The Brown family drew public scrutiny when their unconventional lifestyle was featured in the reality television series “Sister Wives.” Being able to live openly as a polygamous family is something that the patriarch, Kody Brown, considered the greatest miracle he experienced in his lifetime. He is proud of his family, and wanted the world to keep an open mind on their way of life. The demands of being a husband of four and a father of 18 are greater than those in a monogamous relationship, but according to him, everything is worth it, as the joy and love are more than he could have imagined possible.
- 1 Kody Brown on embracing polygamy
- 2 The Show
- 3 The Ups and Downs of Kody’s polygamous lifestyle
- 4 The reality of Kody’s life
Kody Brown on embracing polygamy
He was raised in the Latter-day Saints (LDS) faith, and when he was 19, he was sent to southern Texas on a two-year mission for his church, to evangelize and convert people to their religion.
While he was there, he received word that his parents were excommunicated from the LDS church, as they had joined a fundamentalist Mormon faith that practiced the principle of celestial plural marriage. Although he was heartbroken and worried for their spiritual well-being at that time, he was not entirely opposed to the idea, as he became interested in the polygamous lifestyle after his mother explained its doctrine to him when he was 14.
In the Apostolic United Brethren, a more liberal sect of Mormon fundamentalism, entering into a plural marriage is considered to be a pivotal step in one’s spiritual development. Not all people in their congregation entered into polygamy despite believing in its doctrine, however, Kody deemed it wise to accept when one was presented with the opportunity, as he said, ‘It’s a calling, something we are summoned to by God. It’s a commandment in our scripture, fundamental to our belief system.’
His father had taken a second wife, and his mother wrote to him all the good things about having a sister wife. Kody experienced the love and warmth by extension when he returned home to Utah, saying it was a wonderful evolution of another woman loving his father as her husband, and loving Kody as a mother who loved a son.
He began attending gatherings of members of the church, and was inspired by how committed they were to their ideologies. Around this time, there were two things he was seriously contemplating: converting to Mormon Fundamentalism, and marrying Meri whom he’d fallen in love with. Two days of fasting and praying to God helped him decide on the path that he should take, and when he informed Meri’s father of his desire to join the faith, the latter made the arrangements for his baptism. After that, Kody legally married Meri in 1990, and he later had spiritual unions with three more wives: Janelle in 1993, Christine in 1994, and Robyn in 2010.
It was important to Kody that he had a spiritual connection with a woman whom he was considering to be his wife, and the woman should be willing to join herself not just to him, but also to his other wives. Before he could court one, he had to have his wives’ blessing, as his first duty was to them. He said, ‘I believe that with each of my wives I share a destiny, and that together we five adults were predetermined to be one family…we are meant to be.’
Marrying four women wasn’t something he did on a whim, or out of a sense of machismo, as the principle of plural marriage was sacred to him. Most people couldn’t comprehend that it was possible to love four wives equally with the same passion and intensity, but Kody said, ‘It’s one of those things you do unconsciously, something so deeply ingrained into your psyche and your way of being that you never question it.’
The simplest analogy that he could give is the love of a mother for her children; she loves them individually for different reasons, but her love for one wouldn’t be any less or more than the other. His wives were so different from one another that each of his marriages was distinct. He was discreet about it, making sure there was ‘no overlap, no “sharing,” nothing untoward or salacious.’ He shared that his love for them was so deep that he couldn’t imagine being without it.
There had been a lot of misconceptions about polygamy, so it seemed prudent for the Brown family to keep their lifestyle private; they were never ashamed of their religious belief, but they didn’t want to be judged or stereotyped. Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of sexual assault of the minors whom he married. His story and the way he ran the church had put polygamy in a bad light.
When the family was invited to do “Sister Wives,” Kody was immediately on board, as he wanted to change the public’s perception of polygamy. As it chronicled their lives, it would be easy to see that they weren’t really that different from any other family. The “couch sessions” in the show had become some form of therapy for them. As family issues were brought up, it created tension as they became aware of what each one was thinking, and how each relationship was faring, but it also helped them deal with it head on. These revelations further enlightened people on the reality of their situation. Kody was hoping that the TV show would help create a world that would be more tolerant of their way of life.
The Ups and Downs of Kody’s polygamous lifestyle
Consequences of coming out as a plural family
The airing of the TV series, “Sister Wives,” was liberating for Kody and his family, as they no longer had to hide what they were to each other, but there were serious repercussions.
Most members of their church were disappointed or angry with their decision, as they believed that being on TV would violate the sanctity of plural marriage, and they would be subjected to criticisms and ridicule. Their own families were upset, as it meant they would be outed as polygamists by association, although some had come to terms with it as long as they weren’t dragged into the limelight.
Polygamy is illegal in all US states, and the Lehi City police began their investigation of the family. Fearing for their safety and criminal prosecution, the Brown family moved to Las Vegas; however, no charges were filed against them. They later sued the state of Utah to challenge its anti-polygamy laws, but clarified that they were only after decriminalizing polygamy and not necessarily legalizing plural marriages. They prevailed in the 2013 district court ruling, but the case was dismissed in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The court said that the Browns need not fear prosecution, as polygamy cases weren’t pursued in the absence of additional crimes such as child trafficking or child abuse. The Brown family knew the risks when they agreed to do a TV show, but said that they were worth taking.
Struggles of having sister wives
Meri and Kody were very much in love, and they knew from the get-go that there would be other wives in the relationship, and often had discussions about it. She was even looking forward to being friends with them, but the reality of sharing her husband was something she didn’t handle well, and it made things difficult for the sister wives and Kody.
She and Kody were married for three years before Kody married Janelle, who had a short-lived marriage with Meri’s brother and developed a cordial relationship with her.
Meri was relieved that Janelle didn’t threaten the love that she shared with Kody, as their bond was said to be more intellectual than romantic. Janelle felt more like a house guest instead of a wife when she finally moved in with them. It didn’t help that the two women had different personalities, so they didn’t get along. When Janelle became pregnant, Meri was devastated as she and Kody had been trying to have a baby for years. Later on, the two women found a way to have a functional relationship.
Meri had a much harder time accepting Christine as a sister wife, as she sensed that Kody was not just smitten but in love with her. It bothered her when Kody was away, spending time with Christine during courtship, and when he only called her once during their honeymoon. After the two were married, Meri found some common ground with her, but the relationship was only good on a surface level.
Could the family keep growing? 👶🏻Robyn has a serious question for Kody tonight on #SisterWives! It all starts now.
When Robyn became part of their family, Meri felt unloved and unwanted, so she wasn’t as welcoming as she should have been. Kody was left in a tough position, but he tried to find ways to make things work for everyone, and build a happy home.
Financial difficulties of having four households
The financial aspect of a polygamous family was quite challenging, as Kody essentially has four families to support; he has one child with Meri, six with Janelle, another six with Christine, and five with Robyn. There were times when they lived together under one roof, and times when each sister wife had her own house. Kody was not well off, and it took him a while to establish a career, but he somehow managed to provide for them all. All his income went to the family and he distributed it according to who needed it most, as he elaborated, ‘If a wife needs a bigger car because she is expecting a new child, I prioritize that. If another wife needs help completing a major home repair, this takes precedence over something more trivial.’
His wives who had their own incomes contributed to the family what was left over from their own expenses at home. If one of his wives chose not to work and looked after their children instead, he made sure she would be taken care of. There was a time when Kody, Meri and Janelle shared a bank account, and they worked out a budget for the bills, the family, and personal spending. However, Janelle felt that Meri was controlling their finances, so they decided it was better to have their own separate bank accounts; this arrangement continued with Christine and Robyn. There were lean times as there were too many of them in the family, and not all of them had stable jobs. Their finances improved considerably when they started receiving money for starring in the reality show. It was reported that they were paid 10% of the production’s budget for each episode, and it was split among them. TLC’s budget was said to be $250,000 to $400,000, so they received $25,000 to $40,000.
Drifted apart due to strict rules during the pandemic
Kody was staying with Robyn during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he and his wives met to discuss the rules he set if they wanted him to visit their respective homes. He said that he was doing this for the safety of everyone, as he didn’t want to spread the virus in case he became infected, so the rules were non-negotiable. Janelle felt it was too much, as it included disinfecting groceries and cleaning mails with alcohol wipes. Christine agreed that some of them were unrealistic. Only Meri and Robyn didn’t mind following these rules, if it meant being with Kody.
Robyn became upset when she felt that her sister wives were somehow blaming her, as they thought she was responsible for making these protocols. Kody believed that not trusting in his decision regarding the safety of the family meant his wives were being disloyal and disrespectful to him. Some of his children couldn’t understand why they couldn’t spend time with their father freely. They felt that some of the restrictions he imposed were unreasonable, and it caused friction between them and their father.
Giving up on Meri
Meri couldn’t handle having sister wives, and it took a toll on her relationship with Kody. It came to a point when they could no longer tolerate being around each other, and she felt that he was shutting her out of his life completely. They talked to a marriage counselor, and it helped somewhat as they tried to understand each other. However, Kody divorced Meri in 2014, so that he could marry Robyn and adopt her children from her previous marriage. Meri was involved in a catfishing scandal the following year; she was hurting as she pushed Kody away, telling him to stop staying at her house, and it led to her falling for someone online who preyed on her vulnerability, and pretended to be a guy. She had to come clean to her family when she discovered the deception, and things went ugly with the impostor. Her relationship with Kody deteriorated, and when his bitterness and anger subsided, he lost any romantic inclinations toward her, and only considered her as a friend, a distant one at that.
Christine was totally disillusioned by the way things turned out after Kody married Robyn, and then the whole family moved to Flagstaff, Arizona in 2018. She said that she wasn’t an equal partner in the relationship as she felt that she didn’t have a say when it comes to making major decisions, especially those that would affect her and her children. She also shared that Kody was no longer interested in being intimate with her, so she packed-up all his things from her house. In her November 2021 Instagram post, she announced that she was leaving Kody after 25 years of being together, but added, ‘We will continue to be a strong presence in each other’s lives as we parent our beautiful children and support our wonderful family.’ Kody was saddened by this, but he respected Christine’s decision, and said that they would remain committed parents, even as they went their separate ways.
The reality of Kody’s life
‘I have a wonderful family—a perfectly happy family—with beautiful wives and beautiful children,’ Kody had said in the past.
Will this move be their last? 📦#SisterWives starts now!
Loving four wives might be easy for him, but for his wives, sharing one man was definitely not. Except for Janelle, his wives grew up in a polygamous family, so they knew firsthand what it entailed. Most of them were attracted to the idea of sisterhood, but the reality of having a sister wife was far more difficult to accept and live with each day. Jealousy would often rear its ugly head, despite each one claiming they loved the lifestyle and that it was what they wanted. As much as Kody enjoyed plural marriage, it comes with challenges that included dealing with each wife’s jealousy, insecurity, and needs. Somehow, they had learned to support one another and work as a team, as one big family. He said, ‘Our acceptance of the doctrine of plural marriage allows us to transcend our limitations and become enlightened.’
However, ultimately things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to, as they grew apart and gave up working on their marriages.
The reality TV show “Sister Wives” premiered on TLC on 26 September 2010, and finished airing its 16th season in January 2022. People are waiting for the announcement regarding the fate of the show, although there were reports that the Brown family has started filming for season 17.