While polygamy is frequently seen as benefiting the wife to the detriment of the husbands, the reality is that it’s far more difficult for the wife. She has to not only fulfil the rights of both husbands and support both families financially and emotionally, she has to juggle her time between them, settle any disputes and difficulties that arise, and all the while ensure that she’s being just and fair. For women that take Islam seriously, polygamy is a huge and weighty responsibility and it’s an arduous task to get it right. Meanwhile, each husband has no more responsibility than a monogamously married husband, and in some cases they can end up with a lot less responsibility than monogamous husbands, as they share the running of the household and help each other seeing to the needs of their wife.
One of the biggest fears men 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 woman takes a second husband, it’s assumed that she must love her first husband less because of it. The truth is that love is infinite and does not need to be shared between people. Just as when a father has a second child he still loves his first child as much as ever, when a woman takes a second husband she still loves her first husband just as much. Good Muslim women who choose polygamy do so because they truly want to love and care for two or more men. If she really didn’t love the first, divorcing him then remarrying is a much easier option for her both financially and emotionally than having two husbands.
What you share in polygamy is your wife’s time. Nothing else. (Let’s keep this on a platonic level shall we!) Whether spending less time with your wife 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 she’s with her other husband, there is no benefit in sitting around missing her. Instead, treat it as a time for you, and a chance to enjoy things that married men find it hard to make time for. On your nights with her, you have a wife to share your bed with; on the other nights you get the whole bed to yourself and can snuggle up with a good book or a football match on TV and have some “me time”. Plan your evenings when you’re not with her to do things that you enjoy around the house, so you look forward to your evenings without her as much as your evenings with her.
Try not to see your co-husband as a rival. Instead, try to focus on strengthening your relationship with your wife. If you don’t feel secure in your relationship, then it’s only natural that you’d see the other husband as a threat. If you are sure of your relationship with your wife, then ask yourself why you feel threatened, and remind yourself of what you have. If your wife is going to love you and stand by you no matter what, then what can he take from you?
A useful piece of advice I heard from a sister is “the insecurity of the first husband is that the second husband is his replacement and she doesn’t love him any more. The insecurity of the second husband is that the first husband is her first love and she’ll never love him as much as she loves her first.” This reminds us that the other husband has his own doubts, and to see clearly what we have instead. Look at why your wife loves you and try not to dwell on what she may or may not feel about him.
No love triangles in Islam
Focus on your relationship with your wife as a single entity, disconnected from her other marriage. Islamic polygamy is not a triangular relationship; her marriage with you and her marriage with your co-husband are two separate relationships. You are not obliged to have anything to do with your co-husband, but if the two of you choose to be friends, then that’s a third and discrete relationship. This means when you’re with her, the two of you need to act like the other husband doesn’t exist. Enjoy your time with your wife and do all the same things a monogamous couple would do together. If you are friends with your co-husband, don’t discuss your wife when you’re together, and spend time with him when she’s not around.
Jealousy is best tackled by focusing on what you have. “Jealousy is when you count someone else’s blessings instead of your own,”. If you feel jealous about anything, ask yourself if it’s over something that you really want, or whether you desire it simply because your co-husband has it. If it’s the latter, then try to forget about it and remind yourself that you don’t actually want it. If it’s something you really want, then focus on how you can get it for yourself because you would like it, not because he has it.
If it’s the relationship you’re jealous of, concentrate on building your own relationship with your wife as though he’s not in the picture. If you feel that she loves him more than you, then maybe she isn’t giving you enough attention or affection, and frame this as a problem in your own relationship that you need to talk to her about and resolve, rather than as a problem with your co-husband.
These things won’t eliminate jealousy altogether, but they should minimise it.
When things go wrong
If your wife is not dividing up her time fairly, or not fulfilling your rights in Islam then she is the guilty party so don’t blame your co-husband for this. This applies whether it’s something minor or very serious. Speak to her about the problem and tell her how you feel. If she’s a good wife, she’ll do something to rectify the situation. If she doesn’t and you’re having significant problems in your marriage because of it, then you need to go about dealing with it in the same way you would if you were monogamously married.
Marriages fail either because one partner is not fulfilling the rights of the other (or worse, abusing the other), or because the two partners are not compatible. This is the same in monogamy and polygamy. Relationships fail sometimes in spite of one or both partners putting in their best efforts.
Sometimes women try to fix a failing monogamous marriage by taking a second husband – in my opinion this is like trying to put out a fire in the living room by starting another fire in the kitchen. Other women want all the benefits of polygamy but refuse to accept any of the responsibility and end up treating their husbands very badly. An important thing to remember is not to blame polygamy itself for the marriage failure. The failure is due to incompatibility, or one partner systematically failing to fulfil their responsibilities to the other.
Polygamy, when done according to the Qur’an and Sunnah can work and indeed be beneficial to the husbands, and it’s my opinion that it doesn’t need to be feared. We should fear Allah swt, and be good spouses to each other. We should remember to show our wife our appreciation of her and all that she does for us, and she needs to do the same for us. This is the key to a happy marriage, whether polygamous or monogamous. Insha Allah, by following the advice above, this happiness can be maintained in a polygamous marriage, despite the specific challenges this type of relationship may bring.