"I felt like I had to walk this tightrope, I had to choose between having my boys in my house or having Kody there," Janelle Brown tells PEOPLE
Janelle Brown didn't want to pick sides, but she was effectively left with no choice.
The Sister Wives star, 54, shares six children with her now-ex-husband Kody Brown. Before they called it quits, though, the tension had been building for several years between Kody, 54, and their sons over their COVID-19 safety protocols — tension that was exacerbated by Kody's kids' long-simmering feeling that he was neglecting them in favor of several of his many other children.
Janelle tells PEOPLE that it "was really hard" for her children to abide by Kody's rules since they're now adults.
"That really started to twist us, twist our relationship to the point of breaking. So he started to be away more and I thought, 'Wow, I could do this. I could be on my own, I could do this,'" she recalls. "The children were older. He was starting to have a lot of friction with the kids. He was starting to say things like, 'Well, choose your loyalties.' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm not going to leave my kids, sorry. I'm not going to tell my kids, 'Move out.' Not in the middle of a pandemic.'"
The conflict between Janelle's adult children and her former husband "put enough pressure" on her marriage to where she felt like "it really did break, more than it had ever before."
"I felt like I had to walk this tightrope, I had to choose between having my boys in my house or having Kody there," she explains. "So when Kody would come, the boys would have to be out of the house. I'd have to spray everything down with Lysol and stuff because he was very afraid of getting the virus from them. So yeah, it became really stressful. And then, it slowly evolved as they started to get angrier and angrier with each other."
Janelle continues, "It slowly evolved to where it was like, 'Well, they can go have their life and you're going to stay here and we're going to have a life with [our daughter] Savannah.' And I'm like, 'Well, I can't just ignore three-quarters of my children."
The reality star notes how there were "fights, but there was no giving, there was no reconciliation. There was no gestures of, 'Hey son, let's figure this out.'"
"It was just anger and it was like, 'My way or the highway. I've got to protect all these little kids,' meaning Robin's children," she adds. "There was no give. ... There was no gentleness, there was no forgiveness. It was just like, 'This is it.' And then I really felt like I had to choose."
The fallout between Janelle and Kody takes centerstage in season 18 of Sister Wives. In a sneak peek at this Sunday's episode first shared by Entertainment Tonight, Janelle echoes the her sentiments to PEOPLE in a conversation with Christine Brown.
"I think what's happened is when everybody moved out, I think it was kind of one of those things where we went, 'Oh, how do we do this, just the two of us?'" Janelle tells Christine, 51, about how and why she began questioning her future with Kody as their children became adults.
"I don't know what to do. We're both sort of like, 'OK, do we keep working for this?'" Janelle continues. "He seems so set about the kids respecting him and my kids are like, 'What?'"
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Sister Wives airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on TLC.
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