“Let’s be sister-wives,” we young girlfriends used to say to each other.
“But what if we don’t like the same man?” we’d ask.
“I want to marry one of your brothers,” a few friends would say.
“Well, you’re so much prettier and smarter than I am that our husband will love you more anyway,” I’d say.
My girlfriends were mostly my first cousins, who, like me, lived in our neighborhood of 15 or so homes full of several wives and dozens of children. Our community was led by my father, who was considered God’s Prophet by me and his innumerable cohorts. Those on the outside called it "Polygville."
Just like me, most of the kids had already spent their younger years within the confines of a belief system that dictated, “Polygamy must be lived on this earth in order to get to the Celestial Kingdom.”
We knew when we were children that our husbands would have other wives -- that he would be required to share his time, resources and sexual desires with them. However meager or ambiguous any of those might be would depend on the number of wives and children who would certainly divide and deflate his emotional, physical and financial capabilities.
A couple of my girlfriends did marry a couple of my brothers. At 17, I chose to marry a good friend I adored. He was 7 years my senior. I doubt I was in love with him, but I was excited to be getting married before I would be considered an old maid. He convinced me that we were soulmates, and assured me we’d live happily ever after.
Eight years and four children later, and after withstanding the constant heartache from my husband’s flirtatious (but religiously acceptable) desires for the young girls he was attracted to, he married my second cousin and friend.
Like a “good, dutiful” plural wife, I controlled the vile taste in my mouth and forced the tears back during their wedding ceremony. When my husband and his new young bride drove off on their honeymoon, I thought I would faint from what felt like a swift, powerful blow to the stomach. Still, I covered my pain, grief and torture with our required smiles and laughter -- the “keep sweet and behave yourself" attitude that rebukes and camouflages a woman’s authentic grief.
If you really want to be sister wives, it’s important to try to love and care for each other. Otherwise you might slap the __ out of her, and clog up her toilet with a dirty diaper when the devil begs you to -- especially when it comes to the gut-wrenching sounds of lust coming from your husband and his new young bride. When you see their starry-eyed faces the next morning, you should stay poised. Hold yourself together, give them a big smile, hug them and command yourself to keep sweet.
Sweet: suck up, shut up, kiss up, and endure to the end -- no matter what hell you’re in.
After I tried to kill myself when I heard my husband having sex with his new wife, I knew I had to get control of my evil, disgusting jealousy. I got better at covering up those natural feelings as time went on. I stayed in a numb workaholic void to keep from caring where my husband was, what he was doing or when he’d be back. A lot of practice helped me appear happy and content.
Just like other women around us, my sister wife and I kept on trying to keep God’s commandments and overcome our petty, sinful feelings.
"Sister Wives" (Cody Brown), "Love Time Three" (Joe Darger) and "Big Love" (HBO) all sensationalize and glorify polygamy. These sources portray the “average” polygamist family as self-sufficient, wealthy, happy people. The truth is those and similar families are only a handful among thousands.
The average polygamist family falls far below the poverty level. Men show up long enough to discipline, and often abuse, their wives and children -- and impregnate their spouses. Then they are off to their own lives again. They abandon their depressed wives, the noise, their disheveled, often filthy home; they abandon their crying, hungry, neglected, and uneducated children -- the religious mayhem they created, yet refuse to stomach.
Even fathers who try to be financially responsible still have to use some kind of -- if not all kinds of -- government assistance to provide for their ever-increasing religious families. Our “glorious” calling as sister wives required us to give birth to as many children as our wombs would conceive. We were to sustain our husband’s growing kingdom without complaint, remaining sweet no matter how depraved or horrendous any ordeal might be. Then we hoped our husbands would take us to Heaven.
My husband’s small family, of only two wives and 11 kids, is considered completely insignificant. The average polygamist wife has between 8 to 20 children! The head honcho has to conquer at least 3 wives to even begin to have a chance at becoming a God.
Over the years, I half-heartedly invited single friends over, and reluctantly hinted about “my good feelings” that she’d fit nicely into our family. We just couldn’t get more wives. Neither did my sister wife and I have enough children. According to our Fundamentalist God, we were pretty well doomed to Hell.
It took me 42 years of mostly hell before I finally quit believing in polygamy, and another eight years to gain the courage to divorce my husband.
I started waking up and moving out of those archaic beliefs of seven generations with the help of a therapist. Discovering who I was outside of polygamy became a wondrous adventure. I learned that to love and honor myself meant validating all of my feelings -- not discarding them as vile distractions to overcome. God gave us jealous feelings to let us know something isn’t right with carnal situations. My soul guided me to what is really paramount -- genuine love and happiness.
Five years ago, when I met my precious current husband, I started seriously writing my book. That same year, he and I started to volunteer with organizations across Utah that help people leave polygamy. I thank LOVE that since I left polygamy 10 years ago, hundreds of my thousands of relatives are also waking up and becoming alive. Like me, many were able to leave without being physically threatened or beaten. Yet scores of families and young boys have been banished, while many young women who want to leave are literally held hostage.
The author with her current husband
One young woman hid out in a public rest room, waiting for enough courage to ask a total stranger to help her escape. Another broke out of a boarded window and ran. We try to be there with open arms.
Both those who walk away and those we’ve helped escape feel like I did as a child, teen and wife. They say their greatest hardships came from their parent’s inability to meet their emotional, physical and financial needs. They missed having a close relationship with their fathers and mothers. They felt the division of love and the lack of personal attention.
We witnessed jealousies, insecurities, loneliness, eating disorders and ongoing depression while trying to exemplify “good” sister wife behaviors. These women, like many who followed in their foot-steps, held their heads high, and wore those “keep sweet” miserably happy smiles.
Now, here in our beautiful country paradise in New Harmony, Utah, I write, spend time with family and friends, try to publicize my book and help coach ex-polygamists who need and want the life skills they never learned. My constant dream is that every unhappy sister wife will discard her belief in polygamy and take up genuine happiness, as many others have.
Kristyn Decker is the author of "Fifty Years in Polygamy: Big Secrets and Little White Lies."