Will Smith has described his marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith using the portmanteau “brutiful”. John Reynolds explains how Jesus’ teaching about relationships offers us a much more fulfilling vision of romantic love


Source: Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/NurPhoto

Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, pictured in Westwood, Los Angeles last year

This week the actor Will Smith spoke about his unconventional marriage with Jada Pinkett Smith, remarking: “We have had a very, very long and tumultuous [relationship]. We call it ‘brutiful’… brutal and beautiful at the same time.” He went on to say: “Our union…is a sloppy public experiment in unconditional love.”

Let’s begin by talking about what’s admirable about his words.

I really admire his vulnerability and openness. In a world seemingly dictated by PR, spin, and fake news, we are naturally drawn to people who make real and humble statements, and if we’re honest with ourselves, which of our relationships haven’t also been somewhat ‘brutiful’ at times? Is that not the nature of being imperfect people?

No matter how much wisdom we exercise, or how well we conduct ourselves, we know it’s only a matter of time before one of us hurts the other, again. After all, relational dysfunction is a pretty good definition for sin. “Brutiful” seems pretty apt to me. It’s obviously not the goal, but it certainly seems to be the reality.

I also admire the couple’s persistence and dedication to their marriage. This week Jada said: “I made a promise that there will never be a reason for us to get a divorce. We will work through whatever. And I just haven’t been able to break that promise.”

That being said, there’s a lot about these words and the Smith’s marriage that I find problematic. The difficulty comes when we acknowledge that “not getting divorced” isn’t the only marker of a healthy marriage. It’s all very well refusing to separate, but when you’ve been “living separately since 2016”, as Pinkett Smith said, one could easily argue that their situation is tantamount to divorce anyway.

In 2021, Will admitted their relationship was an “open marriage”, yet surely part of the beauty of marriage comes from its exclusivity? Much like precious metals, there is value in the rarity. “You are the only woman for me” is a loving gesture that holds a lot more romantic weight than “well…you’re probably in my top ten, love.” “I love you with all my heart” hits differently to: “You’ve got about 20 per cent of my heart, take it or leave it.”

The problem comes when we believe freedom is found in doing away with the rules

It’s part of the reason why bad actions aren’t as damaging as bad ideas. We can all make a bad decision based on a momentary lapse of judgement, but it’s usually possible to get things back on track afterwards. However, when we build our life, or big parts of it, on bad ideas, it can take a long time to realise that the direction in which we’re headed is not towards freedom or progress, but towards pain and destruction. Don’t hear me wrong, everything is redeemable, but it may take longer to retrace our steps back to the path we’re made to be on.

The biggest problem with an open marriage is that it is antithetical to the vision of marriage Jesus gives us. Marriage is made to reflect Jesus’ love for the Church and all that it encompasses, including being self-sacrificial and other-focussed. I have yet to hear an argument for an open relationship/marriage that does anything but promote the needs of one individual.

All that being said, I do admire the desire not to simply bin your partner and move on to the next. When it comes to the Pinkett Smith marriage, there’s clearly some deep-felt love and emotion that still resides in the relationship that neither Will nor Jada want to lose.

The problem comes when we believe freedom is found in doing away with the rules, rather than recognising that many rules are there to keep us free. So if there is a heart for marital experimentation, my prayer would be that couples experiment with the beautiful vision of two-way sacrificial love that Jesus gives us.