polygamy is a type of marriage that, although rare in territories where Western culture predominates, is present in millions of families around the world.
The most common type, polygyny , is one in which the man has more than two wives, while polyandry , in which the woman has several husbands, is much rarer.
However, the fact that so many people live in polygamous families does not in itself mean that this type of marriage is free of problems. In fact, there is reason to believe that polygamy brings with it some very significant problems .
Polygamy as experienced by women
Experts such as Rana Raddawi of Sharjah University believe that women living in polygamous families where one husband has several wives become involved in a relationship dynamic with serious emotional consequences for their well-being.
From a study based on past surveys of women living in polygyny, Raddawi observed how feelings of strong abandonment and jealousy were much higher than expected . That is, the fact that her husband had other wives to relate to made managing his time and certain resources a problem.
Related article: “Types of jealousy and their different characteristics”
Low effectiveness of rules on polygamy
In many cultures , polygamy associated with Islam is regulated by certain religious rules designed, in principle, so that marriage between a man and several women does not produce problems or great upheavals. However, these behavioural guidelines do not necessarily apply or may not have the desired effect, and this is exactly what Raddawi found.
Many of the women she studied said that their husbands fail to fulfil the roles expected of them as husbands. Among other things, tended to point out that men did not spend enough time with them and that they did not fulfil their financial responsibilities to provide the family with the necessary money to support itself.
The consequences of polygamy for children
Rana Raddawi’s research focused on how women experienced polygamy and the emotional impact it had on them, but it can be assumed that the impact of this way of life also affects many more people, for better or worse. It is worth asking, for example, about the children that grow up in polygamous families . Is this group harmed? It seems that it is, according to one of the most ambitious studies on the subject.
This is a research driven by Sisters in Islam, based on about 1,500 questionnaires with quantitative and qualitative parts passed to women living in Malaysia. Among its results are many of the feelings of abandonment found by Raddawi, although this time in children.
For example, a significantly large number of sons and daughters reported feeling abandoned or neglected when their father married a new wife. Similarly, as the number of wives and children increased, the scarcity of available resources had a negative impact on the little ones: basically, lack of affection and attention.
Thus, for example, about 60% of the sons and daughters from the first marriage were sad or angry when they learned about their father’s upcoming second marriage. In addition, children from families where 10 or more children were conceived tended to say that their parents had trouble remembering which wife they were born to. About 90 per cent of the children surveyed said that, based on their experiences, they would avoid a polygamous marriage when they grew up.
Other negative consequences
As the mother is the only member of the family with whom the children have continuous contact , it is to be expected that the children’s relationship with them will be very different .
However, polygamy seems to have negative consequences in this sense as well, since children tend to blame their mothers for not knowing or not being able to attract the father’s attention . That is, they perceive them as the cause of the abandonment they experience.
Taking into account the context
Before rushing to conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of polygamy, one important fact must be taken into account: research on this subject is limited by definition n, as there are too many polygamous families to study them all; but, in addition, many of the problems associated with polygamy do not necessarily have to be due to polygamy itself. They may be caused by the use of polygamy in specific contexts.
For example, in a very rich society, polygamy may not be experienced in the same way, especially if parents have enough resources to devote all the hours they need to their families.
But, in addition, we must take into account that it is difficult to interpret the results of this study without knowing well the cultures in which they have been studied . The cultural bias is always there, and the reading of reports can make us somewhat wiser, but not enough to give us greater capacity to judge polygamous life than those who live it directly.
You may also be interested in this article: “Polyamor: what is it and what types of polyamorous relationships are there?”