It seems that most Bhutanese women accept that husbands will have other lovers, and that a good wife should “forgive” her husband. There was an interesting discussion in the staff room today about one of our colleagues who is going against that social norm. Her husband had another woman while his wife was pregnant, and now that the baby has been born, she has asked her husband to leave. The women in the staff room all feel that this is wrong. They made comments like, “She should forgive him.” “It’s what men do.” “He isn’t seeing the other woman anymore because she is engaged, so there is no more problem.” Apparently even the wife’s mother feels this way.
One of my buddies here, who in other ways is a “modern” Bhutanese woman, also says she thinks it is fine for men to have lovers other than their wives. She points out that the men usually feel guilty, so they are extra nice to their wives. The way she sees it is that everyone benefits.
It is still legal here to have more than one husband or wife. The fourth king has four wives, all sisters. This is becoming uncommon in the younger generation, but it still happens. Everyone knows someone in a village, who has more than one husband or wife.
Add to that tradition, the current trend for civil servants to be transferred to new communities every few years. This often splits up couples because they don’t want to uproot the whole family. I think I’ve mentioned before that kids often live with extended family, usually for proximity to good schooling. Although it is wonderful to see the support that the extended family provides, it is also not ideal. My students certainly express a lot of feelings about missing their mum and/or dad.
So it seems that tradition, current opinion, and frequent moves all make it easy to have more than one partner. It seems that only the men are making the most of the situation.