Doing Hard Things (Bernie, Brandy, and Paige)

This last episode (Episode 7, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”) of Seeking Sister Wife was honestly very hard for me to watch. This difficulty had nothing to do with the quality of the filming or of the editing. It had to do with the raw truth of the matter: polygamy can be very difficult at times. And this episode, more than any of the previous episodes, highlighted many of the difficult things about it. Part of the reason it was hard to watch was that it showed the difficulties even well-adjusted, loving plural families (or potentially plural families) can experience.

We saw the very tense and awkward moments when Vanessa’s sisters were visiting in Los Angeles. Dimitri puts it so succinctly when he says that people are going to fall off, meaning relationships will be severed one way or another. It is a sad, painful, and unnecessary reality. We even got a glimpse into the struggles of (arguably) the most functional of plural families, the Alldredges, when Sharis tells about how she sometimes misses Jeff on nights he is not with her.

What’s more, it’s not just theoretical, or televised “plural families” that can have difficulties; it is my family. Watching this episode was difficult partly because it brought back memories of our own difficulties trying to live as polygamists in a society that largely frowns upon that. Fortunately, we have overcome most of those difficulties, both with others and with ourselves (but we’re not perfect yet), and things are so much better and smoother than they were in the beginning. There is so much to talk about in this episode that it is almost overwhelming.

As a plural husband, Paige McGee’s melt down was so hard to watch. I can tell that Bernie has a genuine, deep, and abiding affection for his wife. He is hurt when she is hurt. He is concerned for her welfare, for her physical and emotional well being. A person’s own emotions are difficult enough to manage. Handling other people’s emotions requires an added measure of patience and control.

I’ve talked about Paige’s issues with jealousy here and here already, so I won’t address it again – there’s not much more to say. Jealousy is natural and jealousy can serve a positive function, but jealousy also needs to be checked before it turns into envy. All that aside, I feel for Paige in this episode. When it comes to changes in plural marriage, the first wife has got some of the biggest adjustments to make. To be sure, everyone involved has to make some pretty huge changes when a new wife is added to the family. Of course, the biggest changes to any family come with the addition of the first two wives.

It is arguable that the biggest and most difficult changes accompany the marriage of the first wife. This is when the family is first forming, and therefore is experiencing the most dramatic changes. Consequently, this can also be the most difficult time for a family. I am speaking in general terms here, but the risk of divorce is highest during the first few years of marriage. There are so many adjustments that need to be made! And so many different types of adjustments – mental, physical, financial, logistical, etc. The stress can be crushing. But commitment pays off, hang in there, and give it some time and effort. Things get better with every passing year, and just because marriage is sometimes hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!

Of course, adding the second wife is a huge adjustment for everyone too. The new wife has to adjust to being married (just as the first wife did), and adjust to the rest of the family and the first wife as well. The first wife has to adjust to her changing schedule both with her husband and also new interactions with the second wife. The children will certainly have adjustments to make, and the husband will obviously have a large additional load on his shoulders as well.

I don’t know the McGees personally (but I’d like to; they seem like very nice people) but my guess is that the mixture of emotions Paige was feeling have a lot of basis in a fear of the unknown. This fear is largely informed by our culture, which includes our family, friends, churches, laws, and a multitude of other factors. As I recall, Paige talks about her family playing the role of devil on her shoulder in the first episode – whispering doubts and encouraging envy. We saw some of the same with Vanessa Cobbs in this episode too.

Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, the fear, the jealousy, the envy, the uncertainty, and the negative responses are all real, but none of these things are sufficient reasons to give up. They are all obstacles to overcome, and, much to Paige’s credit, she pulled thru in the end! She is not even the one who asked Bernie to come back – that was TLC (and I think that was a bad move and poor form on their part). Regardless, it looks like things turned out anyway. It would have been an absolute tragedy if the date had not gone thru.

I feel for Paige and the difficult emotions she is dealing with in this episode. I feel for Bernie and his loving concern for Paige. And I feel for Brandy too! What thoughts must be going thru her head as she is waiting out in the car alone while Bernie gets called back in to console Paige? She seems to handle it well tho.

Paige knows what she wants, even if it is hard, and I admire her for that! Hard things that are worth it. We could easily make a list of a hundred things that fit this description (some harder than others) – things that you want and are willing to work and sacrifice for: Marriage, child birth, raising children, going to school, training for a marathon, quitting smoking, changing your life for the better, cleaning your room, getting up in the morning, going to work, going to church, etc. You get the idea.

There is pain and emotion connected to all of these things. That is real, and that is something that has to be dealt with if you want to accomplish anything useful or good in this world. Just because these things are hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Just because they make you cry sometimes doesn’t mean you should give up. It is an uphill battle. Be patient with yourself and others. Things take time, and there will be setbacks. Get back on that horse and keep riding!

Polygamy’s Jealousies and the McGees

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.

(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)

In the first episode of the second season of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to some new people.  The lovely McGee family (Bernie and Paige).  They seem like a very tightly-knit and loving family, and the interaction between their two boys brings an involuntary smile to my face.  They are very likable people, and I’m looking forward to watching how things work out for them.screenshot 2019-01-25 23.28.43

However, we do get several glimpses into their past attempts to add a wife to their family, and it seems that Paige’s jealousy is going to be a serious and recurring issue.  And naturally so!  There is nothing wrong with jealousy!  After all, Jealousy is God’s middle name.  Okay, okay, I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but it is one of his names at least:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

-Exodus 34:14

See!  There you go, jealousy must not be such a bad thing after all!

To be clear, I believe, that none of our fundamental natural desires or impulses are, of themselves, bad things.  The sin always comes from the perversion of our desires.  The desires themselves are God-given and innate.  Wrongs comes from the excesses and the misapplications.  We want things at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or in the wrong amounts, and don’t always consider how our efforts to achieve our desires appear to God or to our fellow beings.red lizard

For those who know the reference, our desires are like a red lizard sitting on our shoulder and whispering in our ears; arguing for us to give selfish and vile expression to our natural inclinations (for those who don’t know the reference, it is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis).  drawing-a-circle-with-the-compassesThey are a serious hindrance if unbridled and allowed to run free.  Appetites and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set.  Food is good;  we are even commanded to work for it (Gen 3:19, 2Thess 3:10), but too much of it and we are gluttons.  Wine is something to look forward to (Isa 25:6), but drunkenness is a thing to be avoided.  Human sexuality is a blessed and pleasurable thing, but is also the greatest snare and temptation of many people’s lives.  Money has definite value, and using it facilitates our exchanges for goods and services, but making it the object of our affection is the root of many evils.  You get the idea.horse

On the other hand, if bridled, trained, controlled, and allowed to give their proper vent, our natural inclinations can become our blessing, our strength, and our happiness.  This transformation may not be an easy one, but will be well worth the trade for anyone concerned enough to make it!

Back to jealousy.  It can be good.  It has a purpose.  The key is to find out what it is for and when it should be felt.  If we can figure out our own selves, and our own emotions (even if it is an incremental process), we will simplify our lives and the lives of everyone around us.

First we must understand what jealousy is.  Of course we all know what jealousy feels like, but I think it will be useful to discriminate between it and a very similar emotion, envy.  In many cases these two words may be very close in their usage.  They can both indicate a longing to posses something.  However, the word jealous carries the particular sense of “vigilant (or zealous) in guarding a possession”.  Jealousy also carries the connotation of a suspicious fear of losing something.  In other words, properly applied, jealousy ought to be used to describe feelings of protectiveness for things that are our own; for things that already belong to us (our own advantages, attachments, relationships, and possessions).  Thus, God is jealous for his people, for we are his!

We cross a line into envy when we begin to have similar emotions, but for things that are not ours.  Another word for envy is covetousness.  It is feeling possessive of things that we do not posses; it is feeling entitled to things to which we do not have a right.  This of course, needs to be suppressed, and not allowed to take root.

Here then is the purpose of jealousy: it is one natural mechanism to preserve the romantic bond between spouses. It functions to encourage fidelity between parents (or potential parents).  The jealous anger of one partner being both a deterrent to the infidelity of the other, and also a self-motivator for the person experiencing it to fight for the restoration of the bond.  This (a strong bond between spouses) of course leads to a multitude of benefits for their children (or potential children), and their subsequent reproductive success.

Predictably, men and women feel jealousy in different ways, and for different (but significant!) reasons.  To quote clinical psychologist, Dr. Vinita Mehta:

“Romantic jealously is widely understood to be different for men and women because each gender has a different level of investment in reproduction. For a man to provide for genetically distant children decreases his reproductive success—and because men are uncertain whether they really are the father of said children, they are most susceptible to [experiencing jealousy over] sexual infidelity. By contrast, women can rest assured that they are the mother of their own children; however, they are more dependent on men for resources, making them more sensitive to [experiencing jealousy over] emotional infidelity, since it could threaten the supply of resources for herself and her child.”

Generally speaking, women are concerned (on a basic, visceral level) that their partner’s affection for another woman will lead to a weaker emotional connection, and therefore less desire to care for them, or even that the emotional connection will be altogether severed, causing the man to abandon them for the other woman.

This all goes back to the scriptural, God-given roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage.  This is the Biblical marriage covenant in a nutshell.  To quantify this difference, a large study, published in 2014 (this is not the only study confirming these results), reported that men were significantly more likely than women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%), and significantly less likely than women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).

There are many things that could be said about the result of this study, but I want to mention two.  First, this does not mean that women don’t feel jealousy over sexual infidelity, or that men don’t feel jealousy over emotional infidelity; rather, it means that their primary causes of jealousy are generally different, and this has significant effects on the way that men and women think and act.  The other thing to mention about this finding is that it has nothing to do with age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, relationship length, cultural differences, etc.  Like it or not, this difference is an innate, biological difference.

So, how does knowing any of this help the Paige McGees of the world?  I think there are at least two useful lessons that can be gleaned from the above.

1) Jealousy is natural, and can even be good, but care must be taken that it does not spill over into envy or covetousness.  In order to keep jealousy within a righteous bound, we need to be certain of what is ours to be jealous over.  In marriage, wives have a right to financial support for themselves and their children.  They have full claim on their husband for that purpose.  However, they do not have exclusive rights to him sexually.  This is important to know because it can keep you from worrying over things that are not yours to worry about.  To put it another way, you shouldn’t feel jealous over things that aren’t yours.

2) Understand that the source of your jealousy may largely (even unconsciously) come from a fear of being abandoned (emotional infidelity).  This is certainly a rational fear, as we all know; this scenario has played out many times before.  Many monogamous relationships have been broken by an unfaithful man tragically abandoning his wife and children for another woman.  However, if you can realize that, in the case of polygamy, your husband is not at all interested in trading you for another woman, but rather wants to keep you both (or however many wives there may be), then that ought to restore your confidence that you are not being abandoned!  At least it ought to increase the confidence in your mind – there may still be a battle with emotions, but what’s new paige and bernieabout that?  If he is a godly man, then he still wants you to be his wife just as much as ever, his emotions towards you are just as strong as ever, and he still wants to keep his commitment to you and your children just as much as ever.

So, to Paige, and to all the other plural (and potentially plural) wives out there I say: Have confidence in your husband and in your relationship, keep working on maintaining and improving your own relationship with your husband, and don’t worry too much about things that are not your business to worry about.