There is a common Thai practice that visitors to Thailand will not see. Once you have lived here for a while and made friends with Thai people on a personal level, you may discover this most shocking custom of marital relationships. This is the practice of men having a Mia Noi, which translates to “Little Wife”, but more accurately refers to “Second Minor Wife”. This practice has been around for hundreds of years in the Kingdom, and the practice is alive and well today. It is practiced by most wealthy Thai men, and by a huge percentage of not-so-wealthy men. Support for a Mia Noi may well include a separate residence, a car, spending money, the whole nine yards, and often children with the minor wife that also are fully supported. If many people know about the lady, she is considered a Mia Noi. If the lady is a closely guarded secret, she is considered a girlfriend, or Gik (pronounced as geek).
Believe it or not, in this overly status conscious country, having a Mia Noi may be another status symbol for men. Everyone knows that it takes big money to support another wife, or another whole family, so having a Mia Noi is an indicator of wealth. In America, wealthy people like to live in secluded gated communities away from the notice of others, but in Thailand, the wealthy want to flaunt their wealth and build expensive houses near the busiest road in town to show all. If it is known that the man of the house also supports a Mia Noi, his social status is elevated.
This practice is not isolated unusual examples of eccentric people on the fringe. It is widespread and common, and any Expat married to a Thai is likely to find several male in-law relatives have a Mia Noi relationship, and a good percentage of their Thai friends. It is not looked down upon. There will be less of it with modern young couples in Bangkok, but in the smaller cities and in villages, it is very visible. The concept of Mia Noi is not accepted in Thailand but instead “tolerated”, and openly acknowledged, by most Thais. The Mia Noi practice is not discussed very often because the main wife does not want to lose face, but she will usually not leave her husband as long as he maintains her status as the main or major wife (Mia Luang) and supports the family.
When the main wife finds out about the minor wife, it’s not usually like it would be in the west. No demanding that the husband breaks up with the minor wife, no threats of divorce. Instead, often the major wife will look at it like, as long as she and the children are being taken care of, she’s not going to make too many problems about the minor wife. Overall, most Thai men still tend to stay with the first wife so, having a Mia Noi, some women think, can make the first marriage more likely to work out. If they push though, and insist their husband break up with the minor wife, they also know there’s a chance he will leave them for the second woman. So, it’s easier just to stay quiet.
One thing that is changing in modern Thai culture though, especially in Bangkok, is that a lot of major wives now have jobs and money of their own. In the past, it used to be that the money for the family belonged to the husband so, in this case, the major wife wasn’t likely to rock the boat when it came to a Mia Noi as, if the husband left, she might be left in financial straits. Now, with major wives having their own jobs, some of them don’t care if the husband leaves because, unlike in the past, they can take care of themselves and their kids without the need for money from the husband. So times are changing things.
However, as modern women in Thailand often make their own money, the cost of having a Mia Noi can be a lot less than it used to be. So perhaps this new earning power for women may allow for more men to have (or rather, afford) a Mia Noi relationship. And the major wife is sometimes also happy as she has less pressure placed upon her for sex, she knows that her husband having a second wife makes it less likely they will get divorced and, as long as she and the kids are taken care of financially, this set up often works fine for her.
In my opinion, very few Western men (including yours truly) would ever want to have a Mia Noi relationship. It would open up a myriad of problems that could make life miserable for me. But more then once, in my married life, I have been asked by Thai men, even uncles, why I didn’t have a Mia Noi. “You are farang (foreigner), you have big money! Why no have Mia Noi ?”
They could never understand, when I would answer them, that I wanted only one wife. My thinking was completely alien to them.
Keeping my only wife contented and willing to put up with my sometimes erratic and eccentric behavior requires a lot of investment by me of time, patience and attention. To double that would be much more than what I am capable of handling, so this idea of a second wife would never enter my mind, no matter how wealthy I might be.
As part of a domestic violence study, a survey was conducted from 2009-2010 on state officials’ attitudes towards men possessing minor wives by Ramathibodi Hospital and reported in The Nation Newspaper. Almost 60 per cent of the men surveyed said having a minor wife was a man’s personal business, while only 28.5 per cent mentioned it as an immoral act. About half of the women said it was an immoral act and 39 per cent felt it was a very personal matter.
Your comments and opinions on this matter are appreciated.