The Sister Wives

Image courtesy TLC

I’ve been watching Sister Wives with my roommates every Sunday evening the past few weeks, and instead of solving all of the questions that I had about that lifestyle, it’s opened up even more questions. I’m sure if I did some vigorous googling I could come up with some answers, but still be left with more.

Sister Wives is a show on TLC which follows the lives of four women and their relationship and family with one man. The first wife is the only legal wife, but all of them live together in one house, each with separate living units (kitchen, bedrooms, living rooms, etc.). Heck, it could be called an apartment complex. The husband spends every fourth night with each of the wives to make it fair. He has no personal space of his own for this reason. There are a total of sixteen kids between the four of them, and they’re not done having children. Only one of the wives did not grow up in a polygamist family.

To sort of synthesize my frame of view with some of the questions I’m asking, know that I find it odd that in order to be recognized as “officially” married, you must have a slip of paper from the state (note: this entire concept is a post for another time). I also think it’s odd that the tax system treats married people (both jointly and separately filing) differently from single filers, etc. If you’re interested in the sister wives, read more after the jump.

NOTE: The focus of this is to ruminate on polygamist relationships and what they might encounter that is different from monogamous ones, not about ad hominem attacks on the Browns. Also, when I refer to wives in the questions, know that’s also vice versa for one woman and many men too.

So this is the beginning of my many questions regarding this situation:

When it comes to the selection of wives, granted that the morals/lifestyle choices match up, does the selection process for an additional mate change? Say, for example, one wife is neurotic but very attractive, while another is relatively less attractive, but more stable. Considering when monogamous couples are looking for the best match for himself or herself, in a polygamous relationship, does that change because the flaws/assets in one potential wife actually help to balance the entire family (rather than just the man) as a whole?

How are taxes filed? Because three of the four women are not legally married to Kody, are there any gains at the municipal/state/federal level as a result of their lifestyle (i.e. filing single instead of married filing separately)?

How on earth is health insurance/hospital visitation/etc. handled? If something happens to Kody (the husband), though he’s related by blood to 13 of the children, what happens to Robin’s children, the newest wife’s? She is neither legally tied to him nor are her children blood-related to him. Even if he attempts to adopt them, we do not know Robin’s situation with her ex-husband in order to consider that a possibility.

What are the housing codes in Utah? I know in parts of (if not all) Kansas and Virginia that, with some exceptions, if more than four unrelated women (or persons in general) are living together in one housing unit, it’s considered a brothel (or overcrowded) and therefore illegal. If this is so in Utah, how does that affect other polygamist families without special separate housing units with more than four unrelated wives?

Kody says he recognizes he sounds like a hypocrite regarding his sense of wrongness about a woman having multiple husbands, and that he can’t explain or justify it. The wives say they chose that situation, and though that’s true, have there been nonreligious (or perhaps religious?) instances of men doing the same for one woman?

How are the big decisions made, such as letting Robin, the latest fiancée-turned-wife, into the “flock”? Is it Kody’s choice alone, if the wives happened to find her disagreeable (they don’t; besides the obvious jealousy issues associated with polygamy, which the sister wives aren’t afraid to admit), or must a group decision be made? Certainly more members create more tension about the decisions, and the jealousy issues certainly make it more of a problem, taking sides, etc.

Kody does not have his own space. The wives frequently gang up on him in the interviews for failing to address their needs and feelings, sometimes which are due simply to the living situation than any mea culpa errors on his part per se, but how does he handle multiple people in a relationship that are feeling this way?

And finally, the family is facing prosecution for being polygamist. Except Kody is not legally married to the other three women (as far as we know, he only has a marriage license with the first wife Meri), so how is this any different than a married couple living in an apartment complex with three other single women with children?

And on a generally lighter note, how many wedding rings does Kody wear?

I’m sure there’s more I’ve forgotten/missed. Does anyone else follow this, and if so, any other questions out there? Also, if you’re as perplexed as I am, stay tuned this Halloween at 10pm for a follow-up interview with the Browns.

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One Response to The Sister Wives

  1. Prodigal Son says:

    I am disappointed in myself for not being able to watch this show yet. As a polyamorous individual (different than polygamy but some of the same problems are faced) maybe I can share how some of these questions have been answered in my personal experiences as well as the experiences of those I have talked to.

    When it comes to the selection of wives, granted that the morals/lifestyle choices match up, does the selection process for an additional mate change?
    In my experience each individual is really judged for their own merit. I have never known anyone who pursues or picks someone to balance out the relationships, but I have seen this occur naturally. Much in the same way that certain roles develop among siblings, spouses will fall into certain roles that bring balance and stability to the relationship. Each individual member utilizes their comparative advantage as it were. I have seen this actually help two people who may not be perfect for each other keep a solid relationship. For instance, if one man is not much of a cuddler or doesn’t enjoy talking, another man can enter the relationship to fulfill this need for the woman.

    As far as taxes, insurance, housing codes, etc… I don’t know. In my opinion they are all unjustified intrusions by the state that date back to post-Civil War society where the government began passing marriage laws to prevent interracial marriage. I don’t plan to ever file marriage paperwork with a criminal network.

    have there been nonreligious (or perhaps religious?) instances of men doing the same for one woman?
    This happens all the time in the polyamorous world. There are many more men than women who are interested in multiple spouses so it usually ends up with more men than women in a relationship together.

    How are the big decisions made, such as letting Robin, the latest fiancée-turned-wife, into the “flock”?
    From my experience it is a group decision. Obviously this gets more difficult as the group gets bigger and more consensus is needed for important decisions but for something like adding a new partner it usually takes unanimous support. There are exceptions, in some polyamorous relationships the groups are not completely intertwined so a woman may have a boyfriend that has no contact with her other boyfriends/girlfriends. The balancing act can be difficult though and open honest communication is always the key. Even if a man is only seeing one member of the group the group should know of his existence.

    how does he handle multiple people in a relationship that are feeling this way?
    I don’t know. In my opinion he should have another man in the relationship to help take care of the needs of the women and have his own space.

    how is this any different than a married couple living in an apartment complex with three other single women with children?
    It isn’t… which is part of why the government sucks, it is wasting tax dollars on prosecuting someone who has not harmed anyone. This is also why many polyamorous groups stay completely under the radar and feel like they can only openly discuss their lifestyle in secret among people they know.

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