‘Sister Wives’: Why a lack of sexual intimacy forced one wife to leave her polygamist marriage

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Oct 23, 2022 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Couch potatoes and reality TV fanatics alike will have almost certainly watched an episode or two of TLC’s flagship show, Sister Wives. The series documents the lives of a turbulent polygamist family living in Arizona and, if you’re anything like me, you may have pondered dipping your TV-obsessed’s toes into this world yourself. What you probably didn’t expect was to trip, fall head first, curl up with a blanket, and never leave.

The famous family in question consists of: Kody Brown (the patriarch), Meri Brown (first wife), Janelle Brown (second wife), Robyn Brown (fourth wife), their 18 kids, and—until recently—Christine Brown (third wife). Those who follow the Brown family as closely as I do know that Christine officially left the household in November 2021 following explosive revelations regarding her romantic relationship—or lack thereof—with her shared husband. But more on that later.

Premiering in 2010, Sister Wives quickly became one of TLC’s most profitable and popular TV shows, piquing people’s interest and natural curiosity in polygamy and a family’s plight to live a normal life without fear of persecution.

In February 2020, the Utah House and Senate reduced the punishment for consensual polygamy, which had previously been classified as a felony, to roughly the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Nevertheless, plural marriage is still technically illegal in the US and therefore viewers were invited to watch the family move from state to state in search of a safe environment to raise their children without worrying about being reported to the authorities.

We were also witness to some pretty awkward moments, such as when Meri spoke of having to divorce Kody so that his new partner at the time—Robyn—could become his legal wife. The series was one of the first to broadcast the story of a polygamist household and record the day-to-day lives of a family such as the Browns.

Over the course of 17 seasons, fans began to spot certain clues as to who was Kody’s ‘favourite wife’. And after the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on certain biases in regards to where the shared husband was spending most of his time, one wife was officially pushed over the edge.

On 2 November, 2021, Christine (third wife) shared with her Instagram followers: “After 25 years together, Kody and I have grown apart and I have made the difficult decision to leave.”

For avid viewers of the show, we were well-aware of how unhappy Christine had been in recent years, so this statement didn’t come as a shocking surprise. In fact, in a number of episodes, the mother of six would often refer to her relationship with Kody as “sad”—particularly, in reference to the lack of intimacy within their marriage and her feeling of isolation.

In one specific heart-wrenching episode, Christine recalled how previously, when they had been living in Las Vegas, she had found it incredibly hurtful how Kody would never shower at her house—choosing instead to wash at one of his other wives’ homes. The reality star stated, “I do everything I can to make my home our home, and he’s like ‘Well, Meri’s shower is better’. I’m like, ‘I don’t care. Because what you’re saying is that I don’t matter’.”

In a more recent episode in season 16, Christine detailed the moment in which she realised that the intimate side of her relationship with Kody was over. The couple were discussing the installation of a door for Christine’s bedroom and Kody stated it was due to not wanting the cat to get in.

Christine asked him plainly, “I need to know, is the door just about the cat and it’s not about us not having an intimate side of our marriage?” to which Kody responded, “I’m not interested in having an intimate marriage anymore. I don’t like your behaviour. We’ll see if you can be a good sister wife.”

“I’m heartbroken, my heart’s shattered, to be honest with you,” Christine confided to the cameras.

Similar TLC shows such as Seeking Sister Wife and My Five Wives have also documented some of the eccentricities of plural marriage—some more so than others.

Jarod Clark, for example, was an exceptionally controversial figure within the community during his run on Seeking Sister Wife season three, single-handedly exposing some of the most toxic and misogynistic elements of plural marriage. Most notably, Clark’s insistence on practicing polygyny as opposed to polygamy. The primary difference between the two is that polygyny is geared more towards the male’s needs and desires.

In Clark’s own words, he favours this lifestyle because “kings had multiple queens and each wife played an intricate part in that king’s life and building and growing the king.” Sadly for Clark, his second queen, Kaleh, found him far too controlling and left, evidently seeking a castle without so many restrictions.

For Christine, her departure from her Sister Wives family was a monumental release. In season 17, after revealing her plans to her fellow wives, she expressed, “I need to make a choice for happiness. I need to make a choice to have joy in my life and peace and there hasn’t been a lot of hope at all until I decided to leave.”

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