Although Kody and Meri Brown's strained marriage continues to lack physical intimacy, there's still hope that the couple could eventually have a romantic relationship again in the future.
During Sunday's episode of Sister Wives, Kody and Meri spent one-on-one time together — their first solo outing with each other since their 2019 anniversary — to celebrate 30 years of marriage.
"I'm actually really excited to hang out with Kody a little bit today. You know, I don't know what we're going to do — we're just going to kind of wing it, but I'm excited to spend some time with him, honestly," Meri, 50, told cameras.
Kody picked up Meri, who surprised him with an anniversary present: 30 homemade Rice Krispies Treats to represent their three decades together.
Due to COVID-19, the couple couldn't go to a restaurant, so they picked up takeout and took a drive to a grassy patch, where they sat and ate their meal.
En route to the destination, Kody and Meri— who called their anniversary a "non-anniversary" due to the fact that they were "not a couple" — discussed the state of their marriage.
In a confessional, Kody said the pair's union — which he previously admitted began to "dissolve" after Meri's catfishing scandal almost six years ago — has long faced issues.
"Meri and I had problems like this long before [sister wife] Janelle even came into the family. But the catfishing thing was what really woke us up to the state of our situation," said Kody, 52. "And we went a couple of years, a lot of counseling, figuring things out, and as we went through this process, I'm looking for a spark — something to initiate some form of desire for a relationship with each other. And in this time, it has never manifest."
Kody and Meri wed in 1990. Three years later, the pair welcomed sister wife Janelle into their plural marriage, who was followed in 1994 by Christine. Most recently, Robyn joined the Brown family as Kody's fourth wife in 2010.
Although Kody was originally legally married to only Meri, she agreed to divorce him so that he could tie the knot with Robyn in 2014 — a legal change that allowed Robyn's three kids from her previous marriage to access the same insurance and other benefits as the rest of Kody's children. (Despite the legality of the divorce, Kody considers himself to be spiritually married to all four wives.)
But ever since her 2015 catfishing scandal, Kody and Meri's marriage has been on the rocks. (At the time, the TLC star entered into an online relationship with someone she thought was a man, but who actually turned out to be a female admirer.)
Reflecting on their relationship, Kody told Meri he didn't really think they missed one another. "I think we miss the idea of us — we don't miss each other," he said.
But Meri disagreed. "Speak for yourself," she said. "I do have a strong draw to you, but I do not act on that because I know how you feel." She added, "I can't make you care for me. I can't change that."
Opening up in a confessional interview, Meri said she had tried initiating romance with her husband, but that it wasn't received: "He has said to me, 'You just need to make it known. You need to flirt with me.' … And so I try those things and he backs off more, so I back off more. I was like, 'Oh, that didn't work. That was uncomfortable.' You know? But at the same time, like, I want to keep putting myself out there because this is what I want. I'm not giving up. I'm not walking away."
While Kody recognized that Meri wanted to be with him, he pointed out the "one thing" he didn't feel she was "doing" in their marriage. Though he acknowledged he, too, was "just as guilty" of it, he told Meri she wasn't "courting" him.
"I didn't know I was supposed to court you," she said, adding: "I've been waiting for you, honestly."
"And I'm not comin,'" said Kody, who went on to say Meri hadn't "made an effort" in their relationship, despite her being the one that wanted it.
Speaking to viewers, Kody said he wasn't "suggesting that Meri chase me. In fact, that could be off-putting. But there has to be more magic in this than what we have. She's not making any effort. I'm not making any effort. Where do you think that puts us?"
"She wants to be loved romantically — then there has to be a spark for that. And then she'll get from that, she will receive romance, love and a full marriage and sexual relationship," he told cameras.
In the car, he told his first wife there was "a lack of real interest" on his behalf. Again, it wasn't the same for Meri. "Not on my part," she told him, admitting she didn't "know what to do."
From Meri's perspective, she had been trying. "I will ask him to come over. 'Hey, come over, let's go do something.' Or, 'Hey, let's go on a walk.' Or, 'Hey, let's go to dinner.' He says no," she said to audiences. "When I ask, he says no."
Despite the missing "spark" between them, divorce wasn't an option. And in fact, Kody said "there's always a chance" the pair could come back together in the future.
"My discussion with Meri right now isn't about me telling Meri that she has to have a divorce with me, that she has to leave. I'm not doing that — I will never do that," he told viewers. "My faith doesn't allow me to, my conscience doesn't allow me to. And because I haven't done that, there's always a chance that we might actually get back together into full fellowship."
Still, though Kody said he was no longer angry or bitter, he felt the love between them needed to grow.
"I'm sitting here with Meri going, 'I'm finally out of the anger phase. I'm finally out of the bitterness. Now how are we going to do this right?' And Meri's like, 'Well, you're going to have to love me.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, well, be lovable,'" he said to cameras.
Speaking to Kody, Meri became emotional, telling him how she felt when she received a simple act of physical touch. "Do you know that every time you put your hand on my hand, how I feel? I just wish you knew," she said, wiping away tears.
Later, upon arriving at the grassy patch, Meri attempted to flirt with Kody — though it wasn't reciprocated.
"Meri and I are in a marriage, but we don't want to be part of a hookup culture, okay? Romance and sex are saved — in my world — for people who are in love," Kody said in an interview.
Meri admitted in her own confessional, "I'm just playing around with Kody. I'm just trying to flirt with him. I don't know, to me, this is a rejection. He's really just not interested."
After further discussion about their relationship — and Kody airing his grievances about the struggles in his plural marriage to all of his wives (including Christine, Janelle and Robyn) — Meri said she "would be so tempted to kiss" her husband just to see how he would "react."
"Oh, my ranting actually gets you excited?" he asked.
"No, just sometimes I just feel like kissing you," she told him.
At that, Kody ended the night — without a kiss — and said twice, "Happy anniversary, Meri."
"Happy anniversary, Kody," she replied.
Sister Wives airs Sundays (10 p.m. ET) on TLC.
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