Serial Monogamy? It’s Everywhere!

by Roger Barrier

“Don’t look now,” said Steve, our associate pastor of counseling. “I see Don Perry sitting with his fourth wife. Wives one and three just walked up the aisle and sat down right behind them.


In the interim wives numbers one and three had become good friends. Their friendship certainly centered around their comparative misadventures marriages with Don. I don’t know what happened to wife number two.

I couldn’t help myself. I looked. I stared. It was obvious that Don now realized that his two earlier wives were sitting behind him. He began to blush, probably because wives one and three were making comments loud enough for the people around them to hear.

I didn’t catch it at the time, but I was seeing serial monogamy played out before my very eyes.

Serial monogamy is not much different from regular polygamy.

Serial monogamy is having more than one wife/husband, just not all at the same time. We have our own version of polygamy; we have several wives/husbands, one after another, after another. We would never justify real polygamy. Polygamy is taboo. However, having a series of wives/husbands in succession is quite acceptable in our American culture. This is called serial monogamy

I receive a lot of questions from husbands in West Africa where polygamy is a cultural reality. Their problem is that they recently became Christians and are now learning that the Bible defines marriage is one man and one woman for a life time. They want to do the Christian thing; unfortunately, they already have two or more wives, and two or more families and several children from different mothers.

Their questions usually sound something like this:

“Should I pick one wife and family over the others?” That is how the Bible says we are to live. But, I am the sole support for all of my wives and their children. If I pick one above the rest then the others will have no means of support and be reduced to begging in abject poverty. Most will likely starve before too long. Help!”

I received a letter this week from a man in India who is caught up in serial monogamy. The questioner is struggling with a devastated relationship with God and in deep consternation as he tries to figure out the horror of his previous choices. Notice at the end of his question he asks, “Is it a sin to have two families or abandon one?”

Pastor, am 44 male from India, married for 14 yrs & have one boy of 15 yrs & girl of 13 yrs. My wife had affair after 4 yrs of our marriage & we finally got convinced to carryon our marriage for the sake of the parenthood, Society & family commitments.

After 2 yrs she started another relationship & I lost my mind. Now the problem is, I’m without guilt having a relationship with wife of another impotent man for 5 yrs & have a 3 yrs girl of mine still living with the same man. Now she’s guilty living with her husband with my child & wants to come out of her marriage.

Now my responsibility on both ends confusing & stressing me. How to put stop for my problem. I still love my wife & also the 2nd. I want my 3rd kid also. I don’t want to hurt all my 3 kids, my wife as well as my 2nd too.
Is there any christian way of solution for my problem? I want to live without guilt of abandoning my 2nd & the child. Is it sin to have 2 families or to abandon one? I’m guilt involving in ministry & church activities also.

Dear Name Withheld,

I am sorry for all the pain and hurt and you and both of your wives and both of your families are enduring. There are consequences to sin. You have two families and children from two mothers. You can’t fix it and make it all OK. You have to do what will cause the least pain and bring the most benefit for everyone involved.

As I begin, I want you to remember that God is on your side. Certainly, He wishes that all of this had never happened. But, it has. So, He makes it clear in the Bible that He is in the business of “picking up the pieces and starting over again.” You can see what His attitude toward you looks like by reading in the gospel of John, chapter eight, verses 1-12 (John 8:1-12).

What do you do? Here are my thoughts about your choices.

First it is obvious that you are struggling in agony about the spiritual factors that are driving you “crazy.” Your confession and repentance are obvious. So, be at peace. God is on your side and will guide you to the best solutions.

Second, the Bible says that God hates divorce. Stop thinking about the divorce option. Your first wife may want out of her present marriage but God’s intention is for her to fix the problems in that marriage and stay together with her current husband.

Third, in the same way, you are not to divorce your second wife.

Fourth, it is wrong for you and your first wife to both get divorced and then remarry each other. According to the Bible, you are to remain married to wife number two.

Fifth, one of the biggest issues is how to decide and do what is in the best interests of your children. Many divorced couples reach agreements on what is best for the children. Usually that means shared time for the children with both parents. Let me recommend that you search the internet for the term, “blended families” in order to find good ideas on how best to integrate the children into one family or the other–and usually both.

Sixth, spend as much time with your children as you can. They need you and they need to remember as they grow older that while mom and dad may not live in the same house, you both always tried to do what was best for them. You want to have a good relationship with them when they are adults.

Seventh, however all of this works out, it will not be perfect, so keep you expectations in line with reality.

Whenever I had problems to solve, my dad used to say to me, “Roger, when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”

Name Withheld, life has handed you a lemon. Now, go make some lemonade.


Footnote: I have changed forever my answer when those in East Africa become Christians and write to know what to do with having more than one wife and/or family. When I was younger I was rather legalistic in telling the husband/father that to be right with God he had to choose one wife because God only allows for one wife if you want to be a good Christian.

Now I realize what awful counsel I was peddling. God is more interested in people and relationships than in legalistic rules. I tell the husband/father to keep everything just as it is. He is not to divorce or toss out all the families but one. He has a lot of people depending on him and the worst thing he could do is break relationships and bring intense anger, bitterness, hate and impoverishment among the people he cast out.

I make it clear that as a Christian he is not to add any more wives. I also encourage him to begin to develop a more Christian culture in his midst. One man and one woman for a lifetime will be in the best interests for his children in all their future relationships.



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