What does marriage look like?

How do you feel about polygamy? Hear me out…

I’ll admit it – I’m a huge fan of the show Sister Wives on TLC. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a reality show following a husband, his four wives, and eighteen children. It’s been on the air for a long time. In fact, many of the children are now grown – some even starting families of their own. I was really fascinated with this show since it showed a lifestyle so incredibly different from mine, however, in the later seasons, I was a little disgusted to see how arrogant and controlling the husband had become. I’ve seen all the episodes so now I need to find a new embarrassing guilty pleasure.

Today I didn’t have much going on, so while my husband was at work I started watching another show – Seeking Sister Wife. It’s a reality show that follows polygamous families searching for a new wife. This show is also really fascinating. Many of the families on the show aren’t religious at all, they just choose the lifestyle and want a big family. The families definitely weren’t what I was expecting. They were a very diverse group and not modestly dressed like you might picture with wives from plural marriage.

Now that I know you don’t have to be religious to be polygamous, I really wonder what that must be like. To be honest, I’m a jealous person and I demand a lot of my husband’s attention, so bringing another woman into the picture would probably be extremely difficult. But then again, after everything I’ve been through in the past few months with my mental health struggles, maybe it would be nice to have support from other adults in the house. Extra help raising my daughter? That sounds nice, too.

Okay, so I see a few benefits to this lifestyle…or maybe I just need more friends. Has anyone else wondered about this? Just me? And where are the brother husbands?

This also makes me wonder what I’m going to tell my daughter about marriage. Really, marriage can look just about any way you want it to as long as it’s between consenting adults. I got married at twenty-seven and I was so nervous on my wedding day. At the time, I felt marriage was necessary for my life. My husband didn’t feel as strongly about it. He married me because I wanted to get married. He’s made it clear that he would have been with me either way. 

I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she has to get married. I want her to be in whatever relationship makes her happy.

What does marriage look like for you? Parents, what have you taught your children about marriage? 


  1. Ada Christine says

    While I’m not exactly polygamous, my wife and I practice a type of “ethical non-monogamy.” I had been involved in non-monogamous partnerships before we got married, but my wife hadn’t before and she wasn’t really sure how it all could fit together harmoniously. Then she met somebody she caught feelings for and is now navigating this herself.

    The main takeaway is that when you’re in any kind of partnership with somebody, marriage or otherwise, it’s not one of possession or even obligation. It’s about making the choice and effort to be in that partnership every day and knowing–and doing your best to hold yourself accountable to–the set of responsibilities that come with each partnership. The web of responsibilities, choices and emotions that form around non-monogamous relationship structures is certainly complex and requires a great deal of effort and care to navigate. It’s not the sort of complexity that most people seem to want in their interpersonal affairs, so I do understand why people don’t wish to have it. It’s sometimes fraught, even for those of us with experience in these matters. Life is messy sometimes.


    These are the four thoughts that have determined my marital life:
    1. How can I know you are here because you want to be unless you are always free to leave? 2. I knew I would marry you when I lost interest in all others. That hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. 3. A relationship exists on three levels. The first is the agreement between the two of us. That can be created by a handshake one morning. The second is telling our families and friends that we are now a couple and should be treated as such. That involves telling them, and can be done all at once in some kind of party or ceremony. The third is to require that government treat us as a unit, which involves getting a license to be an official couple. So we got officially married.
    4. The other is not you. Don’t expect them to be.

  3. Allison says

    I can’t speak from personal experience, as I was only married once, and it was a standard cis het marriage. I do know a few people who do ethical non-monogamy or polygamy, and I’ve attended a number of sessions on it at LGBTQ+ converences.

    The main thing I’ve gathered is that these things require a lot more thinking and soul-searching and negotiating and a lot more honesty than a standard cis-het marriage. If you do a bog-standard marriage, your culture gives you all the roles and rules, so you don’t have to think or negotiate. You just do and feel what your culture tells you. (And when those roles and rules don’t work for you, you’re suddenly on your own.) If you’re going to do something else, you have to figure out what you need and what you’re capable of doing. It also takes a lot of maturity, more than most people seem to have when they get married.

    Actually, if you ignore the sexual aspects, households consisting of more than two adults have been pretty common. For example, a couple with children and a grandmother or aunt who lives with them and takes on some of the responsibilities of the household. Personally, I think this is actually better for children, since each “parent” can provide different forms of support and guidance.

    For myself, I don’t think either would work for me, as I have a lot of trouble dealing with the emotional (and sexual) aspects of relationships (C-PTSD), so even just being married to one person is pretty hard.

  4. maggie says

    Robert Heinlein’s book “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” describes quite a few variations on the marriage theme. It is SciFi from 1966.

  5. brightmoon says

    I grew up in a bog standard nuclear family – 2 kids and both parents but I have a huge extended family. . If I didn’t have my grandparents, my much older second cousin and her husband and my godfather I probably would have killed myself as my parents were abusive. But was shown another way to behave because one or another of these not-crazy people were always around so I didn’t mistreat my kids. Having extended family members probably saved my sanity. I’d probably prefer just having a nuclear family but I know that children do pick up good behaviors from others if they’re allowed .

  6. dangerousbeans says

    Marriage is built on control of women (some would argue less so in modern marriage, I disagree. The trappings of misogyny are too embedded into our cultural understanding of marriage) and polygamist marriage is the same. So I’m not a fan there. And that’s where the brother husbands are, being competition for control of women (although there are a couple of examples of polyandry around).
    I also think it’s important to be clear that ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is very different to traditional polygamist marriage. It may end up in the same structure, but it’s a very different path. It’s like comparing an ENM to a monogamous one, because both me and my partner are too tired to date anyone else.
    Although given the amount of work done by women in hetrosexual relationships, splitting that work up makes a lot of sense. Multiple wives to do the housework and emotional labour of dealing with the dude.

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