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Monogamy vs Polygamy; What's The Difference?

Updated on September 30, 2010

In order to try answering this question, I will tell a story. The story is about two men, born on the same day, in two different countries on different parts of the world. One was born in a country in the western part of the world where the dominant religion is Christianity while the other one was born in the Eastern part where the dominant religion is Islam.

They both grew up normal kids in their own backgrounds, got educated to the higher education level with the attendant college degrees. They both turned into very responsible members of their societies. Both of them had normal relationships with the opposite sex and actually had steady girlfriends by the time they were graduating college. After college, they both landed good jobs and were doing very well. In fact, you could say that they became wealthy. Finally, it came time to get married when they turned twenty five and each of them, as expected, got married to the girl they started going steady with during their last year of college.

After five years of marriage, the one from the East, who I will call Muhammad, took a second wife, as is acceptable in his society, and wedded her. Then, just five months after Muhammad's second wedding ceremony, the one from the West, whom I will call John, concluded his divorce from his wife of five years and took a second wife. By this time, they were both thirty years old and each had a four year old child. They went on with their lives, one with his two wives and the other with his second wife.

Seven years down the road, when they were both thirty-seven, John began having problems in his second marriage which has also produced one child. He tried everything possible, with his wife, to sort out their differences because that marriage was the second for both of them. When their efforts didn't work, they headed to the divorce court and had the marriage dissolved. After this second divorce, John was understandably reluctant to remarry and decided to wait a few years before marrying again. He wanted to have some time alone with his children; John Jr. who was eleven and Janet who just turned six.

Meanwhile, his counterpart from the East, Muhammad, was still living happily with his two wives and three children. His first wife had given birth to their second child while the second one also gave birth to her first. Three years later, when he turned forty, Muhammad decided to take a third wife to commemorate an important change in his status. He had achieved the position of Imam in his religious life and thought he needed to mark that achievement with a wife. So he took his third wife.


Back in the West, after living alone with his children for the last three years, John decided it was time to get married, once again. On his fortieth birthday, he proposed to this girl he'd been seeing for the past two years and they got married shortly afterwards. Five years into the marriage his third wife took in and gave birth to a child, John's third. After another five years, John's latest wife decided they weren't compatible anymore. John, himself, said he thought they'd grown apart over the years and back to the divorce court they headed. So it happened that at fifty years of age, with three children ranging in age, from twenty-four to five years, John once again, found himself single.

At this time in the East, Muhammad's two junior wives had each added a child, bringing the total number of his children to five. Beside that, there was nothing else to report because the family was living very happily. Muhammad, being a good Muslim, was doing his best to keep his wives happy and, from the looks of it, he appeared to be successful doing that. He thought that, even though his religion allowed him to take four wives, he was okay with three. He believed that three wives were the number he could very comfortably take care of physically, financially and emotionally. After all, that was the condition his religion gave everybody to meet who wanted to take multiple wives.

John, on the other hand, was anything but happy. He was alone and this was six years after his last divorce. He had decided not to remarry after that last divorce but now he was realizing that that was easier said than done. He wasn't getting any younger and he was missing the touch of a woman in his life. After all, he has always believed himself to be the marrying type and had always dreamed of growing old with someone he loved, and who loved him back. At this point, the argument for taking another wife became overwhelming and he did. So, it happened that at the ripe young age of fifty-six, with children aged thirty, twenty-five and eleven, John jumped into his marriage number four which might not be his last, given his history.

The story of these two men, while it might not be typical, illustrates polygamy and monogamy in two different cultures that support each. It tries to show where the similarities, if any, are between these two systems of marriage. Monogamy is supposed to be a one man, one woman thing and, therefore should be for life. When we can marry as many times as possible, just as long as we can divorce, then there's no difference and we have no moral justification to criticize those who practice polygamy.

The bottom line is that these two men both slept with multiple women in their marriages. The only difference is that while Muhammad was sleeping and keeping is women, John was getting rid of one before getting into bed with the next. You could call Muhammad greedy for keeping all the women to himself but then, you have to call John mean for swapping the women with other men. Monogamy, as practised today, is like a game of musical chairs where you sit briefly and get up for the next chair so that somebody else can jump on the chair you just left. Polygamy, on the other hand, is like a version where you keep every chair that you sit on so that nobody else can sit on them.

My conclusion is that the reason monogamists give for criticizing polygamists is moral and is based on the Christian ethic of one man, one wife. What they conveniently forget is that the same ethic also prescribes that the marriage should be for life. Therefore, once you divorce and marry somebody else, you're no different from a polygamist because you have slept with a second woman which is what monogamy is meant to guard against. This is what I think. What do you think?



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    • Matt Jordan III profile image

      Matt Jordan 4 years ago from Gulf Coast

      There is a middle road here. Can you take a stab at that? Good hub.

    • profile image

      Jumana 5 years ago

      Why dont we talk abaut what a woman feel when a man She loved want to merry a second and third woman? Why dont we talk abaut the right of a woman to be the one and only for His man just like the man is the one and only for Her. and..: Not every eastern man leaves His wife.Not every eastern man cheat His wife.Some are stay together,one man and one woman,respecting each other and not collect the other ,like collecting dogs when He like them.

    • Ian Morris profile image

      Ian Morris 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      As in the reality of the Consciously Created all is freewill, therefore every being deciding to create whatever reaity is up to them as a choice... But to add from observation.... Both men and women are very much equal creations, for both house the energies of Divine Feminine and Masculine Creation.

      If one feel they, meaning the beings involved, are a greater expression of their higher selves by monogamist or a polygamist realionship is completely up to them.. From my understanding of why I will choose a polygamist expression of my love is for one... One should not have to contain their love, than truly it doesn't become unconditional rather very restrictive, second, all parties have to freewill to create as their hearts desires, should one of the women desides she rather share her love with another, so be it... Whenever the soul's freewill is restricted it will always rebell, especially when it's told to suppress what is a natural aspect of who we're.

      Also from experience, having two mothers altho not biological or two dads, {not staying together} is also a blessing, the love and wisdom gain from each is very unique and unconditional, and the love for my siblings shares no bondries of illusionary seperation....

      I would like to create a union if agreed upon with the women ofcourse, to have children from different parts of the Universe...

    • profile image

      asma 6 years ago

      i am of the view that if u are realy cannt live happy life with one wife or husband u should take divorce. and by having an unpleasant marital life u will spoil lives of children also, but first one should handle and settle with old one rather then new one

    • profile image

      cmrunner 6 years ago

      jesus did not have any wives! polygamy is wrong and even though divorcing is basically the same thing i agree with that. divorce is wrong too. if one is a strong enough christian and trusts in god enough than they can get through anything. even a relationship that they think is done for. people will get tired of eachother. its a fact. but being married is a promise to the other person.

    • profile image

      Justme13 6 years ago

      I am married to the same lovely woman I met in 1993, we divorced in 2004 and remarried in 2009. She is younger than me by 10 years and needed her freedom to explore, and I let her. We stayed friends,but I missed her each and everyday. Now we are back together and like all married couples, we have our problems. One problem we do not have is wanting to split so we can be with other people, she is free to date whomever she pleases,as am I.So far it has worked out to both of our benefits., keeps us happy, satisfied and together as a family.

    • profile image

      kim 6 years ago

      Setting the whole mono/poly thing aside, what I found disturbing was how the article described the women as things to be collected or discarded. The poly guy married a 3rd to commemorate his status? So in each of the marriages, the women are acting as support staff and are an extension of the mans accomplishments/failures. Not individual people, just the husbands things he collected and one is a trophy he acquired to mark his status. Neither of those examples are good examples IMO, and I'm of the mind that consenting adults can marry who they want, however they want and live their lives accordingly. And the children come off as property, the way the article makes it sound. The wives gave them children? His children, not their children. And neither marriage described touches on the fact that all marriage/relationships take work. The poly marriage didn't work because it was poly, it worked because everyone (presumably..can't say the women were happy or not, none of their perspectives were ever mentioned)was happy with it. The mono marriage didn't fail because it was mono, it failed because no one was happy. The only thing in that article I can agree with is consenting adults should be allowed to marry and conduct their lives however they feel best. Be that monogamy, polygamy, same sex etc. As long as everyone is an adult, and gives consent it shouldn't be an issue.

    • profile image

      big e 6 years ago

      thank you

    • profile image

      Cuckhold Don 7 years ago

      I think it's been well proven that monogamy does not work!

    • mytipen profile image

      mytipen 7 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A

      Veronica, you have the right to whatever you choose to do and however you chose to live your life and that's exactly the point of my article. Coming to your math, all I have to say is that not everyone is cut out for marriage and not everyone's cut out for polygamy. Again, in all the places I know where polygamy is legally practised, not one has run out of women.

      To you Budd I say, keep searching and don't be discouraged by the double standards. That's what the world is all about, double standards.

    • profile image

      budd 7 years ago

      i am a 53 year old male, and my girl friend is 35, we are poliganous also, we have been interested in finding another women to live with us for over 3 years now, i have found that most people are more tolerant of wife swapping and 'serial monogomy' than they r of "honest poliganous relationships". i have a sister that will rally around 'gay rights' but as for me having honest poliganous relationships, she opposes, and cant stand to even look me in the face. if i were to just screw anyone i wanted to and be a lier about it, she would be fine with that [she understands that]. what she doesn't understand is how i can have honest poliganous relationships. i believe the false babylon roman religious systems "and her daughters" brought about the false teachings that are prevalent in society today in reguard to many things, and marriage is one of those things.

    • profile image

      Veronica 7 years ago

      Totally written from the man’s point of view, I wouldn’t emotionally or physically fulfilled by a man I was sharing with 2 others. What about the women, I’d rather have different men throughout my life than be sharing someone the whole time and sticking around when he chooses to ‘reward’ himself for nothing more than getting older. And I would like to raise the very important question of maths. If every man was to take (or try to)2 wives or more this would result in not enough women to go around! Let’s not be greedy, let’s say everyman gets 'only' 2wives. As there are 100 female babies born for every 105 male we can assume a ratio of at least 50/50 by adulthood. Half of all adult men would therefore have no wife, no sexual partner & no children. Polygamy grew from a time of bloody war and early death, this is changing all around the world as the more and more people reach full adulthood.

    • Sunny Robinson profile image

      Sunny Robinson 7 years ago from Tennessee

      I'm sort of in agreement with m00t.

      I'm going to go out there and say that marriages doesn't have to be based on faith. Polygamy can be based on the fact that multiple spouses fell in love with each other and all married each other. I also believe it doesn't have to be polygyny. There are all kinds of possibilities, as long as it works like m00t says -- " I do believe that regardless of poly or mono marriages, you still need to be mature to handle the stress of both. You can't handle happiness if you can't handle responsibility. We should still aim for the best happiness."

      It's about consensual, mutual relationships in which the people strive to commit to meeting needs and making it work.

    • profile image

      m00t 7 years ago

      I agree with your conclusion, although I'm a your arguments leading to it.

      First of all, you need to understand that Christianity is a divided house. One prefers polygamy, one is monogamy. Granted, Jesus himself had 3 - 4 wives so he was never lonely. Secondly, many divorced people do remain good friends with their past wives/husbands. Divorce isn't always a blob of drama; it just means that you have (or rather, SHOULD) matured and now you need another person to help you become wiser. There are mono marriages where a couple managed to stay happy overall for decades.

      To produce good offspring, you need a good woman and a good man. In a monogamous setting, the woman would have to also compete not just in beauty, but even more so in wit and charm. The reason is this: The more offspring a woman has, the more likely she will produce a child that is not competent. Therefore, to make sure the BEST SET OF MEN choose her, she must make sure both her beauty and talent is among the BEST SET OF WOMEN. Furthermore, let's say man and woman divorce and makes a family with other people. The woman's participation can help diversify gene pool rather than just the man donating his seeds. As the human race, we still want a slightly diverse set of gene pool; I fear polygamy might tighten the diversity of genes too much.

      The question with polygamy is, what if the woman in a poly marriage falls in love with another man because that man is more compatible with her and can make her even happier (let's assume the other man is well-off)?

      As a young girl, I feel I can only devote to one person; maybe as I grow older and get married I'll understand. I do believe that regardless of poly or mono marriages, you still need to be mature to handle the stress of both. You can't handle happiness if you can't handle responsibility. We should still aim for the best happiness.

    • mytipen profile image

      mytipen 7 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A

      Thanks for your comment Maggie, while I do understand your point, I feel sad to say that, unfortunately, there isn't very much I can do about it. Yes, my story is told from a man's point of view, and that may well be double standards, but I wrote about what I know. I believe there are societies that practise polyandry and monoandry but I don't know much about it as it is not as common as polygamy and monogamy.

    • profile image

      Maggie Stewart 7 years ago

      The only prob I find with this story is that it is made from a man's point of view. Double standards, again. The fact that the story would not work with two women tells you there is something very wrong in this world when it comes to equality of the two human genders.

    • mytipen profile image

      mytipen 7 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A

      Thanks for reading and sharing your story Diva, I'm glad you're happy in your relationship. That buttresses one of my points that your satisfaction in your relationship is not dependent on any one system or the other.

    • profile image

      Diva 7 years ago

      I am in a poly relationship...without both my husband and sister wife i am miserable...they both fulfill a certain desire in my life and yes others frown upon it but i am happy in the relationship i am in and that is all that really counts. So polygamy may not be for everyone so no one should frown upon a relationship like that.

    • mytipen profile image

      mytipen 7 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A

      Exactly my point SilentReed. We condemn without knowing and that's wrong.

    • SilentReed profile image

      SilentReed 7 years ago from Philippines

      My maternal grandfather lived with two wife under one roof. The children played together. My aunts and uncles grew up with love. With love, anything else does not matter.

    • mytipen profile image

      mytipen 7 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A

      Thanks for reading and leaving your comment dracaslair. I appreciate that

    • profile image

      dracaslair 7 years ago

      its just better to be with one at a time i think.

    • profile image

      dracaslair 7 years ago

      it's not good to be with more than one person at the sametime.too much drama.i had an affair on my ex hubby years ago and it was to much.


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