Husband Wife Relationship

The Colorado City-Centennial Park communities distinguish between two types of families: elite or "united polygyny" (i.e., live together in one house) and commoner or "divided polygyny" (i.e., living in separate homes). The cultural ideal is to live together in one large house, but the reality is that only the local elite families are able consistently to accomplish this.

Within the family, the religious principles are centered on the notion of harmonious or familial love. Harmonious love encourages respect, empathy, helpfulness, and lasting affection; therefore it often serves as the principal means to bind and unite the polygynous family. Its nondyadic focus stands in sharp contrast to romantic love, a tolerated but seldom glorified emotional experience.

There is a continuum in men's and women's involvement in plural marriage that ranges from shared equality to outright favoritism. Men, as the symbolic center of the family, must balance each wife's emotional and economic interests. Conscious of the impact of favoritism on the harmony of the family, men strive to modify some of its harmful impact. To this end most husbands are diligent in spending quality time (e.g., dinners and trips), if not equal time, with each cowife. In this regard, women intently study and assess their husband's actions and are quick to note acts that suggest favoritism. If a husband can avoid pursuing his interests and struggle or, in their words, "sacrifice" in order to uphold the religious principles, the household ambience will be relatively harmonious and content.

The most delicate and potentially dangerous situations arise when a new wife enters the family. This is the most unstable time in a fundamentalist household and often tests a woman's religious convictions and, in turn, her willingness to participate in a plural marriage. During this liminal state, the new wife usually receives the husband's undivided attention, and cowives do not complain about their husband spending a lot of time with the new wife. It is understood that the honeymoon intimacy will continue once the couple returns from their trip. However, if the intimacy continues beyond a few weeks, it will engender a round of questions and doubts and, ultimately, generate into intense jealousy among the cowives.

Mormon polygynous wives who are not the central focus of their husband's attention and love deeply resent the "favorite" wife. If the favoritism persists, a wife will assume that her husband has grown emotionally distant and is no longer interested in her. When this happens, a wife will respond in one of three ways: she will seek to rekindle her husband's waning interest; she will resign herself to the loss of affection and seek emotional fulfillment exclusively in her children; or she will divorce and seek fulfillment in another marriage. Clearly, it is imperative for all concerned that the husband and his wives avoid favoritism and work together to sustain a harmonious family ambience. However, it is the rare plural family where the harmonious family ideal is sustained more than a few days.

If polygynist women are emotionally vulnerable, particularly to psychological abandonment, so are the men. If a polygynist husband becomes too attached, he knows that he will disrupt family bonds and damage his reputation within the community for being unable to manage his family. However, if he becomes too detached, he will live a life devoid of emotional intimacy.

A man is dependent on his wife's (or wives') assistance in attracting another spouse for, even if the priesthood council recommends a marriage partner, the woman must still decide. Her decision is often based on three factors: the quality of family harmony (actual and potential) represented in the cooperation between cowives; the intensity of affection held for the husband; and the number of wives, especially young wives, in the family. It is cultural given that it is often in a young woman's short-term interest to marry a middle-aged man with mature wives.

Mature wives are not powerless. They are respected, valued, and loved not because of seniority, but rather for either the quality of marriage or their access to valuable resources (e.g., a deceased husband's retirement funds, social security benefits, or some other forms of inheritance or income). This wealth, while not considerable, is often sufficient to attract another wife. With this supplementary source of income, a man can buy a used car or build a home for his new wife. If a wife withholds her income, it can undermine her husband's ability to attract another wife. A polygynist husband depends on his cowife's (or cowives') assistance to sustain a friendly household environment and to provide economic aid in helping him build his heavenly kingdom.

Men and women embrace the polygynous principle and its call for plurality, while simultaneously seeking to hold onto, or rekindle, the romantic passion once felt toward a particular spouse. The tensions that erupt around this dilemma are the source of the drama found in daily life living in a fundamentalist community. The reality is that the majority of polygynous families seldom achieve genuine long-lasting harmony but remain, at best, a cauldron of competing interests that periodically rupture the fragile balance that unites a man, his wives, and children in their religiously inspired and unified cultural system.

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