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What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Polygamy

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How does one approach a polygamous situation (as a potential second/subsequent wife)?

There are many different aspects to consider when one is thinking about a prospective polygamous marriage situation. If one is approached to become a second (or third, or fourth) wife, it is important to ask the honest questions and also flesh out the details -first to yourself, then to your potential spouse- before agreeing to polygamy. None of it can be taken lightly; monogamous marriage is already a challenge, and polygamous marriage is on a level of its own.

Here are a few important points you may want to consider:

  1. What are your expectations of polygamy? Before you even think about the man, ask yourself why you are considering polygamy. Were you previously married/in a relationship? Do you have children? Are you single, a career woman, or in a situation where you feel “desperate for anything”? What do you think polygamy will offer you? There are no right or wrong answers, but certainly take the time to think about this deeply and consider whether polygamy is a last-ditch option for you, or if it presents you with certain advantages that you are seeking out.
    In addition to that, ask yourself: what are your own expectations of polygamy? Is being a publicly announced wife a priority for you, or are you content with having your marriage known to family and friends (and of course the other wife!) enough? What are your expectations of division of time and financial support? Where will you live – in the same locale, or hours away (or even countries away?!) from one another? Do you want children with a polygamous husband? And finally, is everyone in the situation – the man, his first wife, and (where relevant) his family – aware of these expectations?
  2. All about the man. Is this the man’s first experience with polygamy? If not, how did he conduct it? What were the results/consequences/outcome? Why is he pursuing polygamy? There are perfectly good men who have had polygamous experiences that ended amicably or at least through no serious fault of their own. On the other hand, there are men who are known for hopping on and off the polygamous marriage carousel -trading in wives whenever they get bored. Try your best to ensure that this isn’t one of the sketchier characters!
  3. More questions for the potential husband. What are his expectations of polygamy? Does he view polygamy as a “halal hookup,” where the subsequent marriage is primarily for sexual satisfaction, or does he have a long term plan for building a family and growing old together? Does he want to have (more) children -with the first wife or subsequent wives?
  4. The potential spouse’s plan of action for polygamous marriage. How does the man plan to conduct polygamy? Has he already spoken to his first wife about it in concrete terms (if he’s talking to you as a potential subsequent wife, he better have already informed her… if he hasn’t, that’s a red flag)? Has he spoken to his parents and other family members about his intention to enter into a polygamous relationship? If not, how, and when does he plan on informing them?
  5. Speak to the first wife! It is very, very common for men to say that they have already discussed their interest in polygamy with their first wives, that she knows about his intentions, and so on. Often, this is equivocation; they may have brought polygamy up in the past, but she will very likely not know that he is seriously pursuing it at the moment. Insist on speaking to the first wife directly, even if he says that she “doesn’t want to talk about it yet.” Get her on the phone, and hear it from her directly. Texts are not good enough either! Do not accept excuses from the guy, including popular ones like “she’ll come around eventually…” or “let’s get married first and then deal with the fallout.” Not only would you be complicit in lying to a fellow believer, but it has very unethical consequences as well -i.e. being directly responsible for causing future marital strife for the first wife.
  6. Think about the children in this equation. Does the man already have children? If so, what are his priorities and expectations regarding them? Some men may specify that their schedules will need to accommodate extra time with the children, flexibility for taking them to different events and appointments, etc. You will need to think about this carefully for yourself; are you willing to be flexible and accommodating? Know that this might mean that your time can be impacted, you may unexpectedly find yourself hosting the children in your home due to emergencies (or even circumstantial non-emergencies). How is he going to explain polygamy to the children? Will you have a relationship with them at all? How does their mother feel about it?
  7. Proof of financial stability. Just as with a job application, request proof of financial stability or income. Pay stubs, bank statements, tax information – whatever is necessary to ensure that the man can prove that he is able to financially commit to polygamy. Poly isn’t cheap, and he has to be responsible enough to keep up with the bills as well as everything else! This may be less important for those who will not be relying upon the man for full financial support, but it is still generally important to know -it helps weed out the clowns who are trying to scam their way into a halal hookup with no obligations.
  8. Have a shared vision for polygamy. If all of the adults are on board and fully consenting (versus a first wife being coerced or having no real options because she is financially dependent, cannot leave because she has children, etc.), then this will require the three (or more) of you having a shared polygamous vision and an agreement of basic rules/structure to follow in your particular polygamous situation. It is extremely important for everyone to have a generally shared understanding of how things will be, and to be on the same page in terms of ethics and plans of action. This will pave the way for smoother communication and future conflict resolution (which will inevitably be an issue!).
  9. STD health check! While this may make some people very uncomfortable, it is also unfortunately a practical necessity. In fact, many Muslim-majority countries require an overall health check before legalizing a marriage. Each person in the polygamous arrangement -the man and all women involved- has the right to be physically safe in their marriage. In both the East and the West, lack of knowledge about sexual health, combined with premarital/extramarital sexual experiences, has led to high occurrences of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
    Keep in mind that this is a purely health safety issue, rather than casting judgment on anyone: the individuals concerned may have been non-Muslim in the past, or done tawbah for their past sins, or may have contracted those infections through no fault of their own (e.g. unknowingly sharing contaminated food, via razors or clothing, blood transfusion, etc.).
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These are just some of the major factors to consider and investigate before going through with a polygamous marriage. Polygamy is not for the faint of heart or the poor of planning! The challenges are many, and more complicated than with monogamy. Even this list is just the beginning…

 

What questions have you been too afraid to ask about polygamy? Leave your questions or concerns in the comment section, and stay tuned to see more answers in the future inshaAllah!

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Good Man

    November 18, 2021 at 1:27 PM

    No woman wants to share her husband with another man, yet it is okay for a woman to marry a married man without considering how his first wife will feel. Women are selfish, hypocritical, and full of double standards.

  2. Hasan

    November 20, 2021 at 7:55 AM

    This is a great article and very valuable points about how difficult such a relationship can be. Remember there are women who will marry a man and agree to let him get married in the future then change their mind when he actually intends to do so. People need to be sincere. Then again Muslim women will say they’d rather let their man sleep with prostitutes then get in a second marriage.

  3. Amm

    November 25, 2021 at 3:43 AM

    To the posters who are here slandering all women, I wonder if they consider their mothers selfish and hypocritical. Or indeed, the mothers of the believers. People have so little fear of Allah.

  4. ALL

    November 28, 2021 at 2:22 PM

    Yes thank you.

  5. Umm Uthman

    December 4, 2021 at 9:21 AM

    This is a well-balanced article. I enjoyed reading it and hope anyone considering this arrangement will keep these points in mind. I was only disappointed to read the assumption that if someone is a convert, that may make them more likely to have an std/premarital relations. There are non-Muslims and converts who are virgins believe it or not! To assume new Muslims come from a horrible past is an unfair stereotype we have to work on as a community. Even though I agree health screenings are necessary before any marriage. Bravo for bringing that up.

    What do you say to those who argue “Islamically speaking, the first wife doesn’t need to know.”

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