Polygamy Culture’s Impact on my Failing Marriage: An Interview with Pilar, Part I

In Part I of this two-part interview, SQ’s Pilar gives us a glimpse into how the church’s investment in its history of polygamy negatively impacted her first marriage.

SQ: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Today you’ve agreed to discuss your first marriage and how the shadow of polygamy impacted its destruction. But let’s start with how you met, how many children you have together… Maybe how long the marriage lasted. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

PILAR: My ex-husband and I both came from stalwart, faithful families. His is pioneer stock, my parents are both converts. We met as teens, both of our fathers were prominent leaders in our stake. We were married for about 13 years and had several children together.

SQ: You are now divorced. You’ve said that polygamy culture effected your marriage. How?

PILAR: Polygamy culture had a lasting, detrimental effect on my marriage. I began to see the issues with when we’d been married about two or three years. We were young marrieds at BYU and, in one of his required religion classes, he was studying in depth about Joseph Smith and his life. Never until then had either of us heard that Joseph Smith had been a polygamist.

SQ: How did that information impact your marriage?

PILAR: My husband began to confide in me his struggles with this new information.

SQ: With polygamy?

PILAR: I think there was some miscommunication going on between us. I thought we were both grappling with the beginnings of a faith crisis because of the new information about Joseph Smith, but the truth was he was struggling with the temptation of wanting to have sex with other women. He began to rant at how unfair it was to Joseph that he’d had people judging him, hating him for this desire. He believed that people did not understand that it was a pretty natural thing for a man to want to be sexual with a lot of very young girls. Many of these rants were testimony-filled at first. Stuff like “Joseph was such a good man! He did so much for us and they killed him for a very natural instinct that all men have.” To have sex. With lots of young girls.

SQ: As a wife, how did you react to that? What were you thinking?

PILAR: At first, it felt natural that he would talk about having sexual desire. I have no problem conceding attraction to other people while being completely faithful. For me, it’s as simple as knowing that other men can be sexy and attractive, but if I’m married, I’m committed to my husband 100%. I thought it was the same for him. The more he brought it up though, the more concerned I grew. He was obsessing over it.

SQ: That must’ve been very hard. What happened next?

PILAR: Eventually his rants turned into “Why do church leaders tell me I’m wrong when I say I have the desire to be with and look at young, naked, attractive women? How is it right for Joseph and wrong for me to want the same thing?”

SQ: Are you saying he confessed these desires to church leaders and was reprimanded?

PILAR: He confessed to some things. I don’t know how much. He was dealing with a lot. He had some problems with depression and anger management, and I do know he confessed looking at pornography to a couple of bishops. Instead of helping, I believe they shamed him deeply. Later on, I realized just how much he had in common with Joseph Smith. It was during our divorce that I found out that he’d been cheating on me from very early on in our marriage, from the first year of our marriage.

SQ: Are you saying before he found out about Joseph and his polygamy?

PILAR: Yes. Exactly. He was having sex and hiding it, lying about it and later trying to insist it was a holy and righteous desire. Eerily, just like Joseph Smith did; he married, bedded lots of women, then lied about it to Emma. That’s exactly what my husband did.  I got to endure rants about how Emma just didn’t understand, and how Emma was a cold, frigid bitch. He’d say Emma couldn’t fulfill all of Joseph’s “needs.” My ex resented Emma for her lack of enthusiasm over Joseph’s polygamy.

Of course, I eventually realized the reason his rants were so passionate and personal. He resented me for being cold and frigid and unsupportive of his “virtuous” desire to bed other women. I was just like Emma.

SQ: You say you “eventually” realized. What signs of infidelity did you notice?

PILAR: To be honest, I didn’t really notice any obvious signs that he was cheating on me for a decade. I was in shock that my Church had avoided the truth about Joseph Smith, hidden it from its members.  I struggled because I couldn’t talk about it with most other members for fear of being labeled an apostate. In my early marriage, I was in the free-fall of a beginning faith crisis, and I was so upset by what I’d learned that I couldn’t focus on my husband’s rants about his “needs.” I’d lost my naivete about the church, but not about him.

SQ: I have to ask, but you don’t have to answer. What was your sex life like with him?

PILAR: Exhausting. He had a very high libido. He wanted to have sex pretty frequently (almost every day) and I was tired. We had small children. He’d been conditioned at a very young age that sex was exciting, but only when it was dangerous or forbidden. Now that sex [in our marriage] was acceptable, he was no longer turned on. Unless he could role-play it as “bad.” It was very disheartening to feel that marriage and commitment were a turn-off.

SQ: At what point did you begin to suspect his infidelity?

PILAR: He frequently assured me that, although he struggled with porn, he would never cheat on me, so I did not suspect it. However, because of his obsession with sex with other women, shame, and a deep desire to be righteous, he would swing like a pendulum between the two. It was like living with Jekyll and Hyde. He was either a gregarious, happy guy with a deep commitment to getting right with Jesus, or a sulking, angry, and explosive man who was secretive. We were married for about a decade before I suspected him of being unfaithful. He didn’t really exhibit any obvious signs. There were no weird phone calls or missing funds or mysterious business trips or obvious changes in his libido.  He was a very good liar and very good at covering his tracks.  I also wanted to believe that he loved me and wouldn’t cheat, so I think I made it easy for him.
Eventually, he stunned me by begging me to do a threesome.

SQ: Was that when you realized he would become physically intimate with another woman?

PILAR: Yes. He had actually made arrangements. He’d found a willing participant and reserved a hotel room. During a long night of talking and sex, I made it clear to him that I’d leave if he ever cheated. He swore to me he’d never ask to do that again. He realized he was wrong. He was a Changed Man. He talked me into having another baby.

SQ: Did things improve after that?

PILAR: Temporarily. He was a model husband for months. Then he changed…again.  Near the end of that pregnancy, I knew something was terribly wrong. A couple weeks after I gave birth, he confessed to me that he had, in fact, cheated on me. BEFORE I got pregnant.

He said he’d felt so incredibly bad about it that he decided the obvious solution was to be a perfect husband and repent. But now we had a baby and I was recovering. He said there was no way he could wait six weeks to have sex, so he wanted to throw in the towel and cheat again. I was devastated. He blamed me, because I wasn’t willing to share him.

SQ: How did you react to that?

PILAR: I was angry.  I’d just had a baby. I was extremely emotional.  He gas-lit me by spending the next weeks bearing his testimony about how his infidelity was beyond reproach, even at one point wanting to tenderly share the details of some of his more satisfying trysts. I was disgusted that he thought I’d want to hear it. But he continued with his insistence that what he’d done was really not that bad. He told me that he’d met many other happily married, temple attending couples who enjoyed swinging. For those unfamiliar with that term, it means a couple that is emotionally committed but sexually open to have as many partners as they want.  I didn’t buy into it, of course.

SQ: Did he ever take responsibility? For breaking his marital—or temple—vows? For hurting you?

PILAR: Not really.  Very rarely he would be remorseful that he was causing me pain, but mostly he held to his belief that there were a hundred good reasons for him to have slept with other women, and he was completely justified in doing so.  There were even a few times where he invoked the temple covenant for me to “hearken” unto him and either join in his sexual escapades, or cheerfully support him in them.

SQ: Do you know how many women he slept with while married to you?

PILAR: I’m not sure.  I believe it was as few as seven and possibly as many as a dozen.

SQ: When did you seek help?

PILAR: When we were married about six years, immediately after he approached me with the threesome.  This is when I went to my bishop the first time.  I say ‘my bishop’ in a really vague way because we moved constantly. I think about 18 times in our 13 years of marriage.  There were a lot of bishops. None that were helpful, unfortunately.

This concludes Part I of the interview. Part II will delve into Pilar’s experiences with her local church authorities as she sought counsel. Please watch for it.  

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