By Nate Bagley
Most of us monogamous folks have some extreme assumptions about plural marriage. Particularly in the case of polygyny (when a man is married to more than one wife), these descriptions aren’t uncommon:
Misogynistic. Exploitive. Unethical. Manipulative. Distasteful. Selfish. Sexist.
But, I recently sat down with a polygamous family to talk to them about their marriages, and I have to tell you, I believe these people know more about what love really is than most of us monogamous folks. Here are eight lessons about love I learned from a polygamous family.
1. Commitment shouldn’t change based on your happiness level.
Happiness is an emotional state, and emotions are volatile, unstable beasts. If you’re only willing to stay committed as long as it makes you happy, you turn into a love addict. (That’s a real thing.)
It’s easy to bounce from relationship to relationship in an effort to chase down happiness. We forget that happiness isn’t something that’s found; it is a product of love—a love that is built over time, on a strong foundation of communication, trust, and respect. Not erratic feelings.
2. It’s more important to be trusted than to be loved.
A healthy relationship can survive for periods without love, but it will quickly wither and die without consistent, ongoing trust.
Building trust requires more than limerence-inducing hormones and natural chemistry. Trust is built by consistently putting the needs of those you love over your own. It stems from patience, understanding, forgiveness, and loyalty.
Trust allows you to experience a higher form of love. Trust-based love is “complete mutual acceptance for who you are and who you’re not.” It’s a love devoid of ego. It’s the kind of love that strengthens over time as couples sojourn together through extreme hardships and challenges.
3. You need others to come to know yourself.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to get to know myself before I can get to know someone else?”
It was me.
And I was wrong.
You cannot get to know yourself except through someone else.
How will you learn that you need to develop patience without having someone in your life to test your patience? You can’t become a kind person unless you have someone to be kind to. Developing the characteristics that will make you a good partner, just like anything else, requires practice—and it’s very difficult to practice selfless virtues on your own.
4. Jealousy is the cancer of love.
Jealousy eats away at the trust in a relationship. Jealous feelings come from distrust and are founded on speculation. Our inner crazy person starts reading into little things and makes up an outrageously creepy web of assumptions.
Be honest: crazy you is almost never right about what he assumes, and typically the conclusions you reach when in jealousy mode only do damage to your relationships.
The best way to combat jealousy and defeat crazy you is to approach everything from a place of love. Remind yourself of the trust and love you’ve built over time with your partner. Lean onto that confidence. If you need extra help getting into a place of love, write a love note. Perform an act of service. List the things that you love about your significant other. Always assume the best. And, whatever you do, do it from your heart.
The more love you give, the more you get back. Love doesn’t have boundaries or limitations. And if you’re spending your time and energy loving, there’s no time or energy left to spend worrying, fretting, being insecure, or being jealous.
5. You’re never fully prepared for love.
Holy crap, love is scary. Trust me, I know. If you look for one, there is always a reason not to commit: You don’t have enough in common. You have too many things in common. She’s too outspoken. She’s too quiet and boring. Her earlobes are weird. She snores. She has a goofy laugh.
The perfect person is the person you choose. The perfect moment for commitment is the moment you decide to commit. The odds will always be stacked against you—but only if you allow them to be.
When you decide to love someone, love her with everything you’ve got. Put your whole heart into it whether you feel prepared or not. The challenges that come down the road will only strengthen your bond.
6. Money represents your competing values.
Money can be a tool used to help your relationship grow or a weapon that will destroy it. Commit to being honest and make your desires and values clear. After setting expectations with your significant other, be willing to sacrifice when necessary.
Lasting happiness doesn’t come from always getting what you want. It comes from making the people you love most in the world happy.
Money only comes between love when it comes before love.
7. Don’t take your problems outside your relationship.
Work out your relationship problems where the problem exists. When you take your troubles to family members or friends, they begin to make judgments about your partner while only getting one side of the story.
The fastest way to make everyone you love dislike your significant other is to complain about her.
Suck it up. Be mature. Talk it out. Work together to find a solution. Give each other a hug and a kiss. Say, “I love you.” Then shut the door in the issue.
8. Romance doesn’t make for a good relationship foundation.
We tend to build things backwards. We use erotic love and impulses to find a relationship. Erotic love isn’t bad, but it makes for an unstable foundation for a long-term relationship. Think about your longest lasting non-romantic relationships.
You probably don’t have an erotic love for your siblings or your parents—and even though you might never get along, your love for them runs deep. You probably don’t have a lust-filled love for your best buddies—but you’d still take a bullet for them.
These relationships are built on unconditional acceptance. You know that that person—despite all the crap you’re going to go through—is there for you. A romantic relationship built on unconditional acceptance rather than hormones will last through the ages. When you add erotic love to the picture, it can only enhance the awesomeness.
Nate Bagley is the creator of The Loveumentary, a project dedicated to capturing the most compelling love stories in America. Each week, you can find stories from couples around the country, along with interviews from experts in the field of love and relationships. Follow the podcast on iTunes or support The Loveumentary Kickstarter campaign and join Nate as he and his co-host Melissa travel across the country capturing amazing love stories.
*Image courtesy of Powderruns.