By Ralia Maijama’a
Ours is a society in which polygamy is generally accepted even if some parties are made extremely unhappy by it. Some women will enjoy the status of first wife, while many others will come in second or third or fourth, etc. This write-up is addressed to all wives who are not the first wife; yet first wives themselves might find a few things here of interest. This is not a write-up on how to take care of your husband, how you could pamper him, cook and clean and always smile for him to keep him happy so that he will continue to love you. That perspective has already been beaten to death and as many, many women will tell you, it often does not work. You do all the pampering and he still moves on to another woman anyway. This is about how you, the woman as second wife, could build a healthy, lasting relationship with your spouse, which will add meaning and substance to your own life.
First things first: the Number One Mistake. The biggest mistake you could make going into a marriage as a second wife is to ignore the fact that he has a first wife. By this I’m talking about the failure on your part to consider that fact with the weight and seriousness it deserves; because when you marry a married man you’re not marrying an individual, you’re marrying a family, and so it certainly won’t be smart to think that you could simply brush that fact under the carpet or pretend his wife doesn’t exist. So, before deciding to marry him, find a quiet place, sit down and consider the fact of his wife with all the seriousness and respect it deserves. She is that person who will have an impact on your life one way or another whether you like it or not; and her impact is the most difficult to control because you may never know in advance where her impact will hit. It could be with the husband you share, it could be on your children’s lives, it could be on your career (for all you know she could be friends with your boss or employer; or she could be an influential person), it could be on your person. And the relationship you build with her will determine whether her impact is positive, negative or ineffectual. In fact, you may well need to consider and plan for your relationship with her with more seriousness than you plan for your relationship with your husband. That’s because he’s the soft landing. You already have his affections or he wouldn’t be marrying you. She, on the other hand, probably hates you without even knowing who you are; and she’s very likely not going to be the slightest bit interested in building any kind of cordial relationship with you. In fact she may be actively out to destroy your life. So you must be absolutely certain that you are ready for polygamy before you commit yourself to it because it requires an enormous amount of strength, will power and reticence to survive and succeed in the cutthroat polygamy of today.
This all sounds depressing and discouraging, but if you’re serious enough about the marriage and about the man, you will handle the first wife “problem” with maturity. I put “problem” in quotation marks because the first wife is a problem only if you make her into one. First of all, if you go into the marriage already anticipating problems, they will find you aplenty. So, despite all the terrible things you may have heard about her, go in with an open mind. Tell yourself that you will not hate her out of jealousy or based on what you have heard about her. You will wait without reaction for at least a year studying her and her moods and how best to coexist with her with the ultimate goal of your own peace of mind. You may ask, “what if she provokes me, insults me or attempts to cause me physical harm; should I also not react then?” Here is the thing: if she ever harms you physically, there are laws to punish her. But you see, the moment you retaliate, then you, too, are prone to violence and should therefore not complain about it. If you do notice that she has a tendency to violence, do everything you can to keep out of her way. Remember, the very sight of you is enough to set her off. Make her understand that if she ever harms you, you will not relent in seeking justice. If you have to be in contact with her, have your mobile phone video on and recording and let her know that you’re doing this. Better yet, do not let yourself be isolated with her. If there is just the two of you in the house, shut and lock your doors until other members of the household return. Most importantly, never deliberately antagonize her and always greet her with cordiality even if the words taste like poison in your mouth. There are times when paying lip service has its benefits. Not only will everyone see you as the more reasonable one, it will buy you some much needed good points with your husband and with your in-laws. Polygamy is also politics; and you have a lot of catching up to do.
Suppose she’s not the violent type but is always seeking a fight with you. This is where the true test of your character will come in. Some women know what I’m talking about when I say that dealing with the violent type is much easier. People can see what she does and support you, and your husband may quickly intervene on your behalf. But this is not the main thing. My dear, the most important thing you could do is to remember that she is in pain, the type of pain that you could only understand if you imagined another woman coming to take your place in your man’s heart. Everything she does, she’s venting that pain. She’s lashing out at you because you have upset something which she has carefully built. She calls you names and does nothing to hide her hatred of you and it hurts you or makes you angry, but if you constantly remind yourself of her pain, you will already begin to see her with compassionate eyes. When she shouts insults at you, don’t see an angry, quarrelsome woman before you; see a woman who is crying inside, a woman whose heart is broken and in pain. Stand firm and let her have it out. Let her say everything she wants to say; it is your way of being kind to this woman whose happiness you have snatched away. Do everything you can to not retaliate. And do not take any of her insults seriously. They are coming more from a place of pain than of malice. At some point she’ll get tired of ranting and raving while you maintain your composure. She’ll begin to be wary of you because she will see that none of it has the desired effect. Eventually, she will have to content herself with hating you from distance.
So how do you win in such a situation? Merely taking insults is not going to give you any satisfaction. Now if you want some revenge, here is how you do it. Remember, this is also about your own peace of mind because if you bottle up your pain, you may begin to suffer depression or mental health issues. So, a little sweet revenge is good for your soul. First of all, whenever there is an altercation in the house, never ever be the one to tell your husband about it, even if you see him first. Always, always let any bad news come from her end. Nobody enjoys hearing complaints over and over again. If you’re the complaining type, even if you’re always in the right, the person you’re complaining to will eventually get tired and instead of sympathy, you’ll start seeing irritation. When he does come to you for your side of the story, laugh it off and tell him it’s just you women venting your frustrations. Tell him it was nothing serious and you will apologise if it will make her happy. Tell him you know she must be unhappy and so the both of you must be patient with her. Tell him it will pass, and then quickly change the topic to more pleasant things. Always say nice things to him about her. If you can’t find any in your dealings with her, say nice things about how she raises her kids or about how you admire her work ethic and how hardworking she is. If she does anything to annoy him, advise him to be patient with her and remind him that he should not forget how he has hurt her by bringing another woman into her home. It is therefore understandable that she would want to hurt him. In this way, you rise in his regard and he begins to see you as the more matured person even if she is older than you.
When you go out from your quarters into the common areas of the house, always keep a smile on your face even if you just had a fight with your husband which everybody heard. Also sing and dance a little as you work as though you do not have a care in the world. Call your silliest friend on the phone and then laugh and shriek away in juicy, inconsequential gossip as everybody listens to your end of the conversation. Believe me, these are tactics that are more painful than any insults you could throw. Only cry in absolute privacy, then wipe your eyes and step out with a smile. The smile is your revenge, because your “enemy” is hurt by a smile on your face. Also, because you have allowed her to be the everlasting complainant, your husband will get tired and start dismissing her endless complaints. He will tell her that you are more reasonable and she might do well to emulate you. He will tell her that she is the trouble maker since everybody attests to the fact that you did not respond to her insults. To hear her husband defending you will be more painful than any insult you throw her way. This is also your sweet revenge. While she’s trying to frustrate you, she will see that you are instead winning. So you kill two birds with one stone: you have kept the peace while still managing to hit her where it hurts. Isn’t that better than shouting matches?
Now the bit of advice that I gave above is for those of us who don’t forgive easily. For those of us who do, then you don’t need these tactics because the forgiveness alone is enough to give you peace. And honestly, it works best of all. I’m not trying to preach saintliness here; but we all know that harbouring ill will is not good for anybody’s peace of mind or mental health. Plus, tolerance and forgiveness do not require as much energy as cunning and scheming. I prefer forgiveness because I’m constantly conscious of the fact that the world in general is not very kind to women. Do we therefore really have to hate each other on top of that? I may be wrong because there are exceptions to every rule but I do not know of any woman who has been harmed by peaceful coexistence with her co-wife. And if, as second wife, you are perceived as peaceful, you will be seen as a welcome and positive addition to the family. But there are more hurdles to overcome… To be continued
Dr. Ralia Maijama’a Abdullahi
Department of English and Literary Studies,
Bayero University, Kano