Divorce Is Not an Option: How Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith Have Built an Enduring Marriage
He said it in 2006. And, again, in 2015.
At this point, Will Smith’s response every time a new rumor forecasts the end of his marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith is a common refrain. “Divorce can’t be an option. With Jada, I stood up in front of God and said, ‘Til death do us part,'” he explained to MTV News back in 2006. “So there are two possible outcomes. One, we are going to be together ’til death, or two, I am dead.”
It’s a sentiment his bride confirmed in a very honest 2018 episode of her popular Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk. Ahead of their New Year’s Eve vows in 1997, Jada, already two months along with their son Jaden Smith, now 22, was up front about her expectations: “I told Will from the gate, I said let me tell you something, ‘If you marry me, know this: we’re gonna be together. We’re going to be under the same roof’… for me personally, I knew that there was no reason that he and I would ever [divorce].”
Entanglements, however, are another story.
Yes, in the five-or-so months since Jada gave life to that term—2020’s answer to “conscious uncoupling,”—much has been made about her word choice and the dalliance she was trying to delicately describe. Understandably, her until-now private 2016 romance with singer August Alsina was a piece of her history she was somewhat reluctant to discuss.
But for the 49-year-old actress turned talk show host and her movie star husband it’s not an event worthy of the endless chatter and memes it has sparked. It’s just another layer in their 23-year union, one of those challenging times longterm couples have to endure en route to celebrating silver and gold and diamond wedding anniversaries.
And so as the back-and-forth between Jada and Alsina garnered more and more attention, the 28-year-old musician inexplicably choosing this summer to speak out about their years-old romance, Jada and Will decided to bring themselves to the table to discuss the speculation. Because what’s the point of helming celebs’ go-to candid confessional series if you’re not going to use it to address your own rumors?
“It’s a situation that I consider private,” Jada kicked off the July 10 episode. “This is a very personal journey that became very public.” But, bottom line, she explained, some four-and-a-half years ago, during a time that she and the 52-year-old, parents to Jaden, Willow Smith, 20, and his son Trey Smith, 28, from his first marriage to Sheree Zampino, were separated, her friendship with Alsina grew into “a different kind of entanglement.” Or, more specially, she explained, “It was a relationship.”
Her admission reignited the chatter that’s always surrounded the couple, fans understandably curious as to just what drives the pair’s two-plus decade union.
Over the years, they’ve had to brush off rumors that they’re swingers (“I’m like, ‘Yo, I wish!” she joked on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen in 2017) and the assumption that their marriage is wide open.
Which, certainly, they’re allowed some freedoms. “I’ve always told Will, ‘You can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be okay,'” she explained in a 2013 HuffPost Live interview. “Because at the end of the day, Will is his own man. I’m here as his partner, but he is his own man. He has to decide who he wants to be and that’s not for me to do for him. Or vice versa.”
She later clarified in a Facebook post, “Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one”—a statement that didn’t fully define their stance, but at least made it clear that they both understand the parameters.
And for all the focus on whatever extracurricular activities may or may not be taking place, neither would label that as the issue that nearly fell them. That moment came not long after the actress’ 40th birthday in September 2011.
For anyone looking in, Will was riding high, Seven Pounds and Hancock coming on the heels of I Am Legend and the Pursuit of Happyness. Except every morning the two-time Oscar nominee was forced to face his personal shortcomings, each day kicking off with Jada in tears. “I was failing miserably, but on the outside I was winning…I had a public perception that I wanted to project of our relationship, of the family, of my wife, of what the kids are, what we are in the world,” he shared during a two-episode Red Table Talk interview in 2018.
And so he kept up appearances, approaching his bride’s big birthday much like any other well-connected man. His admittedly over-the-top bash featured a performance by Mary J. Blige and a video of well wishes from every favor he could call in. When Jada asked for some “intimate time” to reflect on the compilation, Will balked and she cracked.
“She’s like, ‘It’s my birthday,’ and she told me that the party was the most ridiculous display of my ego,” Will revealed in that 2018 chat. “Crushed, right? And to this day I know I was crushed because it was true. It wasn’t a party for her. When she called me on that, that’s when I snapped.”
That his outrage took place in front of a then-10-year-old Willow only compounded the situation. “It was the only time in her childhood she ever saw me snap—and I saw her look and Willow starts crying and I’m like, ‘Baby, I’m sorry’ and she’s like, ‘Just figure it out! You guys, please, just figure it out.'”
Their fix may seem unconventional to most—Jada even prefacing their 2018 confessional with “I would say to individuals, ‘Do not try this at home,'”—but they saw it as the only solution.
“We essentially had to destroy our marriage,” Will said. “[Jada] was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and to me… it was over, but divorce was never even an option.” That process had been painful enough the first time around. “Because I had been divorced before I wasn’t getting divorced again,” he insisted. “Divorce wasn’t an option.”
Jada agreed that while their union was riddled with cracks, they weren’t at a true breaking point. “I had never seen a divorce lawyer. Like that was never—it never crossed my mind,” she said. Rather, she was focused on really delving into what it would take for her to feel she was approaching the back half of her life on her terms. “There was so much that wasn’t me that I was living. So much inauthenticity,” she explained.
And the only viable solution she saw was time apart. “You have to go your separate ways and get out of each other’s way to really see yourself,” she said. “I had to go away, gain my strength as Jada again—not Mommy, not wife.”
It was not long after that when Alsina, a friend of Jaden’s, entered their world. “It all started with him just needing some help,” Jada explained on that July episode of Red Table Talk, noting the twentysomething’s struggle with an autoimmune disorder. “Me wanting to help his health, his mental state.”
But with her and Will at a breaking point—”We decided that we were going to separate for a period of time,” she noted—her friendship with Alsina began to shift. And, from his end, it was quite serious.
“I totally gave myself to that relationship for years of my life, and I truly and really, really deeply love and have a ton of love for her,” the musician shared in the June YouTube interview with The Breakfast Club’s Angela Lee that kicked off this whole episode of sharing. “I devoted myself to it, I gave my full self to it—so much so to the point that I can die right now and be okay with knowing that I truly gave myself to somebody.”
Though Jada takes issue with Alsina describing a conversation where Will bestowed his blessing on their romance (“I can actually see how he would perceive it as permission because we were separated amicably. I think he also wanted to make it clear that he’s not a home wrecker, which he’s not”), she agrees that she was just as all-in. “Through that particular journey, I learned so much about myself and was able to really confront a lot of emotional immaturity, emotional insecurity and I was really able to do some really deep healing.”
And, ultimately, she learned she was meant to live out the rest of her days with Will.
“You gotta go through some s–t to get the answers. And I’m just happy because I definitely believe that you and I, we never ever, ever thought that we would make it back,” she reflected on the July episode. “I think that one of the things that I’m deeply grateful for in this whole process between you and I is that we have really gotten to that new place of unconditional love.”
This updated version of their union is so rock-solid, “We don’t even call ourselves married anymore,” Jada noted back in 2018. “It’s a life partnership in the sense that we’ve created a foundation together that we know is for this lifetime.”
That means, at this point, the milestones they hit are just assumed. “When you’re married with somebody that long and we were talking about it, we was like, ‘You know, it’s 20 years, what are we gonna do?'” Will told E! News ahead of their 2017 Dec. 31 anniversary. “She was like, ‘We’re gonna high-five and keep it moving!””
The same course of action applies after their less red letter moments. While Jada’s confession certainly garnered a lot of attention from those curious to know what its like on the inside of the rare, successful Hollywood marriage, for the couple it was old news, largely a non-event at this point.
Other than the fact that it gave them the chance to remind some 15 million listeners what they’ve been saying all along.
“We refer to ourselves as ‘life partners,’ where you get into that space where you realize you are literally with somebody for the rest of your life. There’s no deal breakers,” Will explained in a 2018 appearance on TIDAL’s Rap Radar podcast. “There’s nothing she could do—ever—nothing that would break our relationship. She has my support till death, and it feels so good to get to that space.”
It’s a place that’s taken plenty of digging and learning and endless communication, but it’s their work-filled journey that helps make this destination feel so sweet.
“Here’s the thing about Will and I, it’s like, we are family, that’s never going down! It’s just not! Ever!” she dished to Sway Calloway during a June 2018 interview on Sway in the Morning on SiriusXM’s Shade 45. “It doesn’t matter, all that relationship and what people think, ideas of a husband and a partner and all that, man, whatever, at the end of the day, that’s a man that can rely on me for the rest of his life, period.”
We’ll offer a hearty high-five to that, then keep it moving.