Will Smith reveals details of 'open marriage' - but can 'sanctioned affairs' ever work?

·5-min read

Watch: Will Smith reveals details of his and Jada Pinkett Smiths unconventional relationship

When couples agree at the altar to forsake all others, they usually try to stick to it - or at least pretend they do. 

But for Hollywood actor Will Smith, 53, and wife Jada Pinkett Smith, 50, there's no need to shut off potential - and 'others' are occasionally welcome. Smith has told British GQ that he and his wife of 24 years “never believed in conventional marriage”.

“Jada had family members that had an unconventional relationship," he said. "So she grew up in a way that was very different than how I grew up. There were significant, endless discussions about ‘What is relational perfection? What is the perfect way to interact as a couple?’

“And for the large part of our relationship, monogamy was what we chose, not thinking of monogamy as the only relational perfection.”

Smith added that he didn't want people to go away “thinking that (Jada) was the only one engaging in other sexual relationships”.

The couple’s marriage made headlines last year after Pinkett Smith, 50, revealed she had an “entanglement” with rapper August Alsina, 29, while separated from her husband.

(L-R) Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith at the Paramount Pictures' GEMINI MAN Los Angeles Premiere held at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, October 6, 2019. (Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA)
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, in 2019 (Getty Images)

Read more: How to Ask Your Partner For an Open Relationship, Because Staying Silent Won't Help

Smith, who is preparing to release his memoir, Will, added: “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." 

He's aware that the arrangement is unusual. "I don’t suggest our road for anybody. But the experiences, the freedoms we’ve given one another… and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love.”

Watch: Braunwyn Windham-Burke: I'm making an 'open marriage' with Sean work

The Smiths, who met on the set of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, have been married since 1997 and have two children, Jaden and Willow, who also have careers in acting and singing. 

Jada Pinkett Smith revealed her relationship with Alsina, 29, during an episode of her Red Table Talk web series, though Will Smith has not revealed any names when it comes to his own dalliances.

Though for many, the idea of sharing a husband or wife with other people is an absolute taboo, couples who live in open marriages insist that it can keep sex exciting and often set 'ground rules', usually that nobody can become emotionally attached. 

Others may agree to an arrangement where one partner watches the other getting intimate with someone else. 

August Alsina poses backstage at the 2014 BET Awards in Los Angeles, California June 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian  (UNITED STATES-Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)(BETAWARDS-BACKSTAGE)
August Alsina, who had 'entanglement' with Jada Pinkett Smith (Getty Images)

This week, TikTok-er Rae Nemetsky, 22, revealed to The Sun newspaper that she's a 'hotwife', a term used for married women who sleep with other men for their partner's gratification. 

"I'm always the person to set it up and choose the person so I have a lot of the control." she told viewers in a TikTok video. She explained that her husband remains faithful, and the experience has made them 'stronger and happier' as a couple because she knows her husband is happy.

But can 'sanctioned infidelity' really work? Or is it a misguided fast track to blame, jealousy and divorce?

"Sanctioned affairs can be looked at from a variety of angles, and some have even suggested that it might be a way of keeping marriages alive," says Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant Lee Chambers.

"Looking at it from a positive point of view, it provides protected novelty while maintaining the benefits of shared life experience and all the memories, a family home and no fear of retribution. 

"There is also our increasing lifespan, and the cost of divorce both financially and emotionally, and with this, it can look an increasingly appealing way to 'have it all.'" he goes on. 

But it's not that simple, he adds. "The challenges come from all angles. Affairs are seen as morally wrong by the majority of individuals in the west. In many ways, it is the opposite of marriage, which is a commitment to one person. 

Willow Smith performs at the Bacardi Stage during the 2021 Life is Beautiful Music Festival held in Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada on September 17, 2021. (Photo by Alive Coverage/Sipa USA)
Willow Smith performs at the Bacardi Stage during the 2021 Life is Beautiful Music Festival in Las Vegas this week. (Photo by Alive Coverage/Sipa USA)

"While clear boundaries and rules might be set, when taking into account that the precedents of marriage are being stretched, the rules may also start being broken." Chambers warns. "Often, there is increasing impulsivity from one side that dominates the decisions, creating an imbalance that puts additional strain on the marriage itself."

Read more: The Most Common Open Relationship Rules and How to Set Yours

Jealousy is a major factor, he adds. 

"The reality that most marriages, once opened, never close the gap and it has a tendency to widen. It is likely to fuel inequality and, due to not knowing the full picture, can be perceived by the other half differently from reality. It is difficult to split the sexual activity and the emotional intimacy."

Rather than a fun escape, thinks Chambers, couples often use it as an avoidance tactic.

"It can be a novel way to avoid the underlying issues within a marriage that should be dealt with internally, and can prolong and amplify the distress if used by either side in a controlling way. 

Threesome shoes on bedroom floor
Seems like a good idea... but is it really? (Getty Images)

"While freedom may feel like having it all, especially after 18 months of restriction, almost all attempts at opening up a marriage will fail, due to the dissonance it creates."

It is possible to make it work, however, says Psychologist Anna Adamiak.

‘Sanctioned affairs’ can truly work only if two people trust each other to be honest and to observe the rules that they both agreed upon prior venturing on meeting other people," she says. 

"A certain perspective on the individuality of another person, even if it is our husband/wife or a long term partner is important. One person’s sex drive and need for excitement may differs from another person’s."

She advises, "Honestly discussing the topic and being transparent and understanding about expectations goes a long way."

See the full feature in the November issue of British GQ

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