Over 29 million people watched a recent episode of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Facebook show, “Red Table Talk” in which she and her husband, Will Smith, talked about a tumultuous time in their marriage…
In the episode, Jada and Will address the recent headlines and gossip about their relationship, and “share their journey of finding peace through pain.”
During the talk, Pinkett-Smith (48) admitted that she had entered into a relationship with singer, August Alsina (27), during a time that she and Smith were separated around four and a half years ago.
“When couples are going through a difficult time, they can often seek comfort outside their relationship,” says relationship counsellor and clinical sexologist, Leandie Buys*. “Although the euphoria of being in love or lust can numb the pain of a broken marriage it does not last. The reality of the broken marriage is still there. Thankfully, for Jada and Will, this wasn’t the end. They decided to work through the ‘entanglement’ and build their marriage from the ground up again.”
“Marital separation can result in conflicting and confusing emotions for the partners involved despite the reasons for separating. These emotions may include anger, contempt, regret, resentment, longing, wish for reconciliation, guilt, anxiety, panic, sadness, and loneliness just to mention a few,” says clinical psychologist Yollandah Mathaba*, who is based in Krugersdorp.*
“For some individuals, coping and making sense of the situation, may involve getting into another relationship. This may serve multiple purposes from distraction to a new start in their lives. However, if their emotions from the failed relationship haven’t been dealt with, they are likely to manifest in the new relationship.”
“According to research, the distress from marital separation is similar to that experienced by children who have lost attachment figures and suggests that similar feelings are present in the separating adults. It also suggests that, even when there may be challenges like emotional or intimate disconnection in marriages, attachment persists.”
“We were done”
During their frank discussion on “Red Table Talk”, Will Smith said that, at the time, he didn’t think that he and Pinkett-Smith would ever speak again.
“We never thought we were going to make it back,” confirmed Pinkett-Smith.
“I was done with you!” says Smith. “We decided to separate for a time. You go figure out how to make yourself happy, and I’ll go figure out how to make myself happy.”
She did not see her time with the singer as a “transgression“.
‘Entanglement’ or infidelity – can it be overcome?
While Pinkett-Smith said she did not believe her relationship with Alsina was a ‘transgression’ as she and Will were ‘on a break’ at the time, this may not be a view held by other couples who have experienced something similar.
Can relationships overcome infidelity? Mathaba believes this is possible as long as key issues are dealt with.
“For the betrayed partner this might result in feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, they might be preoccupied with the affair and imagined reasons behind it to an extent whereby they rehash the details of the affair constantly in their minds,” says Mathaba.
“This can change the relationship dynamics whereby the hurt partner may start requiring constant affirmation and apologies from the partner that cheated. The unfaithful partner may also experience some emotional difficulties such as guilt or frustrations over having to constantly apologise or reassure their partner that they are committed to working on their relationships.”
Overcoming infidelity requires commitment from each individual as well as forgiveness.
Jada’s relationship with Alsina began with a need to help
Pinkett-Smith She said the relationship with Alsina began when she became invested in helping him with his mental health. It then progressed to what she described as an ‘entanglement’.
“I was in a lot of pain, and I was very broken. In the process of that relationship I definitely realised that you can’t find happiness outside yourself,” Pinkett-Smith said.
Fixing people helped her believe that she was “fixing” her own childhood trauma. But she realised that she needed to confront that within herself first.
Individual AND couple’s counselling is recommended
“It is good to seek individual counselling during a time of separation,” says Buys. “Like Jada said, she needed to work on herself. She realised that she had a lot of things she had to deal with from her past. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to continue any relationship successfully without healing herself first.”
“I facilitate a process that I call ‘therapeutic separation’ which means that I help the couple work through whatever path they decide to take. Either they will divorce, or decide to give their marriage a chance. We will either continue with marriage counselling or individual therapy to ensure the individuals are able to heal before entering into another relationship.”
Mathaba agrees that individual counselling is important: “The kind of upbringing and emotional attachments one has with primary caregivers plays a role in how people perceive themselves in relationships with others, and how they perceive the other person in the relationship. These are some of the issues that might require individual therapy in addition to couple’s therapy.”
The Smiths’ view on marriage has changed
The couple, who have now been married for a total of 23 years say that they have changed their perspective on their relationship.
“We have really gotten to that new place of unconditional love,” says Pinkett-Smith.
“We came together when we were young and broken in our own ways,” agrees Smith. “To be able to make mistakes without the fear of losing your family is so critical. It isn’t for the weak at heart.”
Relationships CAN heal
“A relationship that has gone through tough times CAN get stronger,” says Buys. “I’ve seen relationships heal after an affair and betrayal, but only if the people involved grow emotionally as individuals, and then bring that growth into their relationship. They have to learn to communicate on a much deeper level, and express their emotions to each other. I can see that Will and Jada have learned this. In the interview, their body language shows so much. They have a deep love and respect for each other. ”
Sometimes, separation can help heal
Taking time apart may have been one of the keys to helping Will and Jada rebuild their relationship.
“Sometimes separation removes one from the situation to allow them to think more logically and gain a different perspective over the situation,” says Mathaba.
“This process requires time spent on rebuilding trust and communication and it is a not a one-size-fits-all approach. It may look different from one couple to the next. Sometimes couples can go through this process on their own, while some may require a neutral person to mediate whether it’s their priest, relatives, or a marriage counsellor.”
*Opinions in this article are based on the therapists’ experience working with couples in general. Neither of the therapists who offered their comment for this piece has spoken with Will Smith or Jada Pinkett-Smith directly.