09/27/2010 05:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Happiness Is ... Polygamy?

"Big Love," about a fictional man and his three beautiful wives, piqued our interests and our curiosity about polygamy. Now there is the TLC reality show "Sister-Wives" about a man and his three wives living in a plural marriage and, while the Brown family is not nearly as interesting nor as likable as the fictional Bill Hendrickson family in "Big Love," the curious will tune in to see this real-life family dynamic of one man and his wives.

Men in traditional marriages may at first smile at the fantasy of "three women all wanting me!" but reality sets in and they imagine the financial and emotional stress of having more than one wife at the same time in their lives on a daily basis. Wives in a one-on-one marriage, on the other hand, feel that having to share their man sexually, emotionally and financially, is something relegated to purely ancient patriarchal societies. Yet the curiosity about polygamous marriages remains. Why would anyone enter into a plural union?

Polygamy as a form of marriage has been around for a long time. To be sure polygamy is mentioned in the books of many world religions and still practiced in some countries as both a custom and a religious belief. In ancient times, it was a practice that was not only for religious purposes but political ones as well. It helped to connect tribes and dynasties through marriages in the hope that a man might think twice before attacking the lands of his in-laws, many though he may have. On a purely practical reason it was seen as insurance that a man would have children. Death in childbirth for both mother and child was a terrible reality and a man's chances for fatherhood were better if he had more than one wife.

It was an accepted form of marriage by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, in the United States until 1890, when it was outlawed. It is still practiced today, albeit illegally, by some who have broken away from the main body of the church. Please note that polygamy is not sanctioned nor condoned by the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Since most couples, men and women, find a polygamous relationship strange to say the least, there is still the curiosity about how and why some people would even want to live this type of life. Why a man would want to have more than one spouse and why a woman would be content to be a sister-wife.

While I have written about the many types of marriages that couples enter into (love marriages, mature marriages, gay marriages, second marriages, arranged marriages, sexless marriages, etc.), I am hard pressed to find something that most of us would see as beneficial in a plural marriage.

To me, marriage means love between one woman and one man. I want the commitment between us to be based on love. I want to love and be loved by one man and to know that I am the only one cuddling up to my husband at night. I want to feel that I am the only woman in his heart and in his arms, on his mind, and in his life. I do not want to share him.

To be even more honest I would say that I don't know if I could live with other women as a "sister-wife" sharing everything and one man. For me personally, it simply would not work.

But, to be fair as a lifestyle writer, I must state that I was not raised to believe that polygamy is an acceptable form of a marital union. I was raised to see marriage as a way of expressing love between two people, and two people only, one husband and one wife.

Anyone not born into a certain way of life has a difficult time understanding what they consider strange traditions. This is especially true when it comes to religions. The great Native American of the Nez Perce tribe, Chief Joseph, said, "It is easy to laugh at what you don't understand."

That may be true but still some serious questions about the polygamous life need to be asked:

Is polygamy beneficial to all parties concerned?
Is it detrimental to women, causing an inequality in the marriage dynamics?
Can it perpetuate forms of abuse?
Besides having been raised in an environment and religious belief system where polygamy is as accepted as a family dinner on Sunday, why would anyone else choose this form of marriage?

The laws of most western countries state that a polygamous union is illegal and will prosecute against those who are in plural marriages, yet the practice persists.

While the premise of the TLC show is interesting, with the family trying to make us believe that polygamy is as normal as apple pie, it does not show the reality of plural marriages as it is behind closed doors. All marriages, whether two spouses or plural, do not show their darker sides in public.

The idea of having one person love you and you loving that person in return is simple. There is a charm and sweetness in that phrase, "we two are now one." I can't see sharing that phrase with anyone else.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen and visit her Keys to Happiness blog.
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