I have been asked many times about jealousy in plural families. Misperceptions about jealousy often pop up when people comment on the subject so I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it.
Do plural wives experience jealousy? Yes, and this is one reason why living plural marriage offers us the opportunity to become more refined and better individuals. Jealousy can be very instructive and insightful for the individual. It can help us overcome things that otherwise we would never overcome. We don’t have to dwell and live in that negative emotion we call jealousy – it can be a fantastic emotional school master.
To use jealousy as an instructor, first you have to understand jealousy so you can correctly apply the lessons. There are two types of jealousy as I see things: a jealousy to guard something precious to us (this can be healthy if schooled well and not addressed in this post) and a jealousy that comes from insecurities and selfishness. Sometimes both kinds of jealousies can manifest themselves at the same time.
Jealousy is a secondary emotion that comes from a fear of loss. I believe jealousy helps us grow the most when used for self examination rather than looking for external relief (that is, looking for other people to change so we can feel better). There are too many lessons that jealousy has to offer to recount at this time but I will go into the most common lessons that come from plural marriage.
A wife may commonly feel jealous in plural marriages because (1) she has insecurities concerning her own relationship with her husband, (2) she has insecurities about herself, or (3) she’s overly focused on her own desires.
So what should be done about it? If you feel insecure in your relationship with your husband, it might be a simple fix: you may only need to double check that everything is okay between you and your man by receiving a hug or a simple word of affirmation. If however, you come to believe that everything is not okay between you and your man, then your feeling of jealousy served you: you are now more aware of how you need to work harder on your marriage and while that may be difficult, it can always be helpful. Studying your sister wives’ marriages can teach you how to have a better marriage with your husband and how to have a better relationship with them as well.
When you come from a monogamous upbringing, you will likely be barraged with the thought pattern that anytime your man pays attention or gives affection to another women, that means they are not loyal to you or that they are cheating on you and mistreating you. If you have this thought pattern (even in your subconscious), it will cause you a lot of pain in a plural lifestyle (not because this lifestyle is responsible for those feelings but because those thought patterns are not conducive to happily living plural marriage). If you have this thought pattern ingrained in you from your upbringing, it will need to be replaced with a new thought pattern that is conducive to happily living this lifestyle. This can take a lot of work and focus to accomplish.
One example of a helpful thought pattern replacement is this: “My husband can love me fully and another fully. It is not one or the other. His love and affection to another does not threaten his love and affection to me. He can love us both.” If this thought pattern is the one you operate on (whether you replaced your old one or you were raised to think that way), then you do not feel jealous when you see your man act lovingly to another wife. This thought pattern alone will not rid you of unhealthy jealousies but it can build a strong foundation.
Another common jealousy problem is for one wife to perceive (rightly or wrongly) that her husband thinks more highly of another wife. This can be perceived for multiple reasons but here are a few common reasons: (1) you feel you are undeserving of his love or adoration; (2) you feel the other wife is undeserving of his love or adoration because of her shortcomings; (3) you feel unhappy with your relationship because your sister wife has desirable qualities you don’t have and so you end up feeling replaced. And, wow, you will be in a big mess if you’re feeling jealous for all of those reasons! Poor soul! Jealousy can be quite painful. But remember, becoming aware of your own feelings is not enough. Recognizing the feelings but not doing anything about it will only make you feel miserable. You have to do something about it. Relief from feelings of jealousy comes from self reflection followed by self improvement. You may need to find and obtain tools for healthy self reflection and improvement from someone else, which may require you to be humble and teachable, but resources are available. Following this process is how this lifestyle can beckon and then direct us to become more refined individuals.
An unhelpful thought pattern with jealousy looks something like this: “I see my husband appreciate [insert good quality] about my sister wife and I am not like that and so he doesn’t love me as much as he loves her.” A conducive thought pattern to live this way happily is to recognize that we are all made to be different (Thank goodness! Can you imagine how boring our world would be if everyone was exactly the same?) and your man can fully love you for whatever is unique about you and he can fully love your sister wife for whatever is unique about her (and you may learn to love that quality about her as well). Variety is a good thing. We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses and that is okay. Sister wives need to learn to fully accept this principle. If you are bothered by a weakness you have, then work on improving that weakness – you don’t have to feel your relationship with your husband is threatened because someone else has different weaknesses or strengths than you. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to do with strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it is just different like a peach and an apple. If you want to improve on a weakness you have that another wife does not have, guess what? You now have someone who you can observe and study to figure out how to overcome your weakness and convert it into a strength (great self improvement opportunity). But keep in mind and recognize that nobody is perfect and that is okay (although we should strive to make ourselves the best person we can become).
The better relationship skills someone has, the better relationships they produce. This can create inequality in the relationships of a plural family and that can cause jealousy. If you self reflect and self improve, everyone gets better relationships. If you don’t self reflect or if you fail to self improve after self reflecting, that jealousy (just like any other jealousy) can be turned on the other individual in the form of mistreatment and demands for them to “fix” the inequality. I would highly encourage those wanting to live a plural lifestyle to study how to produce healthy relationships, particularity marriage relationships (focusing on what you can do to improve it and not others). One of my favorite books on this topic is called “Fascinating Womanhood.” It is an older book, but has a lot of wisdom to offer. However, it is made with a monogamous mindset so it needs a few slight adaptions for the plural lifestyle.
It is important in a plural family to look beyond yourself. Too much self focus will make you unhealthy and miserable to be around for other people. It can also lead you to be hyper-sensitive and jealous at every turn. It can also lead you to not see your own blessings clearly or to see other people’s blessings in an unhealthy way and thereby produce inaccurate comparisons that cause you to take more to yourself than what others have and still feel the others have more than you do. It can skew your vision. Be careful of too much self focus and instead, use your time to watch out for others. Learn to rejoice in other people’s happiness and be active in creating other people’s happiness and you will be happy too … and you will be free from jealousy.