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True love is messy: Jada Pinkett Smith’s conversation about the realities of marriage is long overdue

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Anna Brech
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Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith have spoken about the relationship she had with rapper August Alsina: and their honesty is something we could all learn from.

From Pretty Woman to Cinderella, some of our favourite fairy tales about love end with the happy couple shacking up – but they rarely follow said couples beyond the sunset and into the realities of their lives.

If they did, they’d likely find a litany of petty squabbles, third party flirtations, rows about the bin and more of the kind of endless on-off moments that punctuate most long-term relationships.

The problem is, we never talk about these tensions. We assume a marriage or long-term relationship is a done deal: the happy ever after we should aspire to. And the truth, of course, is a lot more complicated. 

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So it’s all credit to Jada Pinkett Smith, who opened up a vital dialogue around the realities of relationships, and how painful and messy they can be, in a Facebook broadcast this week. 

Speaking to her husband Will Smith on her Facebook show Red Table Talk, the actress acknowledged that she had had a relationship with rapper August Alsina during a period in which she and Smith were separated. 

“We were over,” she says. “From there, as time went on, I got into a different kind of entanglement with August.” Will then questions her description, asking, “an entanglement? A relationship.”

“It was a relationship, absolutely,” Jada agrees. “I was in a lot of pain and I was very broken.”

Jada met August through her son, Jaden, four years ago. She initially tried to help the singer, who was 23 at the time, with issues around his mental health before their relationship developed into a romance.

Her marriage to Will was on pause at the time, as he recalls, saying: “I was done with you.”

“I just wanted to feel good,” Jada says. “It had been so long since I had felt good.”

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Rapper August Alsina

Jada notes that, despite media scrutiny about her “affair”, she does not see what happened “as a transgression at all” since her and Will were not together at the time.

The Matrix star, who has not seen August for years, also questions a previous claim by the rapper that Will had given their relationship his “blessing”.

But she added: “I could actually see how he would perceive it as permission because we were separated amicably and I think he also wanted to make it clear that he’s also not a home-wrecker. Which he’s not.”

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Jada’s remarks are important because, too often, we portray marriage and long-term relationships in unambiguous terms. 

Popular culture tells us that romantic relationships are the hallmarks of a happy life: these life events are cast as achievements, and linear achievements at that (once the relationship/happiness starts, it never stops). 

In reality, you can be happy or otherwise regardless of your relationship status. And even if you are in a happy long-term relationship or marriage, that union is bound to hit bumps along the road at some point.

The conversation Jada and Will have made public is powerful because it acknowledges those bumps. Life gets messy; relationships ebb and flow.

We know this, and yet we often pretend it’s not the case, which only adds pressure when couples run into inevitable problems.

Jada and Will’s talk about their marriage also stands out because they manage to handle it with honesty, humour and a palpable lack of judgement. 

At various points, Will is seen nodding sympathetically as Jada describes what was going on during her relationship with August. Towards the end of their chat, Jada says the couple have reached a point of “unconditional love”, to which he jokes, “I’m gonna get you back first”.

Both of them are careful to describe what happened as “a relationship” rather than the inaccurate“affair” label seen in sensational media coverage of the story.

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It says a lot to the kind of approach that may help long-term relationships last, too.

In an article for Psychology Today, associate psychology professor Gwendolyn Seidman describes how researchers have identified two primary sets of beliefs about relationships — growth beliefs and destiny beliefs.

Those with destiny beliefs think that relationships are either “meant to be” or they’re not. So when these people experience problems in their relationships, they tend to give up. 

“In contrast, those with growth beliefs think that relationships take hard work and that a strong relationship is something that you develop over time,” Gwendolyn writes. “They believe that all relationships inevitably encounter problems and that having a stronger relationship means working hard to cope with difficulties that arise.”

Jada and Will’s conversation about their marriage shows they fall firmly into the growth category of couple. They’ve paved the way when it comes to talking openly and without shame about problems in relationships.

And, even more importantly, they’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to move on from those problems, too. 

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As a society, the narrative we have around long-term relationships tends to fall into two brackets: either happy forever, or heartbroken and doomed.

Jada and Will have proven that the reality is a lot more complex. Relationships evolve over time: things fall apart, people get hurt. But even when all this happens, it’s possible to recover and move to a new place. And the more we hear this vital truth, the happier most of us will be. 

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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