Polygamy is a term used to describe being married to more than one person. It is not a synonym for polyamory, which is the act of having more than one partner. There are many forms of polyamory, whereas polygamy is a term to describe only one type of relationship. Within polygamy is polygyny, which involves a man with multiple wives, or polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands. Polygamy can also occur between spouses of the same gender.
What Is Polygamy, And Where Is It Practiced?
However, the law in the United States allows only two partners to be legally married. The individuals who practice this type of relationship in the US often do so without being legally married to more than one person. Instead, they may be married in the eyes of their community, their families, and themselves.
Unlike polyamory, which one out of five people worldwide has taken part in at some point, polygamy is considered rare throughout the world, with roughly 2% of the global population practicing it. Polygamy is illegal in the United States, although it is decriminalized in many states, such as Utah. Some polygamous relationships may not have a legal marriage by law, but they consider themselves in a spouse-like relationship with multiple partners. Polygamy is also illegal in many countries, but according to a Pew Research study, polygamy is legal in a few.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 11% of the population lives in a household with more than one spouse. Polygamy is often considered a standard tenet of some religions or even among those who practice no religion. For example, 24% of Christians in Burkina Faso live in polyamorous households.
Why Do People Practice Polygamy?
There are many reasons that people may engage in polygamy. These reasons may be religious or societal, including stability, safety, companionship, economic resources, reproduction, or love. In some cases, people are also polyamorous, meaning they have the capability to love more than one person. In these cases, they may seek to marry their partners to show equal love to each.
Some religions state that an individual is entitled to have more than one spouse and that doing so is a way to achieve their beliefs about the afterlife. Some believe that partaking in polygamous marriages is required for their religion. In current society, many people practice polygamy worldwide for societal, cultural, religious, spiritual, or personal reasons.
Are There Rules To Polygamy?
Like in many marriages, the people within a polygamous marriage may have rules about what qualifies as infidelity and how many partners everyone is comfortable with. In some marriages, one person might marry several spouses, while those spouses do not have a romantic or sexual relationship with each other. In others, all partners may be equally in love with each other. Polyamory, the practice of having more than one partner regardless of marriage, may have more rules, formations, and types than polygamy.
Polygamy Around The World
There may be a few myths about polygamy, tying it to specific cultures or religions. However, polygamy predates many religions, having been prevalent in many cultures worldwide. A few religions that accept polygamous marriages are Islam, the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), and some Hindu religions.
In Islam, the Quran allows a man to have up to four wives at a time with permission and on the condition that he can treat them all with equality, justice, and fairness. The rules of the religion state that an individual should only have one wife if they cannot provide fair and equal treatment. This equality relates to accommodation, food, clothing, and kindness. Men may also be allowed to have more than one wife due to sickness, fertility issues, mental health concerns, or incompatibility.
Some cultures and countries allow polygamy under certain conditions. For example, in Algeria and Morocco, a man can marry more than one wife with a marriage license if his first wife agrees and signs a contract.
Polygamy is a practice that has taken numerous forms throughout the years, and many countries and cultures have placed conditions and restrictions on polygamy. In many countries, it also isn’t legally recognized. Polygamous relationships are often contingent on cultural, religious, and regional practices. In addition, polygamy may be controversial, as it can be seen as heteronormative and non-feminist in certain situations.
What Is A Polygamist Family Like?
The family dynamic of polygamous relationships may differ from that of monogamous ones when children are involved. In some polygamous relationships, parents may have separate homes that they keep with their children. If the relationship is heterosexual and involves a man with multiple wives, he may be expected to dedicate equal time and attention to each of his wives to ensure that they feel equal affection.
However, homosexual or bisexual relationships can occur in polygamy, and each family may have their own rules and structure surrounding childcare, housing, and career. Polygamy is not limited to a man with multiple wives, as there are many forms it can take.
Controversy Surrounding Polygamy
Those opposed to polygamy may believe polygamous relationships can negatively affect society and the family dynamic. They might believe that mistreatment and abuse are more prevalent in polygamous relationships. They may also believe there is more tension and stress among children raised in polygamous households due to conflict. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said, “Polygamy violates the dignity of women,” and they call for it to be abolished everywhere it exists.
While some people believe this type of relationship is right for them (whether for religious reasons or not), others believe it may lead to problems for the women and the children raised in these households. If you are in a polygamous relationship and feel uncertain about your experience, you can seek professional help from a therapist to work through your experience.
To address the ethical challenges that may arise in polygamous marriages, many individuals who identify as polyamorous (able to love more than one person) may practice polyamory or ethical non-monogamy to have multiple ethical relationships. Often, these relationships are open to many formats and are not as associated with heterosexuality or unequal relationship dynamics. There are many books on polyamory that one can read if they’re interested in learning to love more than one person ethically.
Women And Polygamy
Evidence suggests that women in polygamous relationships may experience higher rates of mental illness. One 2013 study found that women in polygamous relationships had less satisfaction with their lives and marriages and more symptoms of mental illness. Other harmful practices, such as sexual assault and domestic violence, have also been linked to polygamy.
If you’re in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship or marriage, concerns may arise that could be benefited by a therapist. Knowing you have someone who understands and can provide non-judgmental care can be beneficial. However, many individuals and couples struggle to find compassionate support due to stigmas surrounding polyamory. If you struggle to find help, reaching out to a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples can be beneficial.
Research shows online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy. According to one study, many couples prefer online couples therapy to in-person couples therapy due to the connection they feel they could achieve with their therapist over video calling software. With an online therapy platform, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions and find a session that fits your schedule. In addition, you can note upon signing up if you’re looking for a therapist who is non-judgmental of polygamous or polyamorous relationships.
Please read what others have to say below about their experiences with BetterHelp.
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What is the true meaning of polygamy?
Polygamy refers to maintaining a marriage to more than one spouse simultaneously. It contrasts with a monogamous relationship, which is a union between only two partners. Although polygamy is commonly used to refer to men who are married to multiple wives, polygamy does not account for the gender of the spouses. Polygyny is the correct term for describing one husband married to multiple wives.
Polygamy is also commonly confused with polyamory, also known as consensual non-monogamy. Polyamory refers to engaging in a consensual romantic relationship with more than one person, while polygamy requires that the individuals be married. In areas where polygamy is prohibited by law, such as the United States, de facto polygamy may emerge.
De facto polygamy occurs when multiple would-be spouses engage in traditional marital activity; they only remain unmarried because the law prevents them from getting married. It may be challenging to distinguish between a polyamorous relationship and a de facto polygamous one, which may contribute to some of the confusion surrounding polyamory and polygamy. Polygamy is also frequently spoken of only in terms of sexual relationships, potentially creating more confusion.
The reasons a person may engage in polygamy are varied and complex. For some, it holds important cultural significance, and others adhere to religious doctrine. Polygamy is associated with some sects of the Islamic faith and with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (informally known as the Mormon church), although the modern-day Church officially bans polygamy.
What are the 3 types of polygamy?
Polygamy is defined as a marital relationship between multiple spouses. It is often used to refer to a marriage between one husband and multiple wives, but that describes a subtype of polygamy. The three subtypes are listed below:
- Polygyny refers to one husband married to multiple women.
- Polyandry refers to the marriage of one wife to more than one husband.
- Polygynandry refers to the marriage of multiple husbands to multiple wives. It is also sometimes referred to as a “group marriage.”
Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy worldwide, which may explain why “polygamy” is often incorrectly used to refer exclusively to a husband married to multiple wives.
Why is polygamy illegal in the US?
The term “polygamy” is often used to refer to a marriage between one husband and multiple wives. A marital union between a husband and several wives is technically a subtype of polygamy called “polygyny,” but popular culture often uses the term polygamy to refer exclusively to a union between one husband and multiple wives.
This is likely due to the overwhelming prominence of the polygyny subtype. Polygyny accounts for the vast majority of polygamy, directly affecting its legal status in the United States. While polygamy's moral and ethical principles are debated, the justification for its illegality in the United States is based on legal arguments, not moral or religious ones.
The American Bar Association asserts that polygamy - meaning polygyny in this case - fundamentally violates a wife’s rights under the law. They argue that polygamy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees that every citizen is regarded equally under the law, by establishing an unequal partnership in marriage.
In addition, evidence suggests that women in polygamous (polygynous) relationships experience greater emotional distress and lower marital satisfaction than in monogamous relationships, indicating that legal issues may be only part of the potential risks associated with polygamy.
Do polygamists get jealous?
Polygamy is often initiated for cultural, traditional, or religious reasons. The enthusiasm of each spouse can vary considerably, as does their willingness to consent to the polygamous union. In parts of the world where polygamy - usually referring to polygyny, or one husband with multiple wives - is widespread, jealousy is commonly reported as a significant problem. Evidence suggests that the most significant cases of jealousy occur when affection and assets are unequally distributed among wives.
Polygamy is also associated with an increased risk of intimate partner violence, largely stemming from feelings of jealousy. In some cases, the husband used violence as a form of retaliation against a wife who was jealous of one of the husband’s other wives. In other cases, the wife, or wives, used violence against their husband as retaliation for marrying another person.
Is polygamy a form of cheating?
While the legality of polygamy varies around the world, adultery generally is not illegal. What constitutes cheating in a relationship varies from person to person and does not necessarily involve the concept of marriage. A recent survey of adults in the United States found that nearly 20% believe polygamy is morally acceptable, which may offer some insight into personal attitudes surrounding polygamy and cheating.
Why do people do polygamy?
Polygamous marriages are often initiated for traditional, cultural, or religious reasons. It is important not to confuse polygamy, or the legal marriage of multiple spouses, with polyamory. Polyamory refers to romantic relationships between more than two people, but marriage is not a defining feature of the relationship.
Some sects of the Islamic faith allow Muslim men to have up to four wives. The justification for polygamy in the Qu’ran is largely based on economic necessity, where it is proposed as a potential solution for widows and children who have lost fathers. Proponents of Islamic polygamy often cite Qu’ran verse 4:3 as the rationale underlying a husband marrying multiple wives. Although
Although polygamy is officially against the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - informally known as Mormons or the LDS Church - it has a history of being associated with polygamy. Brigham Young, the first elected leader of the Mormon church, endorsed polygamy in the early-to-mid 19th century, although the practice of a “plural marriage” has been banned in the Mormon church for over 120 years. Despite this, some split groups of the Mormon church continue to engage in polygamy, mostly in the Western United States.
What are the benefits of polygamy?
Although polygamy is frequently associated with harmful effects and lower marital happiness, some evidence suggests that polygamy - specifically polygyny, where one husband has multiple wives - may have benefits. A study of polygamous relationships in Tanzania indicated that wives in polygynous relationships experienced greater food assurance and overall better health than monogamous wives.
However, the researchers were careful to note that the study only considered food and physical health, which may not reveal other harmful effects of polygamy. In addition, they noted that the benefits were only observed for a wife living with their husband, those married but living elsewhere saw no benefit.
What's wrong with polygamy?
Although it may be possible for some to have healthy polygamous relationships, they are associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, adverse effects on children, and intimate partner violence. Polygamy - most notably polygyny, or one husband married to multiple wives, is also associated with several legal, ethical, and human rights concerns.
The United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) asserts that polygamous marriage “contravenes a woman’s right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited.”The sentiment was echoed by the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee.
Furthermore, the American Bar Association holds that polygamy violates the rights of women under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, fundamentally undermining the right women have to be treated equally to men in the eyes of the law. They propose that polygamous marriages are inherently unequal in several legal matters, creating a significant problem when attempting to apply customary law fairly to all parties in a polygamous marriage.
The vast majority of evidence suggests that polygamy may have significant risks that outweigh any benefits. While some proponents of polygamy suggest that it could reduce economic burdens and strengthen families, there is insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that polygamy is safe or healthy.
Where is polygamy most common?
Polygamy is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, where 11% of marriages are polygamous. It is most prominent in Burkina Faso, a country where 36% of marriages are polygamous. Despite high concentrations of polygamous relationships in West Africa and Central Africa, fewer than 2% of households worldwide are polygamous. Fewer than 0.5% of relationships are polygamous in most countries outside of West and Central Africa.
What country allows multiple wives?
58 out of 200 countries statutorily allow polygamous marriages. They are mostly concentrated in Africa and the Middle East, forming a region commonly referred to as the “polygamy belt.” It is banned in all of North and South America, including in all 50 U.S. states. Polygamy is most common in West and Central Africa. The country with the most polygamous relationships is Burkina Faso, of which 36% of the population is involved in polygamous marriage.
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