Polygamy uncovered: What's it really like for the women who have to share a husband?
By Dawn Porter
Last updated at 1:00 AM on 19th September 2008
For decades, the domestic lives of American polygamists have remained secretive and closely guarded. But for a new TV documentary, presenter Dawn Porter was given access to two polygamous families, who both sought to present rose-tinted images of harmonious, contented communities. But when she scratched beneath the surface, what she found was a very different picture - of resentment, jealousy and bitterness...
At first glance, it is a scene of utterly normal domestic chaos. There's washing to be done, the children are running around outside, and Dad has come home from work in a terrible mood.
Martha has her arm around her husband Moroni and is clucking like an indulgent hen as she tries to coax him into a better temper. Buxom, amiable and in her mid-30s, she is every inch the average housewife and mother.
At least she is until I glance to Moroni's right, and see the second woman who is trying to placate him. Temple - in her late 20s - is Moroni's 'other' wife.
These two women share their lives, their home and their beds with the same husband, bound together by their polygamist marriages.
And, incredibly, the reason for Moroni's mood - he is sitting slumped, head in hands - is that he has been dumped by the woman he hoped would become wife number three.
He moans 'I've been heartbroken more times than I care to admit', which sparks a fresh wave of sympathetic noises from both his wives.
Not only are they happy to share this paunchy man, but they are also happy to help him pick a third wife. Finally, their coaxing seems to ease Moroni's mood.
'We'll find someone who will fit in perfectly,' Martha purrs soothingly, as if her husband were about to select a new set of curtains. 'This one obviously just wasn’t right…'
So why do I find myself here - deep in rural Arizona, meeting two wives who bizarrely claim that it is they who do the exploiting, rather than the husband who moves between their beds virtually every other night of the week?
I was asked by a TV production company to fly around the world investigating the extraordinary relationships that women choose in the name of love.
So what should we make of polygamy, which is still practised by thousands of members of the Mormon sect? Can it really bring the kind of mutual support and sense of community that its protagonists claim?
Or is it simply a throwback to a time when a man dragged a woman back to his cave if he liked the look of her?
To find out, I travelled to Arizona, where 15 years ago Moroni Jessop married Martha. It was love for both of them - and a traditional wedding.
Except that when this blushing virgin bride was making her vows, she already knew that within a few short years her husband would be looking elsewhere for another fresh-faced 'bride'.
So keen to accept this arrangement was Martha, now 35, that when Moroni announced it was time for another partner, she helped him to search.
The result was 'bride' number two, Temple, 27 - a Martha lookalike with straight dark hair, eager smile and thick glasses.
Polygamy is outlawed in America, but many polygamists live in rural backwaters. They flout the law by marrying their first wives in a traditional service and then exchanging vows with further 'wives' in spiritual ceremonies.
Until now, their lives have been shrouded in mystery. I am one of the first journalists ever to be invited into the homes, and lives, of polygamist families.
As I approach the humble three bedroom home where the husband, two wives and assorted offspring live, I expect to meet a dominant male who plays off the insecurities of his wives to brutal effect - demanding sex with whichever wife is in favour, and impregnating them like some kind of stud bull (the women have nine children between them, and Temple is pregnant again).
Instead, I am greeted by a man who is articulate, intelligent and softly spoken. True, physically speaking Moroni - named after a Mormon god - is hardly a catch.
Overweight, buck-toothed and with a wispy goatee, I can't imagine him inciting passion or jealousy.
But this construction worker is softly spoken and considerate, and it becomes clear that both wives adore him, as do the ever-present crowd of children.
Both wives listen to him with rapt attention as he explains that the purpose of polygamy is for one man to produce as large a clan as possible.
When Moroni complains that life for a polygamist husband is hard, incredibly his wives sympathise.
He says: 'It takes a lot of work and patience to deal with the emotions of more than one wife. When I became a polygamist with my second marriage, I did not have a good time at all.
'There were so many demands on me and it seemed that both of my wives were always angry with me.
'I would get home from work and park on the driveway, and then just sit in the car thinking: "OK, which one is going to be mad at me now?"
'I don't know exactly how it changed, or when, but a year later I was in the living room lying on the couch and Martha and Temple were in the kitchen playing Scrabble together and laughing. I realised then that I was happy.
'My children and my wives are the purpose of my existence. Other men might go out and have affairs and then leave wife number one to go and marry wife number two. But I have made a real commitment to both of my wives.'
I can't help asking the question: if Moroni had been in a normal, monogamous marriage to Martha, would he have been unfaithful?
He pauses and then gulps. 'Er, yes, I probably would have been unfaithful.'
So there we are - perhaps this lifestyle is simply an adulterer's refuge, for while the wives are busy making the home, Moroni is out there making whoopee in his search for a third spouse.
He says sadly: 'I can't seem to find The One. I've made a few mistakes, and when things don't work out and I've had my feelings hurt I mope around. Then finally Temple says "Just get over it" when she's had enough of my moods, and I'm forced to snap out of it.'
I watched as both wives - make-up free and wearing modest jeans and T-shirts - prepare dinner for their husband and his nine offspring. Each wife has her own bedroom, and the children sleep with their mothers or share a third bedroom.
Martha insists it's the wives who decide who will have their husband that night.
She tells me: 'We don't get jealous. We know that he loves us both equally and there's room for a third wife. Having her in the house won't mean that he loves us less.'
So how does the household actually work? The first night I sleep on the couch, but before bedtime I watch as the children dutifully kiss their parents goodnight.
Then Moroni gets up to retire, and after whispering with both wives he disappears into Martha's room.
Temple - pregnant and tired, looks relieved. Meanwhile, I am left to sleep. So many women - myself included - joke that what every woman needs is a wife and while Moroni is out at work, Martha and Temple share the childcare, the cooking and household chores, and enjoy what seems to be a real friendship.
If one has a row with Moroni, she can turn to the other 'wife' for support. But it makes me feel slightly nauseous to watch one wife lead the husband to a bedroom, while the other sleeps alone.
The next morning, Moroni once again tries to convince me that this is tough for him.
He complains: 'There are times when sex becomes a chore, because I'm trying to keep two women satisfied. I always try to be fair, and I tend to just go from Martha's room to Temple's room alternately.'
But are these women not consumed with jealousy? He shrugs. 'Sometimes there is awkwardness. I try to reassure them that I love them both by kissing them throughout the day.'
This is starting to sound like a warped version of Little House On The Prairie. I bid my goodbyes and leave - both wives smiling by Moroni's side as they wave farewell.
My next stop is Centennial Park, deep in the Arizona desert, a community of fundamental Mormons who still practise polygamy.
Here, they live an affluent lifestyle - and I draw up to the gated mansion where a wealthy businessman in his 60s lives with his three wives and 16 children.
Boyd is away on business, but I am greeted instead by two of his wives. Nancy became Boyd's second wife 17 years after he married childhood sweetheart Diane.
Shortly afterwards he married again - to third wife Ruth. It is like walking onto the set of The Stepford Wives.
Ruth and Nancy show me the enormous kitchen, the ornate dining table, the immaculate reception room and the television room.
Upstairs are ten bedrooms - including one for each wife, and a separate bedroom for Boyd.
Ruth - a blonde, Meryl Streep lookalike - tells me that she has 'eight beautiful children'.
The remaining eight are between the other wives, but she can't actually remember how many are boys or how many are girls.
We discuss marriage. I tell her that I dream about my own wedding day - walking down the aisle with the man I love, with our family and friends watching. It will be my day, so how would it feel to have another wife sitting in the front aisle, beaming as I marry her husband?
Ruth shrugs. 'Everyone has this rose-tinted view of marriage. I accepted Boyd's first two wives as part of the package. If I wanted him in my life, they were both going to be part of it too.
'In so many marriages, men just tire of their wives after a few years, so they get divorced, move on and marry again, until that first flush of love also disappears and they move on again.
'So what is wrong with a man being able to have variety and a woman having friendship and learning to share?
'Surely it is better for a man to stay with several wives and raise his children, and for them to be the main part of his life, rather than couples who simply divorce and leave their children with no family stability.
'I don't know why the world looks down on polygamy when family and love are the most important things in our life.'
Ruth certainly seems happy enough and later, as I watch her and Nancy prepare the dinner for 16 children, I'm amazed at the calm.
Both wives chat happily as they share the cooking, and the children - aged from 14 to two years old - treat both equally as their mothers.
Nancy - wife number two - explains that she was raised in a polygamous family.
She says: 'I was free to choose if that was what I wanted for myself, and I really thought about it when I was a teenager.
'I had four mothers and 40 siblings, but I could have chosen to just marry one man who was going to be monogamous.'
In the end, Nancy's religious convictions won through - she believes the polygamist ethos that somehow sharing her husband will make her a god or goddess in a second life.
Well, I guess you would need a pretty good reason to share your husband sexually with two other women. She and Ruth claim that there is no jealousy or awkwardness between them.
But as evening approaches, Boyd's first wife Diane is still nowhere to be seen, and I start to wonder if this woman, who enjoyed her husband to herself for 17 years, until she started to lose her youth and her looks, might have a different story to tell.
When I meet Diane, she strikes me as kind but a little withdrawn. She is 63 now, and tells me she raised her children with Boyd as man and wife until suddenly he announced that he wanted to take a second wife.
Thoughthey were both Mormons, after all those years together she had felt that their marriage was strong and happy and that he would feel no need to seek physical satisfaction with another wife.
His decision - taken just as Diane was losing her youth and her looks - was utterly devastating to her.
For more than a decade, she has not discussed her feelings with anyone. Now she sits trembling beside me and I realise that at last the shiny facade of polygamy is being stripped away before my eyes.
She speaks softly. 'I was married for 17 years, and it was really tough when Nancy came along. I don't agree when people claim that there is no jealousy, because that's not what happened to me.
'I'd walk into my living room and my husband would have his arm around her, and my heart would start to pound. I would think to myself: "Gosh, why did you have to walk in now and see that.'' '
It was a bitterness she has lived with for 15 years - swallowing her emotions as an even younger third wife was welcomed into the house as Boyd's latest plaything.
I find it hard to imagine the pain of this woman as she watched her husband impregnate his younger wives time and time again.
Diane tells me softly that she has suffered depression for those 15 years. It was only three years ago - when she faced a near-terminal illness - that the bitterness began to fade.
She says: 'I became really sick and the other wives nursed me. Somehow, and I don't know how or why, my animosity towards those two girls ebbed away.'
I leave her wringing her hands in miserable silence. Diane's unhappiness is overwhelming.
She is the only wife of the five I have met who is honest enough to admit that jealousy, despair and depression are the inevitable fallout when a man finds the excuse to take two or three wives and share them all sexually and emotionally.
My journey into the lives - and many loves - of a polygamist is over. The beaming children, the adoring wives and the homespun philosophy of sharing and love are the images they were keen to portray.
But it's the memory of the lonely, elderly woman forced to sit to one side as her husband cavorts with her younger rivals which haunts me.
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What's it really like for the women who have to share a husband
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