With season 17 premiering this Sunday following more than 10 years on TV, Sister Wives fans might think they know the Brown family. Kody Brown is in a “spiritual marriage” with his first wife, Meri Brown, second wife, Janelle Brown, and fourth wife, Robyn Brown. He is legally only married to Robyn after divorcing Meri and tying the knot with Robyn in 2014 for legal purposes in order to adopt Robyn’s three children from a previous marriage.
Kody’s third wife, Christine Brown, announced her decision to divorce the salesman in November 2021 after welcoming six children with him during their 25 years of marriage.
And though much is known about the current status of Kody’s marriages, less is documented about his complex connections to the four women he’s married and their family ties to him.
Here’s what ET uncovered:
Janelle, Meri, and Kody Brown
Kody’s first wife, Meri, grew up in a polygamist family and had 27 siblings. Kody and his family joined the faith later in his life and Kody and Meri met at church when she was 18. They were introduced through Kody’s sister, Christy, at the time.
“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.”
Though the two abstained from any physical intimacy before getting engaged, including kissing, they tied the knot in April 1990, noting that they were both fully aware of their intention to add more wives to the family.
Kody and Janelle Brown
While Janelle was Kody’s second wife, he was also her second husband. She met her first husband, Adam Barber, in high school and quickly realized that she was more interested in his family and their religion than in him.
“My husband wasn’t really interested in either his new faith or the branch of fundamentalism he’d been raised in,” Janelle explained of her ex in the 2012 memoir, Becoming Sister Wives. “He had very little spiritual conviction. His family, however, fascinated me.”
In fact, Janelle first met Kody when he and Meri were still dating, and she was in the middle of a “horrible divorce” with her first husband, who is, in fact, Meri’s brother.
Janelle described meeting Kody as “the strangest feeling,” saying, “I felt as if I had forgotten something and suddenly remembered it. It was a feeling of relief and recognition.”
Janelle even attended Kody and Meri’s wedding with her first husband, who at the time was Kody’s brother-in-law.
As if this wasn’t complicated enough, Janelle’s own family soon integrated into Kody’s. Janelle noted in the book that she was not raised in a polygamist family and her own mother, Sheryl, was against the idea, until she met and soon married Kody’s father, Winn, becoming his third wife. This made Janelle’s future father-in-law her stepfather.
As for Kody and Janelle, Kody described their romance as having more to do with “spirituality and intellectual compatibility,” but added that he found her “extremely attractive.”
For their courtship, they only went on one date and were married two weeks later.
Kody and Christine Brown
Just like Meri, Christine grew up in a polygamist family and met Kody and Meri through her sister, Wendy, when she was 19. They formed a friendship at first. Kody noted in Becoming Sister Wives that he noticed Meri and Christine’s friendship and knew Christine was becoming interested in him early on, but felt his marriage to Meri was still too new to bring in another sister wife.
But Kody and Meri courted an underage girl that Christine introduced them to, and Christine felt she was too young and beautiful, and the couple’s decision to continue to court the woman turned her off from them. She temporarily shut herself out of the idea of potentially joining their family. Ultimately, Kody and Meri called off the wedding with the other woman. Kody later helped Christine deal with her emotions following her own parents’ divorce, which helped to reignite the spark between them. After six weeks of courtship, they married.
“Her kindness and her positive nature brokered a peace in our household,” Kody said of Christine in the book. “Christine saved our bacon, as I like to say. She saved the Browns.”
Despite this, Christine noted that it took her and Kody a year to “fall completely head over heels for each other” after their wedding.
Kody and Robyn Brown
Like Janelle, Kody was also Robyn’s second husband. Robyn married David Preston Jessop, a fellow member of the faith, when she was 21 and noted in Becoming Sister Wives that their marriage “struggled from the start.”
According to The Ashley Reality Roundup, David is the first cousin of Christine and third cousin of Kody. Robyn and David had three children together and Robyn said that she planned to have sister wives, but that their marriage didn’t last long enough for them to welcome a second wife.
“What started off as unstable disintegrated into something destructive,” Robyn wrote of her first marriage.
Robyn first saw Kody during a visit to her cousin, Reba’s, church.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say I felt as though I’d been shot through with a bolt of lightning,” Robyn wrote of the encounter, saying she was “stunned” and “embarrassed” by her response.
Determined not to enter into anything lightly due to her divorce, Robyn pushed aside those feelings, but did develop a close friendship with Meri, who encouraged Kody to pursue a courtship with Robyn.
“Both Meri and I were convinced that Robyn had a wonderful spirit — kind and profound,” Kody wrote. “Even our brief conversation with her stirred our souls. We wanted to get to know her better. I felt an undeniable connection to this woman I had just met, as did Meri. This connection was so deep and spiritual that it kept us up all night.”
Robyn had a significantly longer courtship with Kody — six months — insisting on getting to know her future husband completely before agreeing to marry him.
Season 17 of Sister Wives premieres Sunday, Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. ET on TLC.