The relationships between Sister Wives stars Kody Brown and his wives can easily be described as complicated, but none more so than the one he shares with his first wife, Meri Brown. Despite years of estrangement and more than a decade with no intimacy in their marriage, the couple still consider themselves spiritually married despite legally divorcing in 2014 so that Kody could legally marry his fourth wife, Robyn, in an effort to adopt her children.
The couple hasn’t lived together for years in the wake of Meri’s 2015 catfishing scandal, and Kody has even said in recent episodes of Sister Wives that he doesn’t consider himself married to Meri.
From their 1990 wedding to where they stand today, here’s a breakdown of Kody and Meri’s messy marriage.
Meri grew up in a polygamist family and met Kody at church when she was 18. The two abstained from any physical intimacy before getting engaged, including kissing.
“I was a little taken with Kody right off the bat,” Meri said in the family’s 2012 book, Becoming Sister Wives. “He was definitely cute, and had a great attitude. He was talkative and engaged me in conversation, and made me feel comfortable around him.”
Kody said of Meri in the book, “Meri was so cute and sweet when I met her that I had a hard time suppressing my hopelessly romantic nature. She had a remarkable purity about her. I had a sneaking suspicion that we were soulmates.”
They tied the knot in April 1990 and have both noted that they fully intended to add more wives to the family.
Meri tried to have children for years, but struggled to conceive. While Meri was struggling, Kody married his second wife, Janelle Brown, in 1993 and the two ended up having six kids together. Meri finally gave birth to her only child in 1995, but her fertility struggles has put a strain on her relationship with both Kody and Janelle.
In a 2021 reunion episode of Sister Wives, Meri shared that the intimacy went out of her marriage with Kody “about a decade ago,” meaning that they stopped being intimate years before the catfishing scandal ever even occurred.
In late 2014, Meri legally divorced Kody at his request so that he could legally marry Robyn and adopt her kids from her first marriage. The process was documented on Sister Wives and showed Meri struggling with the decision and resenting both Kody and Robyn in the aftermath.
Just a few months later, Meri found herself at the center of a catfishing scandal after she met a man whom she thought to be named Sam Cooper on Twitter in March 2015. “Sam” turned out to be a female named Jackie Overton, a career criminal who had catfished multiple others.
“I got into this place where I was talking to different people on social media and kind of making friends. I got into this situation talking to one person who really made me trust him,” Meri shared in a 2015 episode of Sister Wives. “He was just saying all the right things, being very kind and very compassionate and understanding. I trusted him.”
Compromising photos and voicemails of Meri were released online after months of phone calls and text exchanges between Meri and the catfish. Jackie even went on to pen two books, which are available on Amazon, about the online affair using the name Sam Cooper.
“I felt like I kind of was forced into doing and saying things because of all the things she said to me, like, ‘You’d better call him and leave him a message. You’d better tell him how much you love him.’ Because I was afraid of what she would do otherwise,” Meri said on Sister Wives, claiming that she was blackmailed by the catfish.
Meri claims to this day that she was not engaging in this online activity with the intention of leaving Kody, but he believes otherwise.
“When Meri had an affair, she was leaving my a**,” Kody previously said on Sister Wives. “Because she was like, ‘I’m done with this. I am done with you.’ She made it clear to everybody that she was getting out of there. She was done with us. And she can’t admit it now. We circled the wagons as a family to protect her when she realized that she’d been duped.”
The family stood behind Meri in the wake of the scandal, defending her, but it seemingly marked the official end of her romantic relationship with Kody. Despite this line, Kody has claimed that he and Meri were having problems long before the scandal.
“The catfishing thing was really just a wakeup call for Meri and I,” he previously stated. “Our problem ran much deeper than that, and it’s probably why the catfishing happened.”
While Kody’s wives all have separate residences that he goes to visit, he no longer stays with Meri.
“I knew what I needed from Kody, and I wasn’t getting it. He was very, very, very distant in our relationship. I asked him to just not stay there for a little bit,” Meri explained in an October 2022 episode of Sister Wives. “I said, ‘Can we just get through some of this stuff? Can we just take a break?’ He has interpreted that as I kicked him out and he has never come back.”
Where They Stand Today
Though there seems to be much less hostility than in recent episodes, any hope for romantic reconciliation between Kody and Meri appears to be off the table.
“I miss physical intimacy with him,” Meri admitted in a January 2022 reunion episode of Sister Wives.
“I’m not going to ever be in a conjugal relationship with her because I’m not going to go through that emotional torture ever again,” Kody said. “There’s a point where intimacy is just damage.”
In February 2021, Kody told ET, “Meri and I are in an amicable relationship, but we’ve been literally separated for four or five years. We’re amicable, we’ve had a real struggle… I’m not mad anymore. I’m not angry anymore. I’m not hurt anymore. So, that’s progress.”
In the wake of Christine Brown splitting from Kody and leaving the family in 2021, some of the past pain between Kody and Meri seems to have healed.
“I don’t know what has healed, but I’m not feeling betrayed by Meri,” Kody shared in an October 2022 episode of Sister Wives. “I’m feeling betrayed by Christine.”
In that same episode, Kody described his relationship with his first wife as “very good,” but added, “It’s not a married situation.” He said that though their relationship is “amicable,” he doesn’t think that it is “fulfilling” for Meri, “not in any way.”
Meri seemingly agreed, saying, “My relationship with Kody has not improved as far as a husband and wife relationship. That’s not something that he’s interested in. I mean, it just is what it is, it’s where we are.”
And when Sister Wives fans began to comment on the possibility of Meri leaving the marriage in the wake of Christine’s exit, she wasn’t too pleased by the idea.
“My strength is sticking around and seeing if Kody would be willing to work on a relationship,” Meri said in a November 2022 episode. “So I leave that door open, but I’m not pining away for it.”
After Christine declared herself divorced from Kody due to the fact that they weren’t legally married, Meri found herself questioning whether or not she and Kody were still married.
“Kody and I are in this situation. We’re not legally married. I want to work on the relationship, but Kody has just said that he doesn’t,” Meri explained. “Does that mean we’re just not married anymore? That’s not how I consider it. I feel like we’re still married.”
But Kody had a different take on the situation, saying, “I don’t really consider myself married to Meri. If she wanted to move on and marry another, she wouldn’t get an argument with me. I don’t believe that we can ever be functional and I don’t believe that I will ever be emotionally safe with her.”
Sister Wives airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on TLC.