While many people think of marriage as a union between two people, there are parts of the world where more than two partners can be involved. Having more than one spouse is called 'polygamy'. In Kenya, this usually means a man has more than one wife, which is called 'polygyny'. There are a few communities in the world where 'polyandry' – a woman having more than one husband – is common.
In Kenya, polygyny is legal and accepted among some tribes and/or religious groups. If you're considering a polygamous relationship, make sure you understand the regional laws and customs around the practice first. For instance, legally speaking, men do not have to inform their current wife/wives if they decide to marry another woman.
In many cultures, having more than one wife is a status symbol, and shows wealth and power. Men who have many wives can get more work done – there are more hands to work on the fields, bring up the children and do the housework, giving them an economic advantage. And men can have more children if they're married to more than one woman. Large families are considered a blessing in many African cultures.
But living in a polygamous marriage can also mean jealousy, envy, hatred, and rivalry between the partners – sharing a husband isn't easy! Marriage is always difficult sometimes, and things become even more complicated when more than two people are involved. And it's not just difficult for the wives: the husband will have to deal with the problems of more than one family and make sure that everyone involved is content with the situation. In addition to emotional and practical difficulties, polygamous relationships can sometimes cause economic hardship if not well managed. Providing for a large family can be a challenge.
This type of relationship is not for everyone and there are no sure-fire ways to make it work. It all depends on the people involved and what their expectations and arrangements are.
Whether or not you agree with polygamous relationships, it should be up to those involved to decide. What's important is that everyone knows what they're agreeing to, and that they do so out of their free will.
You may be a man who likes the idea of being with multiple women. However, you'll also need to take care of multiple families and divide your time fairly between all your wives and children.
It's important to make sure your attention is equally divided and that you don’t favour one wife over another. This will help reduce jealousy and rivalry. Patience, understanding, and fairness are crucial – and of course good communication between you and all your wives.
Some men choose to keep their families in separate locations, whether that means opposite ends of the village or even different towns. This may help avoid confrontations, but you need to make sure you're being honest with each wife. It's very important that they know about the other(s). If you keep one family a secret and live a life of lies and dishonesty, things are bound to get complicated sooner rather than later.
You also need to appreciate that each family will have its own dynamics, so things will differ between the two families. You can’t expect things to always be a certain way. Flexibility is a must. You also need to understand that a second marriage won't solve any problems if you're not happy with your first wife.
When a man marries a new wife he often neglects the first, which can lead to a lot of bad feelings. On the other hand, the first wife might have a stronger bond with the husband, as they've spent time together without another wife around.
A second marriage can only be successful if the first is stable.
Whether or not you agree with polygamous relationships, it should be up to the people involved to decide.
If your husband wants to marry another wife, you need to talk about it. Find out why he want to take this step, and spend some time thinking about what you want. Sit down and go through the pros and the cons of adding more people to your marriage. Try to find something that works for both of you.
No one can be forced to accept a co-wife, but there's often a lot of pressure from the husband. Having open and honest conversations will help you and your partner understand the situation and, ideally, make a decision that addresses everyone’s needs.
The most important thing is that you both agree on the 'rules' of the relationship, and that you make the decision of your own free will.
If you choose to let other wives join the marriage, then make an effort to work together and get along. This might be very difficult at first, but in the long run having an amicable relationship will make it easier to share a husband. Things tend to be a bit easier if the women don't have to share a house – it's easier to have your own space.
There can be advantages to being part of such an arrangement. It means the women get some uninterrupted time with their children while the husband is with another family. And it can be reassuring to know that there's another family to take care of the children in case anything happens to you or your husband.