The 2022 Oscars has put Will Smith's and Jada Pinkett Smith's relationship back in the spotlight, after Will Smith hit Chris Rock live on stage, following a joke the comedian made about his wife's shaved head (Jada Pinkett Smith has revealed in the past that she has alopecia). But last year, the actor spoke in depth about his open marriage with wife Jada, over a year after it was revealed that she had engaged in an affair with Will’s “blessing”. So what was behind the decision for the pair to embark on an open marriage?
In an interview with GQ, the 53-year-old actor revealed the events that led up to the couple choosing to open their marriage. In draft extracts of memoir Will shared with interviewer Wesley Lowery, Will revealed that his marriage ‘wasn’t working’. He wrote: ‘We could no longer pretend. We were both miserable and clearly something had to change.’
Subsequently, the couple embraced non-monogamy, following ‘endless discussions about “What is relational perfection?”’ Smith explained: ‘We have given each other trust and freedom, with the belief that everybody has to find their own way. And marriage for us can’t be a prison.’
Should opening up a marriage ever be a tool used to fix a struggling relationship? Smith himself says he wouldn’t ‘suggest this road for anybody’. But what do relationship experts think?
Ruby Payne, sex and relationship expert at UberKinky, explains that open relationships aren’t always about sex, and that they can allow us to fulfill different kinds of companionship needs. Alternative relationship structures can also benefit couples with mismatched sex drives.
However, she emphasises that, if someone chooses to open up a marriage for the wrong reasons, it’s unlikely to solve pre-existing issues. ‘Being able to hang out - or sleep with - multiple people without the usual consequences of affairs may seem like a dream come true,’ she tells Grazia. ‘But if you’re not opening up your relationship for the right reasons, chances are the thrill will wear off and you’ll be left with the same problems that you faced to begin with.’
Opening up a marriage requires honest communication about boundaries as well as meticulous thought about what is and isn’t acceptable to both parties. ‘Before you open up your marriage as a way to “save” it; ask yourself a few questions,’ she cautions. ‘Why are you considering this? Can you commit to completely open and honest communication? What would you be happy with your partner doing with someone else? Are there other things you could do to work on your sex life together?’
Before overhauling your marriage’s structure, relationship expert Alex Mellor-Brook, founder of matchmaking agency Select Personal Introductions, advises establishing what, exactly, the issues in your relationship are and what’s causing them. ‘Evaluate where your relationship currently is and what you both want from it,’ he suggests. ‘Talk about the areas of the relationship that may need work and what you are both going to do to improve it. Think about giving each other quality time, maybe revisit some of the things you did when you first started dating.’
If, following these discussions, you still feel non-monogamy is what you both want, figure out on what terms this is, he says. ‘It's about very clear, achievable boundaries. Do not stray from these parameters, but also keep re-assessing them together because we change and so do situations.’
Ultimately, changing your relationship structure should be about enhancing your lives together, not compensating for what you don’t have, says Ruby. ‘Bringing another person into your relationship should be to enhance what you already have, not fill the hole of something that’s missing.’