Uncommon: Second wives speak about their polygamous marriages

They are rare breed of women, often scorned by society and despised by other women folk. Their mistake? They happen to be second wives. I spoke to three women who are very proud to be in polygamous relationships and have no qualms about it.

They are rare breed of women, often scorned by society and despised by other women folk. Their mistake? They happen to be second wives. I spoke to three women who are very proud to be in polygamous relationships and have no qualms about it.

Man meets woman, woman likes man, man proposes, woman says yes, they get married, have kids and live happily ever after. That is the fairy tale script for most women. But the script has changed, instead of two players (man and woman), another (second) woman is the latest addition to the plot.

This second woman is much more than a fling, mistress, girlfriend or regular sex partner. The man loves and respects her, she is his wife – only difference is that the man already has another (wife). Back in the day, women accepted to be second wives for various reasons – mostly economic, in other instances to bear the man sons if the first wife had failed. The second wife was inferior compared to the first who commanded a lot of respect in the home.

READ ALSO: How to manage two wives: The story of a successful polygamous Kenyan man

Fast forward 2008. Second wives are smart, beautiful, educated and have very successful careers and businesses. Some second wives are younger while others are older than the first wife. Despite the negative perceptions about being second wives, these women have decided to go against the norm and enjoy their marriages while holding their heads up high.

Gladys 30 years, mother of one

Life is not predictable as most of us (women) tend to think. I never thought I would be a second wife because I grew up in a family and community that believes being a second wife is a crime. I have been married for two years now and I have no regrets about my decision.

It was not about the money and neither was I in a hurry to get married. I met a man who I liked but his only “fault” was he was married.

We had several options: to end the relationship, continue with a secret affair or for me to accept to be his second wife. He was 38 and I was 28 years and we had to make a decision and I decided to become his second wife. As expected, my resolution did not go down well with my family, friends and even work mates. My offence was falling in love and getting married to a man – who had another wife. But I told myself, I too need to be loved and love is love whether it is from a man with a wife or a man with no wife.

I entered the marriage knowing there was another woman in the picture and I had to live with that fact, it is me not the society or my family that has to deal it. Since we made the decision together, my husband knows he has two women who need to be loved and two families than he needs to support.

READ ALSO: Being a father is a decision you make

As long as a man loves me and provides for my children, I have no problem. I have the same things the first wife has – a four bedroom house in South C, a (KAZ) Toyota Premio, well furnished home and my son goes to Msingi Bora – a high cost kindergarten. Why should I complain? I am not unhappy. To me, he is my husband and not the husband of another woman.

Sadly most women (wives) expect men (husbands) to make them happy. The definition of happiness for men and women is very different like night and day. I am happy, he is happy. That is what matters.

The other wife knows about me but what she thinks is not really a problem to me. I have no issues being a second wife and I have no issues having a co-wife. My husband and I did not hide anything, he made the decision to marry me public and he has ensured each of us is treated equally and loved.

Esther, 38 years mother of three

I have been a second wife for the last eight years and I have no regrets. My family and friends have accepted it and it is no big deal now. When I got married, I faced opposition from the first wife and my family. They said the marriage would not work because I had married my husband because of his money. I already had a daughter from another relationship but I was also financially stable and had a very good job.

All human beings need to be loved, that is what people (men and women) always forget when they point fingers at women who are second wives. I became a second wife because I don’t see anything wrong with it. I needed a companion and to be loved.

I am very happy with my decision. I am better than those women who are in “monogamous” relationships. Most of them are unhappy and always anxious because they suspect their men are having affairs. There are a lot of external and internal pressures on couples and families. When a man works his a** of to provide for his family and the wife is not supportive and loving, the relationship will be affected. The man will look for the love, care, comfort and a listening ear from another woman. This is the reality many women have refused to accept. It is a fact; men too need love, care and respect – just like women. Wives push away their husbands by the way they treat them.

It is difficult to be the “perfect” wife because of various pressures and demands at home and at the work place. Woman have also cheated themselves that financial freedom is the key to happiness and so they have given up on their marriages and focused on making money and climbing the professional ladder but we all know despite all the money and success, a woman needs a man to love her.

Being the second wife gives me the better of two worlds. I have a husband who loves and cares for me while at the same time I can have my “me” time. When he is with the other wife, I have time to relax and enjoy my own company with the children. I can also hang out with my girlfriends, sleep with my face mud on, indulge in food like chips compared to when my husband is home because I have to cook certain types of meals. I don’t worry whether he is with a girlfriend or a mistress. If he doesn’t come home I know he is in the other house with my co-wife who I know is not with my husband for selfish reasons like money.

Wives are often suspicious always quarrel ling and demanding that the husband show cause for everything from being late, not answering the phone or responding to an SMS, having a strange smell in his shirt, why he dint call during the day etc. Men get pissed of and even have affairs because anyway the wife already thinks he is. Couples need a break from time to time. It can be difficult when you have to stay together everyday because you get tired and bored of each other. My husband alternates between me and his other wife. When we have a tiff, I know he will go to the other home and it gives me time to think and assess the situation and treat him better.

Lydia, 32 years

I don’t believe there is anything like first, second or third wife. A wife is a wife. It is the society that labels women and it is the men who create the difference. If a man loves all his wives equally, provides for them and treats them like individuals and not numbers, what is the problem? If a man knows how to manage his wives well, every one will be happy. He should not favour one wife because she is younger or has more sons. The favouritism is what causes chaos in the home.

My co-wife and I are very good friends because my husband sat us down and read the “riot act” to us. He said every family will be treated equally. We share resources like the car and house helps. Sometimes her children stay in my house and mine go to her house. We realised if we stressed our husband, we would suffer so we work hard to make him happy and in turn, we become very happy. Being in a polygamous marriage requires both women to be selfless. If one wife wants to spend the night with the husband, she can ask her co-wife to indirectly push him to the other house. On the other hand, if one wife sees the man has stayed for too long in her home without going to the other home, she should find out what the reason is. Unfortunately, many women are jealous and selfish. Competition is good because it will ensure the man is always happy but it is up to the man to make sober decision that will not result in strive and jealousy among his wives.

Women must know that times have changed. If a man wants to marry a second wife, there is nothing that will stop him. He will still go ahead and marry her and you will do nothing about it.

Marriage laws in Kenya

The Marriage Bill 2007 caused a stir last year. The proposed law allows polygamy but the man has to say before undertaking the first marriage that he intends to be polygamous. This was objected by men who said the law was unfair while the women said it would promote extra marital affairs by men. Pundits say it contradicts the Constitution which does not allow a person to get married twice before a divorce. In 1981, the Marriage Bill was shot down by members of parliament because it empowered wives by requiring that their husbands seek their consent before marrying another wife.

There are five separate legal systems for marriage in Kenya: civil (under the Marriage Act), Christian (under the African Christian Marriage and Divorce Act and the Marriage Act), Islamic (under the Mohammedan Marriage, Divorce and Succession Act), Hindu (under the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act), and customary (under customary laws). All types of marriages other than customary must be registered, but there are different and unconnected registries for each type, making it possible to have multiple marriages registered under the different systems – in contravention of the law.

Marriages under the civil, Christian, and Hindu regimes are legally required to be monogamous. A spouse who enters into another marriage while married under these systems is guilty of bigamy under Kenya’s criminal law. However, this crime is rarely prosecuted. Marriages under the Islamic and customary regimes are potentially polygamous. Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives while customary laws do not limit the number of wives. Customary marriages can be difficult to prove since they are not registered and are done through certain customary steps. The steps vary among the ethnic groups but the common factor is dowry payment by the man’s family to the woman’s family.

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist, in his book, Plural Marriage for our Time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He says many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society. According to him, turning an extramarital affair into a polygamous marriage, rather than divorcing the wife, is better for the children. “Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options,” he writes. Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men.

Did you know…

  • Polygamous marriages are not recognized in approximately 20 percent of modern societies. In societies where polygamous marriages are banned, men keep mistresses who are openly or secretly supported.
  • Mistresses and concubines rank lower than a wife and in some societies (that allow a man to have mistresses and concubines), they are placed under the authority of the wife.
  • Rivalry is also reduced by sororal polygamy – a type of marriage in which two or more sisters share one or more husbands. The assumption is that sisters will be more likely to amicably share a husband.
  • In Hong Kong, since work pressure is extremely high and birth rate is the lowest among the world, many Hong Kong businessmen keep a secret concubine across the border in mainland China. One of the reasons is that the cost of maintaining a second family there in the PRC is lower. Girls in mainland China are also more willing to be a full-time mother at a younger age.
  • According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygamy, 588 had more frequent polygamy, and four had polyandry.
  • Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living “constantly in a state of adultery and fornication,” a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal.
  • Researchers have argued that polygamy tends to benefit most women and disadvantage most men. The idea is that many women would prefer half or one third of someone especially appealing to being the single spouse of someone that doesn’t provide as much economic utility to them. Secondly, that the remaining women have a better market for finding a spouse themselves. Say that 20% of women are married to 10% of men, that leaves 90% of men to compete over the remaining 80% of women.

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