At a time when most of us are reeling from a lack of social contact (and maybe even considering ordering a life-size body pillow on Amazon), a healthy dose of celebrity gossip can help fill the void left by a dearth of real-life gossip.
Earlier this month, relief arrived in the form of Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith. Amidst swirling rumours of infidelity, the couple sat down for a very special episode of Jada’s Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch. During the conversation that has since been viewed over 34 million times, Pinkett Smith confirmed that she had a romantic “entanglement” with singer August Alsina while she and Will were separated.
Naturally, the internet had a field day; spawning a legion of “entanglement” inspired jokes (for example, I have a long-term relationship to kale, but during the pandemic I’ve had an ongoing entanglement with Doritos).
In the name of research (and because I was hungry for a distraction that didn’t involve copious amounts of nacho cheese), I tuned in to watch the couple spill the scalding hot tea on their relationship issues.
In lieu of titillating celeb drama, I witnessed a seemingly transparent and emotionally vulnerable conversation between two adults who have made mistakes and weathered the storm together. The title of the episode (“Here’s To The Journey”) says it all. Long-lasting partnerships are complex, nuanced — and most importantly, full of bumps along the way.
Considering you can now begin and end relationships with the tap of your finger, are conversations like these helping to usher in a new (positive) era of emotional vulnerability?
Christene Lozano, a certified sex addiction therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist, says that it’s important we see couples discussing their relationship struggles in an open and honest way.
“Understandably, many couples often present the highlights of their relationship to the world (e.g., on social media). I think it is important for people to see other couples discussing their relationship struggles in such a candid way as Will and Jada have, as it validates the very real challenges many couples face,” says Lozano.
Their discussion is also a testament to what can happen when a couple chooses to separate indefinitely. In the case of the Pinkett Smiths, taking a break from their marriage (albeit privately) allowed them to grow as individuals and eventually find their way back to each other. But not all marital separations are created equal.
“In my clinical experience, I believe a separation can be beneficial to a relationship,” says Lozano. However, if a couple wants a separation to go well, they must think ahead. As Lozano notes, “it is extremely important for the separation to be intentional, planned, and thoroughly discussed.”
Lozano recommends couples create a formal written document which outlines the length of separation, living arrangements, access to the home (for the “vacating” partner), communication strategy (how, where, when, frequency), household and childcare matters, and plans for reintegration. For example, what specific goals need to be met for separation to end?
In most cases, this means taking time to also work on yourself. As Pinkett Smith explained in her Red Table Talk, she needed a break from her marriage in order to learn about herself and confront “a lot of emotional immaturity, emotional insecurity,” and do “some really deep healing.”
In order for the separation time to be productive and healing for a couple, Lozano recommends individual therapy for each partner. “Therapy can provide a space for each person to do a deep dive into their own internal world and better understand themselves, as this is the foundation to how they will show up in their relationship,” she says.
Lastly, prioritize open communication and embrace the journey in all it’s messy glory. As Will Smith reminds us, in order to get to a deeper place of unconditional love, “there are certain things you have to go through…it ain’t for the weak of heart.”