"As [maternal grandmother] was in early clan marriage (Stone Gang) and shared six husbands with another woman, identity of maternal grandfather open to question. But was often so, and I'm content with the grandpappy she picked."People of strange, exotic cultures are often depicted as being far more open to extended marriages, with three or more participants, than we are. Common in Speculative Fiction, this emphasizes just how different these people are from us, especially if they are humans like us or Humanoid Aliens that still considerably resemble us. In most of the world today, marriage is limited to two people at a time, but that has not always been the case, there are a few places where it's not the case now, and some authors like to speculate that it may not be true in the future. Some works of Historical Fiction will use this trope to emphasize the exoticness of foreign or ancient cultures. Historically, the most common form of extended marriage was one man with multiple wives. The technical term for this is "polygyny",note and it has appeared in a wide variety of cultures. For this reason, adventure stories set in an exotic corner of the Earth are most likely to feature polygny. To some extent, this can be Truth in Television, although mere polygyny is not, of course, an example of this trope. Polyandry note is more likely to actually be this trope. In works set on other worlds, all sorts of extended marriages can be found, often associated with a Free-Love Future. Extended marriage is often shown as an element of both utopias and dystopias. And when it comes to exotic aliens with bizarre alien biology, all bets are off. Monogamy may not even be physically possible, let alone desirable. This isn't just any multi-partner scenario—see Polyamory for that. This is when a species's or culture's non-monogamousness is used to show that they're different than us. The existence of this trope is often a necessity for a Marry Them All scenario. See the Useful Notes page, For the Love of Many, for a broader discussion of the general topic.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Cat Planet Cuties, the Catians have no issues with a male choosing multiple mates. This becomes relevant to the plot when Kio's house is converted into the official Catian embassy, leaving Kio free to marry all three of the girls in love with him.
- In the canon Tenchi Muyo! OVA, Juraian royalty practices just about every kind of old fashioned marriage trope out there: the Emperor has multiple wives, children are encouraged to marry their half-siblings, marrying partners several thousand years your senior (or junior) barely registers the bat of an eye, etc. These practices add some legitimacy to Tenchi's harem situation, leaving open the possibility that he could just Marry Them All.
- Some of the situation (as well as in GXP) are political as well: as the 3rd OAV points out, Tenchi's home is the single largest concentration of power in the universe, by just about any definition of the word.
- In Code Geass, Emperor Charles zi Brittania has 108 wives. This is unique to the role of emperor, in order for him to have as many warrior heirs as possible so that they can fight for the throne, in line with Britannia's social-Darwinist philosophy.
- In High School D×D Devils consider polyamory and polygamy a matter of preference for those involved. This may have something to do with their long lifespans and low fertility, especially after the Great Offscreen War appears to have left a gender disparity in its wake. Rias and her brother are children of such an arrangement, but not only are they the only (known) children of it, they both have the same mother. Part of it appears to also be a leftover from less-enlightened times, as a Master sleeping with their servants is also considered normal, but one who admits to doing so without consent is considered scum. All this means Issei goes from shocked to delighted with his First Episode Resurrection.
On the other hand, it's also shown that monogamy isn't alien to them either. The only thing considered outlandish about Sirzechs and Grayfia is that he has the title of Satan, yet she wears the pants.
- A Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane story has Lois fall in love with Titanman, a muscular Human Alien. On their wedding day, Titanman reveals to Lois he comes from a planet that legalized polygamy, and that she will become his eighth wife. Lois objects to the thought of having to share a husband with seven other women, so Titanman tranquilizes her into proceeding with the wedding. Superman jealously refuses to save her, but she escapes having to marry Titanman by awakening back in the Daily Planet.
- The practice of polygyny is carried over from some real life Islamic cultures into the world of Iznogoud; Caliph Haroun el-Plassid has multiple wives and dozens of children (so many that he can't reliably remember all of their names), as does Sultan Pullmankar. In "A Calculated Risk", the Caliph and Sultan Pullmankar sign a marriage contract engaging the Caliph's 37th son to the Sultan's 42nd daughter.
- A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies has Megan introducing polygamy (or more correctly, harem-like herds) among the ponies as a necessity due to the male-to-female imbalance. Over the generations, the gender ratio balances out and the ponies slowly switch to monogamy.
- Inverted in Bait and Switch (STO), which mentions that the Pe'khdar don't generally practice anything resembling marriage at all. They actually expect sexual relationships to fade, and children are the responsibility of the mother's entire clan.
- Multiple My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fics have herds being an option, including the The Teacher, the Sorceress and the Wonderbolt series (in which Twilight marries the title characters); The Great Alicorn Hunt, in which Sweetie Belle informs her sister that half the ponies in Equestria were in herds as recently as fifty years before, and it's still perfectly legal, though not as common; and Six Brides For Two Sisters, in which Luna seeks to marry all six Element-bearers at once (and have Twilight also marry Celestia).
- In TRON: Endgame Scenario (a Tron 2.0/TronLegacy Patchwork Fic series), Programs are commonly "bundled" in groups from two to five members.
- A Crown of Stars: In Avalon -an Empire than spans a chunk of The Multiverse, led by a couple of God Emperors-, getting married to multiple partners is completely legal and endorsed by Avaloni's divine rulers.
- The Code Geass Alternate Universe Fic Mosaic gives Suzaku (who's the Japanese Emperor) multiple wives.
- In Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion, certain Britannian men — that is to say, commoners who meet certain wealth requirements and members of the nobility — are allowed to have a "Worthy Reward" marriage. This means that they are allowed to marry multiple wives and have a number of official mistresses depending on their rank. This is the legal basis of the Emperor's Royal Harem, who's also the law biggest user.
- Generally speaking, it sort of goes without saying that the more unrealistic and deliberately wish-fulfillment based fan-fics across a wide variety of fandoms often touch on this trope, many times touching on it as an excuse to detail the Ho Yay-based scenarios.
- In Aaron Lee Yeager's Kharmic Rebound most of the heroines come from cultures where multiple spouses raise no eyebrows. Cha'Rolette and Kalia come from powerful aristocratic families where political alliances through marriage to multiple spouses are commonplace. Ilrica's race is wolf-like, with an Alpha-male essentially married to all the huntresses in the pack. Trahzi's race share a hive-mind and have no preconceived notion of what marriage should or should not be, so she is open to the idea. While Zurra and Lyssandra are so in love with Gerald that they don't mind so long as it makes him happy. Even Gerald, the lone human in the story, claims it doesn't really bother him because he grew up in Utah.
- In Dune Fremen commonly take multiple wives as a way of pinpointing male sterility. Imperial nobles are allowed only one wife but may take bound-concubines whose children by him are considered legitimate (a bit like how things worked in the Ottoman Empire and Qing Dynasty China), but lower in the line of succession than children from a wife. Paul is the son of a duke and his beloved concubine (who in a bit of a subversion of the usual course was his only mate;note Duke Leto liked to play Elizabeth I's game and pretend to court various noble women for political advantage), and it causes Paul no small bit of angst that he has to relegate his Fremen love Chani to a concubine and marry the emperor's daughter in a Sexless Marriage in order to legitimize his coup.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Polygamy was common in the Valyrian Freehold, in contrast with monogamous Westeros. Aegon the Conqueror had two wives, Rhaenys and Visenya, who both also happened to be his sisters. The Targareyans basically gave up polygamy after Maegor the Cruel, but it's still practiced in certain places in Essos
- A popular fan theory is that Rhaegar Targaryen married Lyanna Stark after abducting her—possibly consensually—while still being married to Elia Martell as an attempted recreation of Aegon's situation. This is an extension of the even more popular theory that Jon Snow is Rhaegar and Lyanna's son, and is used to remove his bastard status and allow him to claim the throne.
- Robert A. Heinlein used this trope a few times, as part of a broader theme of Polyamory in his works:
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress features extended marriage as a common part of life on the moon, in large part because of a shortage of women. The protagonist, Mannie, is part of what he calls a "line marriage". note
- Friday starts with the protagonist in a group marriage in New Zealand, although they divorce her after she exposes their racist hypocrisy. She later joins a much healthier group marriage.
- In Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, the harsh life on the Lost Colony of Geta has led to extended marriages being quite common. Marriages of up to six people are allowed, and a six-marriage is considered the most perfect, balanced ideal.
- In C. J. Cherryh's Chanur Novels there are two examples:
- In the Earth's Children series, set in the distant past before the rise of civilization, most matings are one man & one woman, but sometimes a man will mate with two women, or a woman with two men. Whatever works for them.
- The Sharing Knife has a case where a Lakewalker couple couldn't have children, their families were pressuring them to break up, instead they brought a second husband into the relationship. The husbands are married to each other as well.
- The novella "The Outcasts of Heaven Belt" by Joan Vinge features a starship crew who are all an intermarried group (although it's usual to have a "special" relationship with just one spouse).
- Gail Dalton's One Rose Trilogy has a society where the size of a marriage ranges from a minimum of four to a maximum of twelve.
- In Wen Spencer's A Brother's Price, a plague has left the world seriously gender-skewed, with 5-10 girls born for every boy. The solution for this is for boys to marry all sisters in a family. The hero, of course, goes on on to marry all of the princesses of the realm.
- In the Honor Harrington series:
- The planet Grayson (where Honor has dual-citizenship) allows extended marriages (polygynous, due to females greatly outnumbering males on the planet).
- Beowulf runs even more on this, having a wide variety of atypical marital and familial arrangements.
- On Manticore (Honor's other homeworld), a devoted and lifelong bond between two people is considered at least somewhat unusual and entirely voluntary—and even that marriage can be modified to include others if both spouses agree.
- In Nnedi Okorafor's The Shadow Speaker, Princess Sarauniya Jaa has two husbands.
- In David Brin's Uplift series, uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins are often involved in group marriages, and so do many aliens.
- At the end of The Uplift War, neo-chimp Fiben marries both his love interests, and notes that they're not much help in warding off the attentions of nearly every other female chimp on the planet who wants his genes now that he's a war hero.
- In Infinity's Shore, the neo-dolphin Kaa mentions that his parents were in a "Heinlein-style" line marriage, and his lover Peepoe briefly entertains the notion of being founding matriarch of her own line. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
- The species known as the Gubru forms marriages in threes, and doesn't become sexually differentiated until after marriage, when one member of the threesome will become dominant and the sole female, while the other two become male.
- Vonda N. McIntyre's Starfarer series has at least one married triad.
- In Jack McDevitt's Omega (part of the Priscilla Hutchins series), the newly discovered alien race known informally as the Goompahs have a complex system of shared spouses that the researchers studying the race have a hard time figuring out. Conjugal relations are allowed throughout a particular marriage group, but most individuals seem to have one or two preferred spouses within their group.
- In Cherry Wilder's Torin trilogy, beginning with The Luck of Brin's Five, the traditional Torinese family structure is built around a group of five adults, which includes at least one woman and two men in the roles we'd think of as wife and husbands. (Other roles are possible; the five adults can include grandparents as well as parents, for instance.) Biologically, each child has one mother and one father, the same as humans, but all husbands share equally in the raising of each of the family's children, and it's considered impolite to suggest that any of a child's fathers are more or less "really" its father than any other.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it is revealed that the Cereans (the species to which Ki-Adi-Mundi belongs) have a sex ratio unbelievably lopsided towards females, and that's why they are polygamous. Even Jedi like Ki-Adi are allowed and advised to practice polygamy, since every unmarried or not married enough male is a demographical hazard to the entire race.
- In the Marsbound books, this is a rare but not unusual feature of The Future. In the second book, Starbound, the selected starship crewmembers from Earth are a married triple.
- Several of the future human species in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men practice different kinds of group marriage. The Last Men have 96-person marriages that can also merge into telepathic group minds.
- In Island in the Sea of Time and its sequels, most of the Bronze-Age cultures that the Nantucketers encounter believe in polygamy or polyamory. This leads to some tension between Nantucketer Marian Alston and her Fiernan partner Swindapa, as the latter is bisexual and openly ogles other men or women. Over the course of the books, Big Bad William Walker acquires several wives from different cultures as a way of building alliances.
- A number of M.C.A. Hogarth's universes feature cultures that practice polygamy of some sort.
- In Flight of the Godkin Griffin some of the many cultures in Shraeven practice a variety of marriages. For instance noblemen are expected to take multiple wives, a few times Angharad thinks of marrying both her lesbian lovers since she's The Empire's newly appointed governor of Shraeven, but Ragna says she's not the type who could make it work.
- In the Paradox universe Harat-shar practice polygyny. Chatcaava on the other hand treat their females as slaves and don't so much marry as claim and rape.
- Tales of the Jokka: Jokka discourage heterosexual relationships because childbirth has a strong risk of Death of Personality, instead Houses practically treat their females like chattel and assign males to breed them when needed or rent them out to other Houses. However they don't have any problems with homosexual relationships between any number of individuals. And at the end of A Bloom in the North, it turns out that on the northern continent, where mind-death is practically unknown due to better nutrition, triads with one of each gender are the norm.
- Marcus LaGrone's "The Highlands Of Afon'' novels feature yet another feline alien example. Highlands Taiks have a four to one female:male ratio so they are polygynous. Traditionally the father is the defender of the family while the First Mother is head of the family's business and the Second Mother mostly raises the kids, Third and Fourth mothers support the First's business. Other races of Taik have a more even gender ratio though, including one that genetically engineered themselves to have very little sexual dimorphism.
- In Francis Carsac's Terre En Fuite (Fleeing Earth), humans encounter a Lost Colony in the Etanor (likely Proxima Centauri) system descended from the crew of one of the ship sent out centuries before through the newly-discovered hyperspace before it was discovered that hyperspace travel is of the Blind Jump variety. Due to the fact that the colony (called Tilia) was started by less than two dozen people and that various mutations due to exposure to cosmic rays not only skew the ratio of male-to-female births to 1:7 but also result in some males being born completely lacking in initiative, each normal male is required to marry multiple women in order to produce many children. At the same time, the Tilians are a culture of Proud Warrior Race Guys, so most able men are soldiers, fighting a war against aliens called the Triss from a neighboring planet. Earthlings, whose technology surpasses that of the Tilians, promise to help them correct the mutation.
- Group marriages in Through Alien Eyes can apparently be of many configurations. There's mention of a triad consisting of two brothers and a woman. A large group marriage has a monogamous dyad within it and Juna marries into this family without entering relations with anyone. These marriages are there for the sense of family and mutual support, and to pool child-rights.
- The Star Trek Novel Verse has it that Andorians practice group marriages of four due to their Bizarre Alien Sexes. One member of each sex has to take part in a telepathic mating bond called a shelthreth in order to produce a child, and sexual contact outside of a shelthreth, called tezha, is taboo.
- In Last Sacrifice, Raymond of the Keepers is married to Sarah and has Paulette as a concubine. Establishing the Keepers as more exotic that the average Moroi.
- In Dayworld by Philip José Farmer, the protagonist's Thursday persona James Dunski is in a group marriage with three women and two other men. The fact that James and Rupert are in on the Masquerade and the others are not puts a strain on the marriage, and James and Rupert plan to leave.
- In Children of the Black Sun, group marriages are normal in Ricalani culture, with multiple men and multiple women all being considered a single household. Characters from other cultures consider this decidedly odd, but as certain Love Triangles arise, the idea starts to look more practical.
- In Crawford Killian's Eyas, this is standard in one human culture (the one into which the protagonist was adopted): A traditional marriage is two men and two women, all considered married to one another; a time in the past when monogamy was forced on them by conquerors is viewed as a dark era. At least two species of "brutes'' seem to be polygynous on account of skewed gender ratios.
- In Rudyard Kipling's Kim, the Woman of Shamlegh already lives in a polyandrous marriage—which was then and still is Truth in Television for a number of cultures in the Himalayas—when she indicates to Kim that she would like him to become her husband too.
- In Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany, navigating through Hyperspace requires three people working extremely closely together and who know each other very well, so navigators, and eventually starship crews in general, have started to marry in threesomes; a habit which mainstream society still generally frowns on.
- In The Machineries of Empire, the Hexarchate - at least in Jedao's times - seems to have no problem with multiple spouses, as Meng is mentioned as having four partners.
- Several stories in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish 'verse are set on a planet where a traditional marriage consists of two men and two women, arranged so that each person has a wife and a husband, both of whom they're expected to be sexually intimate with, and an additional spouse of the opposite gender whom they're forbidden to be sexually intimate with.
- In The Wheel of Time, the Aiel people are the subject of many wild stories in the Westlands for their militaristic culture and fantastically intricate code of honor, but what really startles Westerners is their practice of marrying multiple "sister-wives". Moreover, the women in question negotiate it between them, then propose to the prospective husband as an all-or-nothing deal.
- In Farscape, Rygel once had many wives, before he was deposed and ended up with the rest of our refugees. Though to be fair, he was the emperor of a multi-system empire.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: Enterprise: Denobulans (both male and female) tend to have three spouses each. Dr. Phlox, the Enterprise's chief surgeon, thus had a total of 720 people he was directly or indirectly married to. There's also no taboo against seeking companionship outside the three typical marriages, as demonstrated when one of Phlox's wives comes aboard and starts hitting on Trip, who is extremely uncomfortable with the idea. When he tells Phlox about it, Phlox smiles and asks him if she has given Trip one of her famous massages. Trip is taken aback, unaware of Denobulan marital practices. When Phlox explains, Trip tells him that he's been brought up to believe that any married woman was off-limits. Phlox simply shrugs and tells him it's his loss. Phlox has also previously almost had a relationship with another crewmember, who backed out when he explained how marriages work among his people.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In one episode the Enterprise crew has visitors from an alien race where the women are larger in stature than the men and hold all of the business, scientific, and government jobs as well as any occupations requiring physical strength. The smaller men are thought to be better suited for domestic and artistic endeavors. Important women, especially, have multiple husbands, and they all share a marital bed.
- This trope is the alternate interpretation of a throwaway line from "Data's Day" that Andorian marriages consist of four people. The EU preferred the Bizarre Alien Sexes interpretation.
- In "Up the Long Ladder", the crew of the Enterprise discovers two Lost Colonies, both of which are under threat. The Bringloidi are an agrarian society that has given up advanced technology for a simple life, but their planet is no longer habitable. The Mariposans are a society of clones from the original five surviving settlers, threatened by Clone Degeneration. The only solution provided by Dr. Pulaski is to re-join the two peoples (they originally came on the same ship). However, in order to provide enough genetic variety to ensure long-term survival, each Bringloidi and Mariposan will need to have three mates. This state of affairs is likely to last for generations, until enough genetic variety has been created. Even then, inertia is likely to keep them doing it for long after the necessity has passed.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- In the episode "Sanctuary": among the Skrreea, a matriarchal society, the women take multiple males as mates. The main Skrreea character isn't familiar with the word "husband" but describes her own two men as "bonded to me". She's a little surprised to find out Kira doesn't have any males of her own ("at the moment") and notes that "they come in very handy".
- The episode "Field of Fire" has a throwaway mention that a murdered Gold Shirt, a Bolian, had a wife and co-husband on Bolias.
- In Babylon 5 Londo Mollari has three wives, all Arranged Marriages, whom he hates. It's apparently not uncommon for high status Centauri nobles, and made easier by their six "appendages".
- Clarice on Caprica is married to multiple men and women, who are all married to each other. This is implied to be unusual but perfectly legal.
- The Nietzscheans of Andromeda, a genetically engineered Human Subspecies who believe in Social Darwinism, practice polygyny. A male can marry as many females as his displays of genetic fitness attract; alpha males often have ten or more (despite this, it is actually the females who are in control and matriarchs preside over the approval of genetic matches in their pride).
- Polyamorous marriages aren't considered unusual in the setting of The Expanse (and presumably the novel series it's based on). Holden has eight parents (five fathers and three mothers) and was conceived via a mixing of all eight genetic profiles. It's implied that such marriages also produce naturally-conceived children with two "true" parents, but with all the adults being equally considered as mothers and fathers.
- Blue Rose has "star marriages", where all the participants are considered to be the spouses of all the other participants, even if they are not sexually involved with each other. They are quite common in the islands, uncommon in Aldis and almost unheard of elsewhere.
- Dungeons & Dragons.
- Dragon magazine #103 article "The Centaur Papers". Centaurs were said to be polygamous. The wealthier a male centaur was, the more wives he had.
- Dragon magazine #116 article "The Ecology of the Minotaur". Minotaurs are polygamous, with each minotaur bull having up to 7 females. This shows just how much Depending on the Writer can effect even tabletop games; minotaurs were originally said to be an Always Male One-Gender Race.
- Highland Trolls in Earthdawn have line marriages similar to the ones in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
- In Crusader Kings II Muslim rulers can marry up to four women at a time, and pagans, Zoroastrians, Indians, and tribal chiefs can take up to three concubines at a time (and get prestige from forcing high-status women into concubinage). Muslims also get random events about interactions between primary and secondary wives such as having one of them Murder the Hypotenuse, or for them to fall in love with each other.
- Collar 6 mixes legal marriages with dom/sub ownership arrangements which are also legal commitments and nearly as binding. The protagonist, Mistress Sixx, has three personal slaves who might as well be her wives, and not-quite antagonist Michael Kappel is married to two people — his wife Evita and their mutual consort Gunther. Gunther is also their jointly-owned personal slave, as are two women named Alice and Anya. It gets complicated.
- In Chakona Space Chakats are polyamorous, with a saying that "love doesn't divide, it multiplies". In addition Foxtaurs and Caitians are polygynous due to skewed gender ratios (3-1 and 8-1 females to males respectively). The former two species are Terran, but uncommon enough on earth that mates of different species have to get used to their idea of monogamy as a foreign concept.
- In the Furry Webcomic 21st Century Fox the giraffes Cecil, Barb, and Beth form a "herd". Their vulpine friends find the idea of wanting to share one male a bit odd.
- In Learning To Live With Orcs, by Richard Bartle, male orcs of the titular tribe may have many wives, and each wife may have many husbands.