This post will be written primarily to those men who are contemplating becoming plurally married. However, those men (and women too) who are already part of a polygamous family may still find this post interesting and entertaining.
I hope that the comment section of this post will fill up with additional bits of wisdom from other plural husbands or wives – people who have lived within this type of family structure and have some insight to share. I know that some have had wonderful experiences with polygamy, and others have experienced heartbreak. I invite the wisdom from both in the comments below.
Also, I plan on doing several more advice posts, so save your advice for wives until then. I decided to start this series of advice posts because someone has reached out to my wife Charlotte asking for this type of advice. I apologize for the tardiness, the advice was asked for quite a while ago, but I just haven’t been able to get to it. Here then is the first thing to plan for:
1) Be prepared to have much less free time.
In fact, I should probably be doing something else right now other than working on this blog post. You will have nearly constant demands for your time from both wives and children, and rightly so. The demands, each in turn, will be physical, logistical, emotional, or spiritual, but each will require a slice of time. Each person will have to have their father or husband cup filled on a regular basis in order for the relationships to remain healthy and strong. Of course, no wife needs constant attention from a husband, nor does any child need constant attention from its father (or mother(s)), but when you have several, their needs tend to spread and overlap in such a way that will cause you to always be attending to someone. It could overwhelm you if you let it.
2) You don’t know anything.
Women are more emotional than men. This is true no matter the marital status of the woman whether single, monogamously married, or plurally married. This also makes women mysterious (as the poets and storytellers have noted since antiquity). Adding more women to your life will add more mystery, bewilderment, and confusion to your life. And the addition is not as straightforward as 1+1=2. No no, going from 1 woman to 2 will more than double the emotional complexity of your life. Be prepared to face utter cluelessness on a regular basis, where you are completely stupefied, and have no idea what to do to fix the problem at hand.
While the emotional burden will be draining (at times to the point of exhaustion), this is not to say that it isn’t worth the effort – far from it. Nothing worth anything comes without effort. And of course, it’s not all difficulties. There will be wonderful times as well. You will have the highest highs and the lowest lows of your life. It will bring you face to face with your greatest fear: failure.
3) Make friends with other plural families.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
– Proverbs 27:17
The detractors and critics will take care of themselves – you will probably have more of them than you would care to have. That being said, find a plurally married man who is respectable; someone you can look to for advice and support. Knowing another, well-functioning plural family will be a great support to your wife or wives and your children as well. Building or joining a network or community of supporting, like-minded people is one of the best things you can do for your own family, and you and your family will be a support for them as well. Win-win! I am so grateful for all of my supportive friends and neighbors.
And, while we are talking about supporters:
4) You should be your own family’s best supporter.
If you have a family already, then build them up and encourage them. If you are single, then seek to be optimistic, positive, helpful, and useful rather than negative and criticizing. Yes, there is a place for discipline, and sternness, and all that comes along with that, but you want to be like a benevolent king to your family, not like a tyrant. Your wife and children should desire your company. You should accentuate and notice the positive in them, and make your support and approval known to them. You should realize that a husband or father criticizing his family is really a criticism of himself. If there is something wrong with a wife or child, then a good husband or father will accept the fact that he has played a major part in creating his family. Take the moment to teach instead. And if you must correct and discipline, then you must always show afterwards an increase of love towards the person you have chastened – lest they consider you their enemy.
If you are ever called upon to chasten a person, never chasten beyond the balm you have within you to bind up. – Brigham Young, JoD 9:124-125
Not only should you be supportive of your own family, and encourage a general feeling and practice of mutual support among all the members of the family, but you should also discourage detractors from within as well.
5) Family members should not spread their views about the faults of current family members to the potential new spouse; thus tainting her views from the get go.
Orson Pratt had some excellent things to say about this idea in his essay entitled, The Equality and Oneness of the Saints. In his essay, Elder Pratt is speaking about people joining the saints, but the principle applies just as well to people joining any family.
“Through faith, repentance, baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, the imperfect sons and daughters of Adam become the sons and daughters of God; and being born of God, and all baptized with the same spirit into the same body, they begin to feel alike, think alike, and act alike, in many things: this is a first approximation towards a oneness: but being weak, and only having obeyed the first principles of the celestial law, they are tempted by the devil; divisions of feeling arise; each one sees the faults and imperfections of his brothers or sisters; and instead of trying to reclaim them in the spirit of meekness from their faults, he whispers them to others; prejudice rises; their love towards them begins to grow cold; this coldness is felt by others, and begets the same feeling in them. And thus the seeds of division are sown, and begin to sprout, and grow, and, if not checked, they speedily bring forth nauseous and bitter fruit, which, when ripened, contains the poison of death.
To counteract these divisions strict laws are given, and authorities ordained to strengthen and succour the weak; to root out all evil-speaking; and to check every sinful thing on its first appearance. Those who give diligent heed, will become habituated to keep the law of God, and will understand their duties, and perform them with cheerfulness and delight. Such will become more and more assimilated in their feelings; their love towards each other, and towards God, and His word, will grow stronger and stronger; and thus by habit they learn obedience to the law of oneness, until they are ready and willing to do anything which that law requires. While those, on the other hand, who do not give heed, find themselves more and more tempted, and their love growing colder and colder, and the faults and imperfections of their brethren and sisters still more magnified in their eyes; and at last, they become destitute of the spirit—destitute of good desires—destitute of the meekness and humility of the Gospel; and the devil takes possession of them, and leads them captive at his own will and pleasure. These do not abide a celestial law, therefore they cannot be made one.”
Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol. II, No. 7, pg. 290
A husband should not speak ill of his current wife to a potential wife. He should not taint or influence her first impressions in a negative way. It will be detrimental to the family to gossip in such a way. The right way for a potential wife to form her own opinions of her future family members is to meet and spend time with them. The only reasonable exception I might imagine to this policy is in the case of serious physical or mental illness. Even then, it still might be better for the potential wife to find out these things by her own interaction. Either way, it will not be good to start a relationship with spouses on different “teams“.
6) Work on being the best man you can be first. Work on being the best husband you can be first. Work on having a good marriage first.
I call this the Jordan Peterson principle – clean your room. If you are single, getting married will not fix your problems. Fix yourself up before getting married. Make yourself a person that a woman would want to be married to.
If you are already married, getting married again will not fix your problems. Adding a second marriage will not fix your first marriage (nor will a third marriage fix a second, etc.). Have a good, loving, stable relationship first before adding another wife. If your current marriage is already unstable then you have got more than enough problems to deal with already, without adding further complexity to your lives. You may hear anecdotal occasions where this sort of thing may have helped, but don’t bet on it.
No man ever did, or ever will rule judiciously on this earth, with honor to himself and glory to his God unless he first learn to rule and control himself. A man must first learn to rightly rule himself, before his knowledge can be fully brought to bear for the correct government of a family, a neighborhood, or nation, over which it is his lot to preside. – Brigham Young, JoD 3:256
This idea is very similar to the common tragedy of a woman wanting to have a baby with her husband (or boyfriend) in order to get him to stay with her, or to love her, or to fix their relationship. It doesn’t work! And it is a terrible plan! Fix yourself and your relationships first.
Growing your family is important, but we should not run faster than we are able. Adding people brings chaos. Get your house in order before adding additional members (whether wives or children) and complexity to your family.
7) Take as much care in the additional wives as you did in the first. Don’t rush headlong into a second marriage (or third).
Additional marriages can, and often do, happen faster than the first. This is very understandable as the situation is quite different. People generally know how things work, are more mature, know what they are looking for, are in a better financial situation, aren’t waiting for their parents’ input/approval/funding etc., and yet there is much folly. It often happens that people rush into plural marriage without giving proper consideration to the personality, habits, beliefs, etc. of the new person they are wanting to add to the family. Go slow, and don’t be afraid to back out. There is so much at stake. People have often make a perfect wreck of their lives by jumping into something without looking. Of course, the very same things can and should be said about monogamy.
Here is a good example; if a potential wife already has children of her own (however that may have occurred), you should realize that you will be presented with more than an extra measure of drama. As Joe Darger once remarked, “It’s harder to add a stepkid than to add a wife.” It may take years to develop a good relationship with stepchildren, and it may never happen if there is resentment. Things to consider.
The wise saying holds true for any type of marriage: “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.“
8) It’s not all about the sex.
It is certainly true that sex is an important part of any good marriage (whether polygamous or monogamous), and I will have an entire post about this subject in the future. However, this is not a sound basis upon which to build any relationship. Sex is one dimension of a multidimensional thing called marriage. Sex alone is not enough to make anyone happy in marriage. Most of marriage is not sex.
However, I do believe this is a common mistake for men to make in both monogamous and polygamous situations. I have known monogamous men who told me they were looking forward to marriage just so they could have sex. No wonder the divorce rate is so high. It is particularly enticing bait that women hold out for us, and rightly so as it is intended to lead to marriage, but marriage is a long-term relationship. You want to find someone you can grow old with; someone you will be happy to share your life with; someone who will be happy to share their life with you, and this is based on much more than sex appeal.
9) Be upfront and above board in your communications about the possibility of having another woman join your family in the future.
If you are single, be upfront with your potential spouse about the possibility of having another woman join your family in the future. Clear, upfront expectations can make anything go more smoothly. No one likes to have the rules changed mid-game or the terms changed mid-contract. If you are already married it is the same story, but may be complicated if polygamy has not been a part of the plan from the beginning. As I just said, it’s not fair to change the rules mid-game. Having a wife united with you is heaven, having division between you is hell. If polygamy was not potentially a part of the game plan from the beginning, then you need to be sensitive, honorable, and respect that fact. Whatever happens, be patient (who knows, she might be the one to bring it up with you). Do not go around in secret courting and collecting wives. I know it has been done before, but I would never recommend it as a general course of action (I wouldn’t even recommend it on an individual basis – there is so much at stake). Don’t make it part of your plan. It will only lead to heartache and loss.
10) Know why you are doing it, and then stick to it.
Be committed thru thick and thin. It’s going to be rough sometimes (maybe oftentimes); you’ll need to be committed to get thru. Count the cost! Like Jesus said,
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” – Luke 14:28-30
Consider the difficulties first. Polygamy will place financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social pressures on you and your family. Be sure that you are aware of the possible extent of these difficulties ahead of time, have a plan to deal with them, and be sure that your mental and emotional resolve is sufficient to meet the challenges in advance. Then, once you have started don’t look back. Remember Lot’s wife. Be all in, or not at all. Hot and cold both make pleasant drinks, but lukewarm gets spit out.
11) Get yourself into good financial shape.
The truth is, you may not be able to afford additional wives. Being welcomed into an impoverished family situation is not what women are looking for. Financial security is a particularly enticing piece of bait that men hold out for women, and rightly so as it is intended to lead to marriage. Financial difficulties are a major cause of marital problems, and even divorce, in monogamous couples. It is no different for polygamists. Polygamy itself can be more stressful than monogamy at times (and sometimes less stressful too); therefore, you will not want to add financial stress on top of other stresses that are already intrinsic to polygamy.
Closely related to financial preparations are the physical, logistical preparations such as lodging and transportation. Adding another master bedroom is good, but may not be enough. You might need another kitchen too, and maybe other space. This will depend on your wives. Maybe they can live together harmoniously in the same house, maybe they would even prefer it, and more happiness to you if they can, but it is not an unreasonable request if they want their own space – they are entitled to that much. Putting a wife in a regular room (while the other wife is in a master bedroom) is not good enough for a long-term arrangement. Don’t make this your plan. It may be fine initially, but will probably fail in the long run. If you can’t afford to do this, then you probably can’t afford to have another wife.
12) Women are afraid of being abandoned.
Your first wife must feel secure in her relationship with you, she must feel secure in your love for her, and feel secure in her financial support from you. You should be sensitive toward these natural and understandable fears. One area where you may want to be especially sensitive is in public displays of affection to a new or potential wife in front of established wives. You may want to limit this at first (and you will want to limit it both ways). Showing affection in public and in private is an important part of a marriage relationship, and it is something that a first wife is going to have to come to terms with, no doubt. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. However, it will become easier and more natural as time goes on.
There you have it. Take this advice for what it’s worth. Not all of these may apply to every situation, and some things you may disagree with. I openly invite your additional wisdom or counter advice in the comments below. Feel free to ask me to clarify my thoughts on anything that didn’t seem perfectly clear above. One more thing, after saying all of this you may get the impression that plural marriage has so many difficulties that it should be avoided all together. This may be true for some people, maybe even most people, but it is not true for all people. Even with all the difficulties, I am a fully converted polygamist. I find the rewards well worth the efforts, and I wouldn’t trade it back if I could. Thank you Charlotte and Melissa for making my life so full and blessed!