MUSCAT // The rate of divorce in Oman has fallen as a result of a trend in which men are increasingly taking second wives while keeping their first to prevent the break-up of their families, marriage counsellors say. According to statistics from the ministry of religious affairs, the divorce rate in Oman dropped by 12 per cent in 2008 from the previous year. At the same time, the number of men taking second wives increased by more than 20 per cent.
"It is a way of making compromises between men and their first wives," Fatma Fallahy, a 74-year-old marriage counsellor, said. "Men say: 'I will keep the first family as a dutiful husband, but I need to marry a second wife to keep my libido up'." In Islam, men can have up to four wives, provided they can afford to treat them equally, both emotionally and financially. But when men decide to marry again, their first wives' emotional well-being is usually the last of their concerns. "It is good that there are fewer divorces now; that prevents family break-up, but women still don't understand why their husbands would want to add another wife when things are going well at home," Ms Fallahy said.
For Aisha Suleimany, a 46-year-old bank supervisor, her married life does not have the same meaning now that she shares her husband of 24 years with a much younger woman. Her 51-year-old husband married a 22-year-old woman six months ago. "What did I do wrong? I slaved in the house and at the same time go out to earn a second living and what do I get? Some woman to share my marriage and the fortune I helped to provide for our children. Half of it now goes to the new wife who came in with just a bag of clothes," Ms Suleimany said.
Ms Suleimany said she and her husband took a joint bank loan before he married again to build a second home. "The second home that he now lives in with his second wife is partly my effort," Ms Suleimany added. "I understand Islam allows men to have two wives, but it is hard for most women to accept that when the only reason is just to get a younger model." Other marriage counsellors have little sympathy for first wives. "In my opinion, women have only themselves to blame for letting themselves go. They need to look after themselves and stay attractive," Safiya Suleiman, a 58-year-old marriage counsellor, said.
Ms Suleiman said men in their 40s and 50s are more likely to marry second wives than any other age group. "They want to revive their youth and stay young, and a very young second wife is just the thing for them," Ms Suleiman said. But many ask why young women would accept a marriage proposal by married men twice their age. "Middle-aged men are usually well-off financially. Some young women don't want to struggle with men of their own age. Another reason is that it is difficult in our society for women to land a husband after the age of 25. They become a prime target for middle-aged, wealthy men," Ms Fallahy said.
But Ms Suleimany dismissed Ms Suleiman's suggestion. "That is stupid advice and I am surprised that, as a woman, she would say that. It is biologically impossible to retain one's youthfulness as one ages. Besides, women look beyond wrinkles, can't men do the same?" she said. Nasser Kindy, a 56-year-old businessman who took a second wife two years ago, refuted the popular belief that men who take second wives simply want to boost their libidos.
"Far from the truth most men with two wives do that because their first one turned the house into sheer hell," Mr Kindy said. "At my age, I want peace of mind and not constant nagging all day long. The home of my second wife is an escape route when the first wife starts to blow the roof." But Mr Kindy conceded that polygamy is not always an enviable lifestyle. "Children from the first wife can be rebellious, causing constant friction And your two families can never be close, virtually becoming lifelong enemies," Mr Kindy said.
Clerics say the practice often leads to disputes over inheritance. "Usually, the children of the first wife, being much older than the second wife's children, tend to take more than their share after their father's death, resulting in bitter court lawsuits," Sheikh Salim al Amry, imam of a mosque in Muscat, said. Many second wives also say they often have contentious relationships with their co-wives. "We are called 'husband snatchers' by first wives. If anything, it is their fault for not satisfying their husbands," Khadija Marhoon, 33, the second wife of an army officer, said. "Yes, there are problems I personally don't care as long as I get what I need."