Volume 1 Issue 1 - 2016
Polygamy and Mental Health: an International Perspective
Alean Al-Krenawi*
Achva Academic College and Spitzer Department of Social Work, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
*Corresponding Author: Alean Al-Krenawi, PhD, Achva Academic College and Spitzer Department of Social Work, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
Received: February 25, 2016; Published: February 26, 2016
Citation: Alean Al-Krenawi. “Polygamy and Mental Health: an International Perspective”. EC Psychology and Psychiatry 1.1 (2016): 1-3.
The term polygamy is a Greek word meaning ‘‘the practice of multiple marriages’’ and is used in related ways in social anthropology, socio-biology, and sociology. Polygamy can be defined as a type of marriage practice or union that involves a number of people sharing a common spouse [1]. There are four main forms of polygamy: polygyny is the marriage of one man to many women, polyandry refers to the marriage of one woman to two or more husbands, polygyndry is a situation in which two or more women are at the same time married to two or more men, and polygynandry is used to refer to group marriage [1,2]. The other type of polygamy is an informal polygamy which describes relationships characterized by the simultaneous existence of a legal marriage of one man to a woman and an affair with a second woman that has become a stable feature of the family structure [3].
An international perspective
Polygamous communities exist in Algeria, Benin, Chad, Congo, Ghana, Togo, Tanzania, Thailand [4], Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and the United States [5]. Polygamy is practiced in a number of different societies of different religions around the world. In Muslim society, polygamy is widely seen as Islam allows a man up to four wives. However, due to contemporary economic and social conditions, polygamy is not common in all Muslim societies. Polygamy is prevalent and accepted in the Bedouin-Arab society in Israel. This could be because of the sociocultural beliefs of the Bedouin society, that larger families with more sons are associated with greater power and prestige [1]. In the Unites States, Mormons practice polygamy, as Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, said he received a revelation from God that told him to take more wives. In the Hindu faith, polygamy is prohibited however there are some Hindus in the Himalayas who continue to practice polygamy [6].
Mental health
There are many psychological implications of polygamy seen amongst men, women, and children. The practice has implications for entire familial structures, including current as well as future families and communities.
Studies based in the Middle East show the association between psychosocial problems and polygamy among women from polygamous families [7,8]. Polygamy is often characterized by competition and jealousy among co-wives as is commonly observed within plural marriage communities [9-12]. Co-wives likely have very limited private time with the lone husband they share, and thus might vie for his attention and favour. In addition, women’s self-worth is linked to the number of children they bear and, therefore, having time with their husband is also critical to their status within the family and community [13-15]. Claimed that the first wife in a polygamous marriage is affected psychologically and these women are also more likely to visit mental health practitioners. Previous research in Egypt, Kuwait, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey confirms the considerable psychological and health risks that are prevalent amongst senior wives in polygamous marriages [9,16,8].
A recent study, conducted by myself together with Graham and Al Gharaibeh, examined the psychological, family function, marital satisfaction, life satisfaction and the degree of agreement with the practice of polygamy among senior wives in polygamous marriage with a control group from monogamous marriage in Jordan. Between senior wives in a polygamous marriage, and wives in a monogamous marriage, there were significant differences discovered in family functioning, marital satisfaction, and to a lesser but still significant extent, self-esteem and life satisfaction; in these instances, as the data show, women in polygamous marriages tend to fare worse than their counterparts in monogamous marriages. The findings revealed that women from polygamous families experienced more somatisation, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism.
Polygamy has a psychosocial effect on the children of polygamous marriages. A Jordanian study found that polygamy influenced the rate of school drop-out among children, increased alcohol addiction, juvenile delinquency and led to low self-esteem [17,18]. Found that polygamy and divorce were associated with almost 95 percent of cases of juvenile delinquency. [19] Showed that children from monogamous families adjusted to school better than children from polygamous families, and those children from different wives rarely developed positive sibling relationships, with sibling rivalries and jealousy reported instead.
Regarding mental health, an exploratory study of more than 3,000 children in the United Arab Emirates highlighted the polygamous family structure as a predictor of children’s mental health problems [20]. An additional study conducted by Al-Krenawi, Graham, and Slonim-Nevo [21] examined the mental health consequences of polygamy in a sample of 101 Arab Muslim adolescents. The respondents from polygamous families had lower self-esteem scores; statistically significant higher scores in Brief Symptoms Inventory dimensions, higher scores in all other BSI dimensions, and higher levels of self-reported family dysfunction. The respondents from polygamous families also reported lower levels of socioeconomic status, academic achievement, and parental academic attainment. It appeared that polygamy did not affect mental health directly but, rather, indirectly through its association with lower education and socioeconomic status. The data also indicated that perceived family functioning was the best predictor of mental health.
A number of points bear emphasis. First is the need for practitioners and policymakers to appreciate the significance of polygamy to family structures and the nature of somatic and other forms of complaints as potential indicators of a problematic polygamous relationship. Second is the stress that polygamy places upon senior wives, and therefore the prospects for negative role modeling to children and other community members is possible. Policymakers in education, health, and social services need to be aware of the psychosocial and related needs of women and children in polygamous relationships. The findings may also motivate those community leaders who sanction or encourage the practice to investigate polygamy further. As the results point out, family functioning may be lower and marital distress higher in a polygamous family, which may in turn exacerbate negative role modeling and impede children’s growth and achievements. Thus polygamous families need to be understood longitudinally within the context of multi generations.
  1. Al-Krenawi A. “Psychosocial impact of polygamy in the Middle East”. Springer (2014).
  2. Al-Krenawi A and Graham JR. “Helping professional practice with indigenous peoples: The Bedouin-Arab case”. (2009).
  3. Rivett M and Street E. “Informal polygamy: A suitable case for treatment?” Journal of Family Therapy15 (1993): 71-79.
  4. Bao J. “Denaturalizing polygyny in Bangkok, Thailand”. Ethnology 47.3 (2008): 145-161.
  5. Al-Krenawi A and Graham JR.“A comparison of family functioning, life and marital satisfaction, and mental health of women in polygamous and monogamous marriages”. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 52.1 (2006a): 5-17.
  6. Zeitzen MK. “Polygamy: A cross-cultural analysis”. Berg(2008).
  7. Al-Krenawi A and Graham JR. “Health and mental health awareness and utilization among female Bedouin-Arab from recognized and unrecognized villages in the Negev”. Health Care for Women International 27.2 (2006b): 182-196.
  8. Al-Sherbiny LAM. “The case of first wife in polygamy: Description of a Arab culture-specific tradition”. Arabpsynet (2005).
  9. Al-Krenawi A., et al. “The psychosocial impact of polygamous marriages on Palestinian women”. Women and Health34.1 (2001): 1-16.
  10. Al-Krenawi A., et al. “Mental health aspects of Arab-Israeli adolescents from polygamous versus monogamous families”. The Journal of social psychology 142.4 (2002): 446-460.
  11. Madhavan Sangeetha. “Best of friends and worst of enemies: Competition and collaboration in polygyny”. Ethnology 41.1 (2002): 69-84.
  12. Starr S and Brilmayer L. “Family separation as a violation of international law”. Berkeley Journal of International Law 21.2 (2003): 213-287.
  13. Committee on Polygamous Issues. “Life in bountiful: A report in the lifestyle of a polygamous community”. British Columbia Ministry of Women’s Equality (1993).
  14. Thompson RB and Erez E. “Wife abuse in sierra leone: Polygamous marriages in a dual legal system”.International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 18.1-2 (1994): 27-37.
  15. Al-Sharnebi L. (2002): Khoaternafsia. Retrieved December 15, 2009.
  16. Al-Shamsi MSA and Fulcher L. “The impact of polygamy on United Arab Emirates’ first wives and their children”. International Journal of Child & Family Welfare 18.1 (2005): 46-55.
  17. AlfaqerwaTashqeelAlatfalfeAlordon. (2002): Retrieved March 17, 2003.
  18. Zeitoun, D. (2001). Family problems blamed for juvenile delinquency. Retrieved December 15, 2009.
  19. Al Kobesi A. “Baath altaaddkeyanah”. Al Mawadda Journal 24 (2001): 16-18.
  20. Eapen V., et al. “Mental health problems among school children in United Arab Emirates: Prevalence and risk factors”.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 37.8 (1998): 880-886.
  21. Al-Krenawi A and Lev-Weisel R. “Wife abuse among polygamous and monogamous Bedouin-Arab families”. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 36.3-4 (2002): 151-165.
Copyright: © 2016 Alean Al-Krenawi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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