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Jada Pinkett Smith Talks Autonomy & Reveals The Truth About Betrayal In Her Marriage

Jada Pinkett Smith

Traditionally, marriage is associated with a loss of identity, infinite sexuality, exclusivity and letting go of your personal desires in order to serve those of your partner; but according to the latest episode of Red Table Talk, tradition isn't what kept Will and Jada's 20+ year marriage afloat, autonomy was. Jada Pinkett and Will Smith have held it down for more than a decade as one of Hollywood's most famed couples. After meeting in 1994 and later rekindling their relationship during Will's divorce proceedings with his ex-wife Sheree, the two have remained tight-lipped about their relationship until now.


When Jada released her wildly popular Facebook series, Red Table Talk, the show addressed a number of questions about the previously private couple that we've all been dying to know the answers to, and this week's episode did not disappoint. In the past, the hosts have discussed everything from their rumored involvement with Scientology to porn addiction, but this week, the Smith family took a seat at the Red Table to tell the truth about polyamory.

Joined by world-renowned couple's therapist, Esther Perel, Jada and her mom Adrienne led today's Red Table Talk with a candid conversation about infidelity that might make you look at your marriage differently. At the beginning of the episode, Jada recited a statistic that revealed that 57% of men and 54% of women have cheated on their partners. While the general consensus is that the reason someone has been unfaithful is because they are unhappy at home or have a sh*tty moral compass, many times, infidelity is much more complicated than that. Jada explained:

"You might be married to someone that is just an innate adventurer, like there's just certain kinds of desires within that have nothing to do with you, per se. But they are personal desires that need to be explored in some manner. And even if it's not necessarily an exploration that lasts forever, it's an exploration that needs to happen to get through a passage of some kind."

The hosts also agreed that while infidelity can cause emotional turmoil, it is not always a justification for divorce. In fact, according to the hosts, there are many other disloyalties that can take place in a relationship that can be even more detrimental than cheating. While Jada said that there had been no infidelity in her relationship with Will, she explained that there had been other "betrayals of the heart" that had taken place within their marriage that were just as heartbreaking as adultery. She explained:

"I'm asked a lot about, is there infidelity with your relationship with Will and I'm like, no, but there have been other betrayals of the heart that have been far bigger than I could even think in regards to an infidelity situation. When you talk about contempt, resentment, neglect, it can just tear your world apart."

According to the 47-year-old actress, the key to rewriting your relationship narrative is breaking free from the idea that marriage should only look one way. While Jada and Will had initially built their relationship on the traditional idea of what a husband and wife should look like, they soon learned that the image they had created was not at all reflective of who they were as individuals. Jada revealed that ultimately, autonomy was the secret that allowed her and her husband to press the reset button on their relationship:

"That's an important concept; specifically for me in regards to redefining my marriage as a life partnership, was the necessity of autonomy for myself and for Will, and finding the core of us that wanted to be together outside of the constraints of the traditional ideas of marriage because they weren't working for us. We went on that journey of that life partnership to find that autonomy and to find the true authentic bond outside of obligation. I don't want you to be obligated."
"What part of this is the part that you actually want and the part that you actually want to be devoted to? And what part of this do I want and want to be devoted to outside of what we've been told we're supposed to be obligated to?"

In theory, two halves can make a whole, but life has taught me that relationships work a little differently. When it comes to choosing a partner, you should both be whole, first.

The hosts also reminded the audience that being a partner in a marriage is not the same as playing a role in a relationship, because you could potentially wind up playing a part that you never even auditioned for. Jada says that focusing less on her duties and responsibilities of a "wife" and focusing more on her needs as an individual was how she and Will were able to promote their marriage to a life partnership, and since then, their relationship has never been stronger. Last year, Will echoed this sentiment when he said:

"What we realized was that we were two completely separate people on two completely separate individual journeys and that we were choosing to walk our separate journeys together."

Take a page out of Jada and Will's book, hit the Heisman on infidelity by embracing autonomy. Every day, you have a new opportunity to grow together with your partner when you reimagine what your relationship looks like for you both as individuals.

Check out the full episode below!

Featured image by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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