulating sort of conversations).

If my right to marry is fundamental, why do I need permission from the government before I can get married?

If I get a marriage license, what does that marriage license give me permission to do that I could not do before I got the marriage license?

Who is giving me that permission?

Where did they get the power to give me that permission?

And perhaps the most important question,

If I get married without a marriage license, is my marriage still lawful?

When there is no structure available to you, then make your own.  There is no approval needed from any man, or government, or religious institution.  And despite the disapproval that may be shown by some, it is our God-given, and natural right to do so.

Sampson

When I was a new missionary for the LDS Church, and living at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT (this was back in 1998), I had a Branch President that I quite admired.  He was a very wise man.  Here is one piece of universal wisdom which he gave, and which I have never forgotten (tho perhaps not always lived):

“The scriptures say that Sampson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and every day at least that number of relationships are damaged with the same weapon… You don’t have to say everything that comes to your mind.”

Plural marriage puts you in impossible situations sometimes; situations where it is impossible to please everyone, or even most of the people.  This is most often true for plural husbands.  While the difficulties between the Briney women continued to play out in this most recent episode (Seeking Sister Wife, season 1, episode 6), I must say that I was pleased with the involvement that Drew displayed.

donkey

Furthermore, I have to offer an apology to Drew.  In my last post I did not take into account the very likely truth that TLC is either behind much of the drama portrayed in their family, whipping it up to more than it need be, or else cleverly editing the video clips to show stern looks and eye rolls out of context, as well as leaving out parts of the story that wouldn’t fit the network’s vision for the show.  Drew and all good plural husbands are much more involved in settling disputes, and counseling with their wives, than could ever be shown on television.

Where Are the Men?

First the Snowdens:

Extremely unfair.  Those are the words I used to describe what I saw in the interaction between the Snowdens and their prospective wife, Joselyn, in this most recent episode (Seeking Sister Wife, season 1, episode 5).  I thought the way they treated her was in very poor form.  The Snowdens talk a lot about doing things together – which is good, but if they are truly keen on family unity, then they ought to be including, as far as possible, the potential new family member.  Otherwise, the new relationship is built with an imbalance from the beginning.

Ashley complains that Joselyn did not talk to her about being intimate with Dimitri, but I never saw Ashley initiate any conversations about it either!

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And whose responsibility is it?  If you invite someone to come play a game with you, and they accept the invitation, but only you know the rules, who should initiate a conversation about the rules of the game?  Perhaps there is responsibility on both sides, but Ashley certainly has nothing to accuse Joselyn about in that area.  Joselyn did not know the rules of the game.  She was not privy to the conversations the Snowdens had without her.  As far as she knew, she was playing by the rules – since Dimitri was the representative of the Snowden Family.  The whole mess is tragic.

When they were at the restaurant, Dimitri completely threw Joselyn under the bus.  What was she supposed to say?  Again, she was not privy to the conversations had by the Snowdens about it.  She did not know what Dimitri and Ashley had already talked about (or even if they had talked about it).  Furthermore, Dimitri had apparently not talked to Joselyn about what happened on their date.  The poor girl was thrown into the situation completely blind.  How is she to know what to talk about?  Again, she doesn’t even know if Dimitri has already talked to Ashley about their intimacy.  Should that announcement come from Joselyn?  Of course, she does not want to ruin what they have started by saying the wrong thing.  She does not want to throw Dimitri under the bus.  Unfortunately, the concern was not mutual.  All during their very uncomfortable date, Joselyn keeps looking to Dimitri for cues.

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She was looking for him to step up, to be a man, to lead the conversation, to help her know what to say, and what to talk about.  And indeed, he should have stepped up, and opened a conversation about what happened.  Instead, he just threw her away.

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While there are obvious differences, I am reminded of the incident between Amnon and Tamar recorded in 2 Samuel 13 (NIV).  Amnon burned with desire for Tamar.  He allowed his desire to grow until he exercised it upon her by deception and force.  When the deed was done,

Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her.

Now for the Brineys:

I love all the Brineys, my wives love them, and my children love their children.  My family and I have interacted with them in person on several occasions, and it has always been a pleasant and rewarding experience.  But honestly, I cringe when I see the Brineys’ interactions with one another on TV.  No doubt, there have been glimmers of family unity and domestic felicity, but mostly it’s just been painful to watch.

I hesitate to comment about them at all; first, because they are my friends, and second because I know how difficult plural marriage can be.  My own family has certainly had its share of internal discord.  Nevertheless, I have been shocked and dismayed to witness how willing they’ve been to publicly criticize and belittle one another.  I hope things are getting better for them, I hope their experience will ultimately be positive for their family.  Every episode I watch just makes me so grateful that it is not my family’s life that is exposed to the public’s scrutiny!  They are either very brave or very foolhardy – perhaps both.

Having said all that, I do not think it is a good policy to expect one wife to mediate the arguments between other bickering wives.  That is the husband’s job.  This is not a good family policy any more than sending a child to settle a dispute between other quarreling children.  It will not, in general, improve the situation – very likely it will make it worse.

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Settling disputes between children is a parent’s job.  Sometimes children can settle their disputes on their own, and that’s always nice for a parent to see, and that is certainly ideal, but when the children can’t come to a resolution on their own, and the argument is dragging on and even escalating, the parent needs to intercede (see Mosiah 4:14-15).

It does seem like Drew is becoming more involved, at least in talking one-on-one with the wives about their problems, and that has been good to see.  For the long-term good of their family relationships, I hope Drew can find a way to get even more involved and mediate the disputes a little more directly.

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See here for my continuation of this post.

I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator

When I went from 11 years of monogamous marriage to a new polygamous lifestyle, I struggled to know what to do with myself on my nights alone.  All my habits revolved around having my husband with me every night.  I didn’t have a life separate from him, so for a time, I felt as if when he wasn’t with me, my life was put on hold.  There was definitely a transition time for me while I figured out what to do with myself when I was alone.

If a monogamous woman was planning on becoming polygamous and asked me for advice, one of the things I would suggest is for her to have things she likes to do without her husband, whatever that looks like for her.

Women who naturally like having their own autonomy might gravitate towards polygamy exactly because of this time alone. I know my sisterwife Melissa calls plural marriage the ultimate lifestyle choice for feminists.  She keeps herself busy with friends and hobbies, and she even chooses to have a job (even though Joshua is a wonderful provider and doesn’t need his wives need to work outside the home). Melissa considers herself a good candidate for a plural wife because her life is so full despite not having a husband who comes to her house every day.

Nowadays, I have a life with my husband, and I have a life without him.  I’m fine either way.  But some of my activities require planning, so I like to know in advance what Joshua’s schedule is going to be.  His schedule does end up changing at the last minute at times, but generally I know what to expect.  If I didn’t know each day where Joshua was going to land, it would cause unnecessary frustration in this whole plural marriage gig, because it would make it difficult for me to have a life separate from my husband.  I need that separate life because otherwise it feels like when he’s not here, all I’m doing is waiting for him.

In episode 4 of Seeking Sister Wife, Dimitri Snowden and Joselyn are on a date at a restaurant.  Dimitri brings up the topic of “splitting time.”

Dimitri: So, splitting time.

Joselyn: Yes.

Dimitri: You know, listen, I’m wondering…

Joselyn: I wanted to ask you.

(They both laugh.)

Dimitri: So I’m one man, um, you know, with one body, you know… How do you feel about that?

Joselyn: As long as we feel that we make the best of our time, that there’s no problem.

Dimitri: Mmm-hmmm.

Joselyn: So how would you go about that?  Like, do you have, like, you think like days, certain days, or just…?

Dimitri: I ideally don’t want to have a defined schedule. I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator, where it says like Ashley and then Joselyn and then Ashley… Like, I’m not interested…

Joselyn: Yeah, me either, you know, because…  It feels so generic to me, like I think that’s really generic.

Dimitri: Yeah.

Joselyn: I just want it to go naturally, like you said.

Dimitri: Right.

Screenshot 2018-02-13 01.19.10
“I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator, where it says like ‘Ashley’ and then ‘Joselyn’ and then ‘Ashley’…”

I think this is an interesting idea, but frankly, I don’t think it’s very realistic.  I laughed when I saw what the Brineys said about it on Twitter because they seem to agree with me:

Screenshot 2018-02-15 23.23.19

Not every woman likes to plan things in advance as much as I do, so I suppose Dimitri’s strategy might work for some polygamists.  But in most of the plural families I’ve seen, the schedule is pretty predictable.  Either they simply alternate nights (like the Alldredge family on SSW) or each wife takes a fixed set of weekdays (like the Briney family), or some combination/variation.  One plural husband I’ve seen on YouTube spends 2 nights with one wife before switching and spending 2 nights with his other wife.  Brady Williams from the reality TV show My Five Wives simply rotates through his 5 wives, 1 night with each wife, but gives each wife an extra night for her birthday.

Some time ago I read a novel called The Lonely Polygamist.  In the book, the man and his 4 wives have a torturous meeting every Sunday where they decide on that week’s schedule (in particular, the sleeping schedule).  The husband doesn’t take control at the meeting; it tends to be up to the wives to duke it out.  The most aggressive wives end up with an unfair portion of his time, while the newest or most passive wife might go weeks without her husband coming to her house.  This seems dysfunctional to me.

In our family, Joshua’s schedule is totally up to him, which makes sense, since he’s the one going back and forth between the houses.  He’s the one that best understands his own scheduling needs as well as those of his wives and children.  We give him our preferences and we can request changes to his normal schedule, but we wives don’t have to hash it out between ourselves.

And, no, we don’t have a chart on our refrigerator to keep it sorted out.