Marriage Licenses and Security

In season 3 of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Merrifields, Garrick and Dannielle. They have found a potential sister wife with complications. Their potential, Roberta, is Brazilian, and the easiest way for them to get her to the states is to bring her with a fiancé visa and have Garrick marry her (thus getting a license from the government that would allow her to legally stay in the country). The down side to this is that it would require Dannielle and Garrick to get a legal divorce first. Even tho this “divorce” would be in the eyes of the court only, the decision to carry out this plan is obviously filled with emotion, and all the more so because the Merrifields have had marital struggles in the past which had led them nearly to the brink of “true” divorce.

Even tho the Merrifields have a more complicated situation than most (given that Roberta is a foreigner), this decision (to divorce on paper), has been faced by many polygamists over the years. Besides obtaining citizenship for a foreign spouse, there are several reasons for contemplating this plan. The reasons may include extending insurance benefits to children or adopting children (as Kody Brown did with Robyn), or extending security or benefits to the new wife.

In any case, there are all sorts of doubts that will begin to play upon the minds of those involved (this is a continuing theme for Dannielle in several of the first episodes of season 3). The wife especially will be worried about being abandoned, and Dannielle is no exception. Of course it doesn’t help matters that her family members are expressing doubts and concerns to her about it (not that they shouldn’t – more about that below).

The concern is that once the marriage license is gone, Danielle will have no protection from all of the difficulties of life that may arise if Garrick decides to abandon her. Of course, this is a nonsensical concern, as Garrick could always end up filing for divorce at any time.

Without making this post too long, I will put it simply to all the women out there, especially those who have not yet chosen a husband yet (and yes, it is primarily the woman that does the choosing):

The best protection is the character of your man.

This advice applies to monogamy or polygamy equally. Do not settle, or be lax, in making your decision. Do not get carried away by money, or attention, or good looks (tho these things have their place in making a decision about marriage – they are secondary), and then trust the government to keep you protected from your poor choices. It is a bad plan, and all too often will lead to misery, legal battles, and wealthy lawyers. A license is no guarantee of protection, financial or otherwise (my wife Melissa can speak to this in great detail based on her previous marriages).

It is a much better plan to be careful about your mate, then stick to your choice thru thick and thin. Choose a man whose character will not cause you to doubt his dedication to you or your children. Choose a man who is worthy of trust and responsibility. Choose a man who will be able to stay with you and love you despite your personal flaws (and visa versa – he will not be perfect either). Choose a man who will remain by your side to lead, protect, and provide even if the county records building burns to the ground (and the “proof” of your marriage with it).

Fortunately for Dannielle, it seems that none of the concerns expressed by her family have anything to do with Garrick’s character. They don’t seem to think that he will leave her, they are only concerned about what would happen if he did, and these are very different things.

As for the opinions of friends and relatives, they cannot make choices for you, nor should you let them. However, there are circumstances where you should eagerly seek their input. You may discover that you are like a particular woman that I work with. She has been married several times previously; all of them ended in disaster. She had a string of husbands that were found to be sexually abusing her daughters (beginning with their biological father). We talked about her life and difficulties for quite a while; mostly I just listened. It turns out that she now identifies as a lesbian, and has a girlfriend, tho this arrangement has not been without problems as well. She told me that her “picker” was broken. In other words, the part of her brain that runs the program for picking a good mate (whatever part that may be) is not functioning well.

Take careful stock of your own thoughts, feelings, and past experiences, and ask yourself if your “picker” is broken (essentially this means you are a poor judge of character). If this describes you, then you should seek input from family and friends, and be sure to take things slow, so that you can gather enough information to make a good decision. You will want to see your potential mate in lots of different situations and interacting with lots of different people including, and perhaps especially, your family and friends. It will be worth it to make a good decision. It will be more protection than a piece of paper ever will.

Reality Is Not a Vacation

None of my children is old enough for dating and courtship, but I’ve still had many important conversations about choosing a spouse, preparing to be a good husband/wife, what to look for in a potential partner, how to really get to know someone, etc.

I have repeatedly talked to them about dating versus real life.

You can go on a planned date with someone, where you’re both dressed up and presentable, you’re on your best behavior, and you get to just have a nice time at a restaurant where someone else is doing all the work. Enjoying one another’s company when the event is low-stress and nothing but fun is a facet of compatibility.

But it’s also important — and arguably more important — to see what someone is like when they’re in a stressful environment or when there’s work to be done. How does he behave when he gets a flat tire on the way to the restaurant? How does she treat you if you forget your wallet? Does he have a sense of humor if you’re spending time with children and he gets messy? Does she pitch in and work hard if you’re doing a difficult project together? Does he step up as a leader if he’s put in charge of motivating a group of children to help clean up after an event? Does she make it into a game and a challenge if she’s asked to help with something unpleasant?

When you are exploring whether a person is a good match for you, it’s essential to see them in situations that are closer to real life, and not just fun. Everyday life is work. Everyday life can be stressful. Everyday life isn’t just pleasant and relaxing, hour after hour, day after day.

My plan for my children when they start dating/courting is for them to invite their date to service projects, the big events we host, our family time, the work days. I want them to have opportunitites to interact with each other around parents, siblings, children, and people who need help. I want them to get to see each other in action when there’s work to be done, tool belts and boots to wear, mud or chicken poop to wade thru, fences to put up that catch on clothes. I want them to see each other at their best but also at their worst, in those kinds of situations that let the person’s character shine thru.

There’s a Kristina Kuzmic video about her as a divorced mother dating a man who wanted all of it, even cleaning up the vomit:

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. He didn’t just want Kristina when her makeup was done and her children with with a babysitter. He was willing to take on the entire package, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

Seeking Sister Wife, S3E2, titled “Irreconcilable Differences”, shows Garrick and Dannielle at dinner with some family. They are planning on yet another trip to Mexico to vacation with Roberta and spend some time her. Their sister-in-law Samantha points out the problem with meeting Roberta only on vacation.

I do have some questions about Roberta ’cause you guys only met her in Mexico because it’s different in a vacation. And then you come out here and it’s reality.

Samantha (Dannielle’s sister-in-law)

I agree with Samantha. Putting aside all the cultural and language differences the Merrifields will have to overcome, I am genuinely concerned that they are in for a reality shock when their relationship with Roberta moves from vacation to real life. I’m happy for them that they enjoy each other so much when the situation is fun and entertaining, but I wish they had the chance to see each other in the more realistic daily life and make sure they’re still compatible.

As Garrick acknowledged in the episode,

Yeah, I think there’s definitely gonna be a huge adjustment.

Garrick Merrifield

Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

Polygamous and Proud, Kings and Queens, Schedules, Wives in Different Countries, and Some Polygamy Grammar

Did you know that polygamy doesn’t always mean a man with more than one wife?

The new season of Seeking Sister Wife is here! The Snowdens and Winders are back on Season 3, and a few new families have joined the cast.

One of the new families is from North Carolina and currently has 2 wives. The husband’s name is Jarod Clark, and in Episode 1, he brought up some of the vocabulary surrounding polygamy:

We practice polygamy; specifically, polygyny. Polygamy is the umbrella term for a multi-person relationship. And in polygyny … the male [has] separate wives.

Jarod Clark

The distinction he makes is correct. Polygamy means basically “many marriages” and can refer to a man with multiple wives or a woman with multiple husbands. The former is called polygyny, and the latter is called polyandry.

So why is polygamy the word used in so many contexts when referring to polygyny?

One reason must be the fact that one man with multiple wives is far more common than a woman with multiple husbands. Someday, I may write about why this is the case, but for now I’ll just point it out as a fact that thruout history and across cultures, polygamy almost universally means the husband has more than one spouse.

It’s universal enough that Dictionary.com acknowledges it in its definition of polygamy: “the practice or condition of having more than one spouse, especially wife, at one time.”

I admit I perpetuate the lack of distinction on this blog by using “polygamy” instead of the more specific “polygyny” most of the time. The simple reason I use “polygamy” is that it’s a much more familiar word.

I should mention that most fundamental Mormons prefer the phrase “plural marriage”. I think that’s the terminology used in Sister Wives most of the time.

Now let’s discuss the title of the episode: “Polygamist and Proud!” along with some grammar.

Polygamist is a noun. A polygamist is “a person who practices or favors polygamy.”

Polygamous is an adjective. (Quick review: Adjectives describe nouns. In the sentence “handsome man”, “handsome” is the adjective and “man” is the noun.) “Polygamous” is an adjective that describes something or someone as being “of, pertaining to, characterized by, or practicing polygamy” and is synonymous with the less-commonly used adjective polygamic.

Used in a sentence, you would correctly say:

  • “Garrick Merrifield is polygamous.”
  • “Sidian Jones is a polygamist.”
  • “Jarod Clark is a polygamous man.”
  • “I know a polygamist who writes a fascinating blog called ‘Speaking of Polygamy’.”
  • “I know the polygamous family who lives in Kody Brown’s old house.”
  • “I know a bunch of polygamists.”
  • “I am polygamous.”
  • “We are polygamists.”

You wouldn’t say:

  • “Dimitri Snowden is a polygamous.”
  • “Colton Winder is a polygamist man.”
  • “I am polygamist.”

I’ll bet the person/people who titled Episode 1 meant to pair the adjective “Polygamous” with the adjective “Proud”, rather than awkwardly pairing the noun “Polygamist” with the adjective “Proud”. I asked my teenaged daughter what she thought of the title, and she caught the presumed error as well. In other words, I think title should have been “Polygamous and Proud!” instead of “Polygamist and Proud!”

I’m not nitpicking with the intention of criticizing the show. I enjoy watching it and I’m sure my own writing has plenty of grammar mistakes for someone who cares to look. My goal here is simply to educate the reader about some of the vocabulary and grammar in the world of polygamy, clear up any confusion about those words, and provide a little help on correctly using them.

Here’s an example of the usefulness of knowing the proper vocabulary and grammar: In writing this post, I discovered that, according to Dictionary.com, polygamists include people who simply believe in polygamy, no matter whether they are practicing it or not.

From time-to-time I come across someone who is unmarried or monogamous but who calls himself or herself a “polygamist”. This has always bugged me, because I thought their marital status was incompatible with the category “polygamists”. I did not realize that the actual dictionary definition of polygamist really does include a person who simply “favors polygamy”. I stand corrected.

I have hesitated in the past to call myself a “polygamist” because I’m only married to one man, so technically my husband, and not me, is the one with multiple marriages. Realizing what the full definition of “polygamist” is gives me more confidence in calling myself a polygamist.

Getting back to S3E1, what is the deal with not having a schedule? Two of the families said something similar in E1.

Here, one of the couples that is new on SSW, Sidian and Tosha Jones, say that back when they were polygamists, they didn’t have a schedule:

Mostly at night, we would sort of switch off time.

Sidian Jones

Yeah, it wasn’t really scheduled.

Tosha Jones

And here, Jarod Clark says it’s “natural” and “fluid” to switch between wives without having a schedule.

It feels very natural to spend some nights with Kaleh and some nights with Vanessa. No schedules, no rules. We just keep it completely fluid.

Jarod Clark

My sisterwife Melissa, our husband Joshua, and I like to watch Seeking Sister Wife together, but they were both out of town when this episode aired, so we watched it separately and then discussed it later. When I asked Melissa what she thought of the episode, the very first thing she brought up was the lack of scheduling.

Not having a schedule honestly makes no sense to me. I wrote about this in “I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator“, a post about a conversation between Dimitri Snowden and Joselyn in SSW Season 1, Episode 4. In that post, I included a tweet from @TheBrineyFamily saying, “Good luck with no schedule for time in plural marriage!” I won’t repeat all my arguments here.

A major factor at play is whether the wives share a home. When I wrote that post, Melissa and I didn’t live together, so whether Joshua was coming to my house or to hers vastly changed the evening’s plans and the home’s atmosphere. Nowadays, we are under the same roof, so it matters a lot less. However, we still do certain things separately. If we shared a kitchen and shared every meal, shared the living spaces, and never did anything separately, maybe the small detail of which bedroom Joshua went to at bedtime would matter even less.

But how does a husband choose who to sleep with, if it’s not based on a schedule? Does it depend on which wife is more/less demanding? Does it depend on the husband’s mood? Does it depend on the moods of the wives? The whole concept simply does not compute for me.

I don’t want to think that my husband will only come to my house if he feels like it. He has duties to me and I have duties to him. Marriage is important enough that sometimes spouses need to spend time together whether they both want to or not; otherwise it might become all too easy to avoid working out problems and just go with the easier route of avoiding each other.

I don’t care what the schedule is, and there are plenty of forms it can take (I give several real-life examples in the Refrigerator post), but the logistics of polygamy are already complicated. I say, let’s not make them more complicated by going without a plan.

I completely understand basing the schedule on what is going on with every family member on any given week. Maybe that’s what is meant by the people on SSW? Rather than having a schedule that is repeating and predictable, perhaps it’s simply flexible, depends on the week, and is based on the needs of the husband, wives, and even children. That sounds fine, and from time-to-time Joshua has adjusted his schedule depending on all those things. I guess “no schedule” just sounds to me like the husband waiting until 9:00 p.m. to announce which bedroom he’s sleeping in, or in the case of wives living in separate homes, waiting until 6:00 p.m. to decide at which house he’ll be spending his evening, eating dinner, and going to bed.

I admit that my personality type may be to blame for my strong preference for a predictable schedule. I like to plan. I like to visualize what my day/week/month looks like. I make time for myself and my projects and tasks, I have one-on-one time with each my children every day, I make time for my husband and for the entire family; for me, all that requires scheduling.

My entire life, I have always been frustrated at changes of plans, even when the change is potentially for the better. I admit this is a personality flaw, and maybe if I was better at going with the flow, I wouldn’t care so much about knowing when my husband is going to be with me versus not. Maybe the wives on SSW are different enough in that respect that it really does work for them.

The more I comment on it, the more I think I should write a whole post about the plural husband’s schedule when his wives live together versus separately, since we’ve now experienced several years of both situations.

As a homeschooling mom, I was interested to learn that another one of the new families on SSW, the Merrifields, also homeschools. We’ll see if that comes up again in a future episode.

We have two boys… We homeschool them… [to their two sons] All right, do you guys wanna get your books and stuff ready?

Dannielle Merrifield

I liked hearing Garrick and Dannielle Merrifield’s story about not coming from a polygamist background but being Christian, reading the Bible, and realizing plural marriage was practiced by godly people that were loved by God.

The way I see it is living a plural lifestyle is a great way to follow Christ and be like him.

Garrick Merrifield

I do not envy this family for courting and becoming engaged to a woman in a different country who speaks a different language! We have several friends with at least one wife in a different country, and they all have definitely chosen a hard way to live. The sisterwives don’t get the benefits that come from living together, and they end up living alone and almost like single mothers for weeks or months at a time. Melissa and I used to live only 1 hour apart, and that was difficult enough.

She [Roberta] lives in Brazil … so she speaks Portuguese, and only Portuguese.

Dannielle Merrifield

Here’s what my preteen son has to say about it: “It seems like such a dumb idea to marry someone who lives in a different country and you don’t even know each other’s languages. They should probably know the same language!”

One last thought about the episode. I like the comments Jarod Clark made about polygamy and kings and queens.

[Polygamy] was something that I [came] across in some research on how tribes and kingdoms were built, where a king had multiple queens, and each wife played an intricate part in that king’s life and in building and growing the kingdom.

Jarod Clark

In my home I present myself as a king. … Same thing with Vanessa and Kaleh: they present themselves as queens.

Jarod Clark

The blog’s header image is a castle I designed with the Mars and Venus symbols, meant to symbolize the husband in a plural family being a king and his wives being queens.

I wrote briefly about the king/queen idea in this post about SSW S1E2 and this post about SSW S2E1.

And, finally, I wrote some about the king/queen concept in this post about being proud to be a polygamist. In that post, I talk about how wonderful I think my family and my husband are, how I consider Joshua a king and Melissa and I his queens, and especially about how being polygamous used to be embarrassing for me but now I hold my head up high.

I guess you could say I’m “Polygamist and Proud!” … or should I say “Polygamous and Proud!” ?