Polygamy is often seen as the end of a happy marriage, but this is not always true. Take it from me, I’m a happily married first wife and I’m friend with my co-wife, Masha’ Allah; in fact she’s sitting in the same room while I’m typing this polygamy survival guide.
Polygamy can work if the husband and both or all wives go about it in the right way.
I have heard many horror stories about polygamy gone very wrong, and in all those cases, at least one person in the marriage was not following the Qur’an and Sunnah, usually the husband. Polygamy requires us to adhere to everything that Allah has taught us about marriage, and to follow the example of Muhammad (PBUH) and his wives.
This is the foundation upon which any marriage, monogamous or polygamous, is built, but with polygamy, it’s even more critical. Without this foundation, it isn’t going to succeed. While polygamy is frequently seen as benefiting the husband to the detriment of the wives, the reality is that it’s far more difficult for the husband. He has to not only fulfill the rights of both wives and support both families financially and emotionally, he has to juggle his time between them, settle any disputes and difficulties that arise, and all the while ensure that he’s being just and fair.
The penalty for him failing to treat his wives equally is being raised up on the day of Judgment with half his body paralyzed. The Qur’an strongly warns men that if they can’t be just between their wives, they are truly better off with only one. For men that take Islam seriously, polygamy is a huge and weighty responsibility and it’s an arduous task to get it right.
Meanwhile, each wife has no more responsibility than a monogamously married wife, and in some cases (e.g. where the wives choose to share accommodation) they can end up with a lot less responsibility than monogamous wives, as they share the running of the household and help each other out with the children.
One of the biggest fears women have of polygamy comes from a misunderstanding about the nature of love. Love is seen as something finite which has to be shared between people, so if a man takes a second wife, it’s assumed that he must love his first wife less because of it. The truth is that love is infinite and does not need to be shared between people. Just as when a mother has a second child she still loves her first child as much as ever, when a man takes a second wife he still loves his first wife just as much.
Good Muslim men who choose polygamy do so because they truly want to love and protect two or more women. If he really didn’t love the first, divorcing her then remarrying is a much easier option for him both financially and emotionally than having two wives.
What you share in polygamy is your husband’s time. Whether spending less time with your husband is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your outlook. Of course, it’s natural to want to spend plenty of time with people you love, but we also need time for ourselves.
On the days when he’s with his other wife, there is no benefit in sitting around missing him. Instead, treat it as a time for you, and a chance to enjoy things that married women find it hard to make time for.
On your nights with him, you have a husband to share your bed with; on the other nights you get the whole bed to yourself and can snuggle up with a good book and have some “me time”. Plan your evenings when you’re not with him to do things that you enjoy, so you look forward to your evenings without him as much as your evenings with him.
Try not to see your co-wife as a rival. Instead, try to focus on strengthening your relationship with your husband. If you don’t feel secure in your relationship, then it’s only natural that you’d see the other wife as a threat. If you are sure of your relationship with your husband, then ask yourself why you feel threatened, and remind yourself of what you have.
If your husband is going to love you and stand by you no matter what, then what can she take from you? A useful piece of advice I heard from a brother is “the insecurity of the first wife is that the second wife is her replacement and he doesn’t love her any more. The insecurity of the second wife is that the first wife is his first love and he’ll never love her as much as he loves his first.” This reminds us that the other wife has her own doubts, and to see clearly what we have instead. Look at why your husband loves you and try not to dwell on what he may or may not feel about her.
No love triangles in Islam
Focus on your relationship with your husband as a single entity, disconnected from his other marriage. Islamic polygamy is not a triangular relationship; his marriage with you and his marriage with your co-wife are two separate relationships. You are not obliged to have anything to do with your co-wife, but if the two of you choose to be friends, then that’s a third and discrete relationship. This means when you’re with him, the two of you need to act like the other wife doesn’t exist.
Enjoy your time with your husband and do all the same things a monogamous couple would do together. If you are friends with your co-wife, don’t discuss your husband when you’re together, and spend time with her when he’s not around.