Most women would rather stay single than share their significant other with another woman — or three. The family featured in “Sister Wives” doesn’t seem to mind, though. Despite divorce and plenty of drama, they’ve figured out how to make a five-parent, 18-offspring household work for almost 30 years.
The real reason Kody divorced his first wife is pretty unexpected (page 5), but so is the scandal that emerged shortly after they separated (page 6). Here’s how this unusual family operates, and why keeping track of their relationship dynamics just became more of a challenge.
A polygamist family isn’t like any relationship you’ve ever been in
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like in a polygamist family, “Sister Wives” shows you more than you probably wanted to know. Instead of maintaining four different relationships, Kody and his wives act as one big, sometimes happy, admittedly strange family.
Next: Even though he believes in polygamy, he doesn’t necessarily support this.
Kody doesn’t ‘like’ divorce, but …
He said that he wouldn’t force any of his wives to stick around if they didn’t want to. “I don’t like divorce — nobody likes that — but my wives are free to leave, if they make that choice. Each of my wives is a strong and independent woman and essentially could have a good relationship with the man of their choice.”
Next: Things have gone downhill with one of the wives in recent years.
He’s had intimacy issues with one of his wives
Their real-life drama bled onto their reality show set when Kody admitted he was no longer interested in being “intimate” with his first wife, Meri. This upset not only her, but the three additional wives, who didn’t really know how to comfort her.
Next: This is how their relationship affects the other wives.
Their relationship puts stress on the other three wives
Because Kody and his wives operate like one large family, not just separate couples, Robyn, Christine, and Janelle struggled to come to terms with Kody and Meri’s strained relationship. They said they had to do their best to remain “Switzerland,” none taking sides.
Next: This is the real reason he divorced Mari.
He married Robyn so he could adopt her kids
In 2014, Meri agreed to divorce Kody so that he could marry Robyn. This had little to do with him loving one wife over the other. He actually just wanted to enter a legal marriage with her so he could also legally adopt her kids, while staying with Meri, Christine, and Janelle “spiritually.”
Next: The divorce caused a huge and unexpected scandal.
His first wife was catfished because of their divorce
While discussing her relationship troubles with Kody, Meri revealed that shortly after their divorce, she started talking with someone online. He turned out not to be who he said he was, which caused Kody’s first wife even more emotional stress.
Next: Polygamy is legal in the United States, so why hasn’t Kody been arrested?
How the ‘Sister Wives’ family gets away with polygamy
Technically, only one of Kody’s marriages — his marriage to Robyn — is legal. He referred to his relationships with Meri, Christine, and Janelle as “spiritual unions.” If any of them wanted to walk away, there wouldn’t be any legal consequences.
Next: How do the Browns and other polygamist families really operate?
A man marries 1 wife, and they actively search for the others
Polygamy is not usually just a man suddenly deciding he wants another wife. Although that does happen, a lot of polygamist families actually search for wives together. After all, it needs to be someone with whom everyone can enjoy spending time. In fact, Kody Brown’s first wife, Meri, actually introduced him to his second wife, Janelle.
Next: The women typically play this role in the family.
The women usually care for the household and work as a ‘team’
In many polygamist families, the women take care of the household. Because polygamists tend to have several children, the household chores become amplified. In the case of one wealthy Arizona family, three women keep track of the chores in their 10-bedroom home and their 16 children while their husband works. But in some families, such as the Brown family, women hold jobs. But Meri did tell Oprah she was terminated from her job due to her polygamist lifestyle.
Next: The wives get privacy within their homes.
Their homes offer separate living spaces that are connected
When polygamist homes are built, the women will almost always have separate bedrooms. And they sometimes have separate living spaces, as well. In the Brown family, each woman has a separate living space where she can spend time with her children and be away from the other wives. Of course, the home’s size depends on finances, so not all families are lucky enough to have that much privacy. The wives will help each other make dinner in the family’s kitchen and use a communal living space together.
Next: Here’s how sleep arrangements work.
The husband alternates where he sleeps
The sleeping arrangements in polygamist families are something that are usually discussed when a new wife moves in. In most cases, the husband alternates where he sleeps. A sleep schedule is sometimes arranged beforehand, and it works in a way that allows the husband a chance to share a bed with each wife frequently to not leave any wife out.
Next: Aside from the TV show and book, how do Kody and his wives support their family?
Kody’s ad sales job
When the show first started out in 2010, Kody, now 49, talked about working in online ad sales. He was vague about it and didn’t provide details such as his company’s name. Since then, however, it’s apparent he no longer holds the job. One news article listed him having a now-defunct computer programming company called Bricksoft.
Next: Robyn’s business venture involved everyone.
Robyn’s online boutique
Fourth wife Robyn, 39, started an online jewelry and clothing boutique called My Sisterwife’s Closet. It features sterling silver and gold jewelry, as well as t-shirts, aprons, and ornaments designed by Robyn.
“[The venture] was originally my dream, but Meri was supportive from the very beginning and she and I worked well together,” Robyn wrote, adding the others soon joined in. “I was craving something that would help bond the five of us.”
Next: Meri fulfilled her dream in 2017.
Meri’s bed and breakfast
In December 2017, Meri (wife No. 1) opened a bed and breakfast, Lizzie’s Heritage Inn, in Parowan, Utah. It was her dream to buy back the 1870 home, built by her great-great grandparents and owned by her family for four generations.
Next: How Janelle has been a breadwinner
Janelle’s food storage and real estate businesses
In Utah, Janelle (wife No. 2) ran a business called E Z Pantry, which aimed to “provide, market, design, sell, or trade in the food storage industry.” Food storage items were likely popular in her circle of Mormon friends, who are known for having large families.
After the family moved to Las Vegas in 2011, Janelle, now 48, started working as a real estate agent. She said her appearing on the TLC show helped her business. “It’s been a huge asset to have some exposure,” she said.
Additional reporting by Julia Mullaney and Karen Bennett.
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