Jada Pinkett Smith didn’t seem to have any qualms about her husband, Will Smith, and his co-star Margot Robbie heating things up on-screen in February for romantic drama “Focus”. In fact, Jada has recently responded to rumors from 2013 that suggested her and Will have an open marriage. And their relationship isn’t uncommon
Jada Pinkett Smith talked about her almost 20-year marriage during an interview with Howard Stern, where she said she wasn’t going to be Will’s ‘watcher’.
The “Gotham” star told Stern: “I’m not the kind of woman that believes that a man is not going to be attracted to other women. It’s not realistic. Just because your man is attracted to another woman doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.”
43-year-old Jada wrote on her Facebook in 2013 that her and Will do “whatever we want, because we trust each other to do so”, and that they had a “grown” relationship, rather than an open relationship. Today, she is still confident of her husbands feelings for her and the strength of their trust. She said: “I trust that the man that Will is, is a man of integrity. So, he’s got all the freedom in the world. He’s got all the freedom in the world. And as long as Will can look himself in the mirror and be OK, I’m good.”
Will Smith has said in the past: “In our marriage vows we didn’t say ‘forsaking all others.’ The vow we made was ‘You will never hear that I did something after the fact.’”
A growing number of others are choosing an open relationship, such as Charlotte, 35, and Ben, 42. We find out how a relationship like this can really work.
The rules of monogamy that govern most couples’ relationships don’t work for them.
The legal conference Charlotte* and Derek* are attending for the weekend has dragged on into the small hours and they’ve quietly anticipated getting together with knowing glances across the room all day. Now finally, both of them can’t wait any longer for what’s coming, they’re in the lift and about to go back to the hotel room.
Before they’ve even reached the bed, Derek has pushed her up against the wall and is kissing her deep, wet and long. Without shifting, he confidently hitches up her skirt and helps himself to her, primed for him, for what feels like a deliciously hot age. She climaxes and lets out a throaty, animal-like moan.
What’s happening between Charlotte and Derek could have been happening to any couple the world over given a bit of sexual chemistry and a few drinks. But there’s a key difference. Charlotte has been married to someone else – Ben – for nearly 11 years. 20 minutes ago, she called her husband on his mobile and said, ‘I am getting on really well with Derek and I am going to go back to his hotel room.’ While most people would see this as a cruel and unforgivable taunt, Ben’s response was: ‘Oh. Okay. Have a good night.’
It’s an agreement to sleep with other people with your partner’s knowledge – and in many cases their blessing
For the last ten years, Charlotte, 35, and Ben, 42 – both commercial lawyers – have been living in an open marriage having agreed that the rules of monogamy that govern most couples’ relationships don’t work for them.
‘That encounter with Derek was incredibly hot sexually,’ remembers Charlotte. ‘ The connection has remained between us for the last four years and every month or so we get together for a shag. I will always tell Ben before as the whole point of being in an open relationship is that we don’t lie and honesty is everything – otherwise it would be just cheating. Besides,’ she explains, ‘hearing about me having sex with other men is part of the turn on for Ben.’
Make no mistake, this is not about clandestine affairs or couples going to swingers‘ parties together. It’s not even about forgiving unfaithfulness to hang on to your relationship for dear life. It’s an agreement to sleep with other people with your partner’s knowledge – and in many cases their blessing – to make the relationship better.
Numbers of non-monogamous relationships are increasing, according to Darren Langridge, a clinical therapist and Meg Barker, co-authors of Understanding Non-Monogamies (Routledge £85 Amazon). Still, statistics are hard to come by. ‘No national surveys cover open relationships and many people are not upfront about being in one,‘ says Barker. According to estimates, between one and nine per cent of marriages could be classified as open or non-monogamous.
One day he might leave me and refusing him access to other sexual experiences won’t change that
In the sexually topsy-turvy world of celebrity, the rumour mill loves speculation about open marriages. Although she has denied it, it’s been alleged that flame-haired actress Tilda Swinton lives in a compelling menage featuring her children’s father, playwright John Byrne and her lover, the divinely beautiful artist Sandro Kopp, 20 years her junior.
It’s also been claimed that the final nail in the coffin of the Kutcher-Moore pairing was Demi’s request for an open marriage, as well as actress Mo’Nique making headlines in 2010 when she told Barbara Walters that it would not be a deal-breaker if her husband had sex outside their marriage.
In some circles open marriage is shedding it’s 70s hippy-commune reputation and getting a 21st century makeover as an alternative to our infidelity-drenched culture. In her book Couples (£14.99 Virago) Kate Figes argues that the idea of sexual infidelity being the worst that can happen in a relationship is a relatively new one. ‘There is a puritanical righteousness about sexual fidelity in Britain and America – one strike and you’re out,’ says Figis. ‘This assumption, that our partner must and will always be faithful can lead to deceit, betrayal and yet more sexual shame and guilt.‘
Moreover, when New York-based sex writer Arianne Cohen, a former self-proclaimed ‘card-carrying monogamist’ was collecting people’s sexual diary stories and data for her book The Sex Diaries Project (Vermilion £11.99), a nerve was hit by those describing their open relationships and the idea became more appealing to her. Cohen herself is now in a ‘long-term open’ relationship and both she and her partner regularly see other people. ‘I grew to understand that though he loves my body, he’s also attracted to other bodies; that one day he might leave me and refusing him access to other sexual experiences won’t change that,’ Cohen said.
There are as many hybrids of open relationships as there are relationships themselves. ‘Non-exclusives’ like Charlotte and Ben have regular sex with other people and the odd one night stand with their partner’s knowledge, while maintaining their ‘primary’ relationship with one another. ‘It was originally Ben’s idea,’ says Charlotte. ‘When we first started going out, I lived in Yorkshire and he lived in London and after the first six months Ben said he wanted to see other people. It took me aback at first but before that, I had been in a monogamous relationship for six years since I was 18 with a man who had tried to turn me into a sixties housewife and was awfully possessive. I felt so stifled for so long, I was willing to try new things.’
Those in non-monogamous arrangements often have strong moral compasses
In the first three years of their open relationship, neither did anything without telling the other. ‘I would get an email from Ben saying ‘I have met this girl and we are going on a date.’ If you are in an open relationship, you have to be open and honest as there are more people’s feelings to consider.’ This inevitably means someone has the power to veto the other’s date. ‘There was once a situation when Ben told me he was thinking of sleeping with a particular woman and I told him I had heard on the grapevine that she was a bit inconsiderate in bed but if he wanted to give her a go, that was fair enough,’ says Charlotte. ‘He did, and she was and he didn’t see her again but but that is the nearest to veto-ing a date either of us has come.’
Polyamorists on the other hand, are a small but growing community who have committed relationships with two or more lovers at once. Poly blogs are all over the net and websites such as okcupid.com or multiplematch.com let people sign up as ‘married’, ‘single’ or more ambiguously ‘available’. For example, Amelia*, 28, is a social entrepreneur from London whose boyfriend of three years, Sean*, has lived with his fiance Laura*, for 14 years. Sean spends every Wednesday night at Amelia’s house and she meanwhile, maintains a relationship with Andy*, a 33 year old sculptor (introduced to her by Sean) who she ‘sees’ about once a month and who is also in an open marriage.
‘When I first met Sean three years ago, he told me he was ‘ethically non-monogamous,’ remembers Amelia. ‘He said that he had a long-term partner that was his soul mate and they both have other relationships of differing degrees and were both open about it. He was unfailingly honest and that is what attracted me to him’.
Then the couple slept together twice and when Amelia began to fall for him, Sean said, ‘Right then, you have to come home and meet my girlfriend.’ Since then, Amelia has bought a house across the road from Sean and Laura and the three of them – they call themselves a ‘polyamorous triad’ – spend every weekend together. ‘We’re all best friends,’ says Amelia. ‘I have never known Sean in any other way and although my mother doesn’t approve – she thinks I am only getting half a boyfriend – it works for us.’
This might sound morally bankrupt to most fully paid-up monogamists but in fact, open relationships often come with more boundaries and pre-agreed rules than the strictest pre-nups and those in non-monogamous arrangements often have strong moral compasses.
We have more than one friend and don’t expect all our sexual needs to be met by any one person so it’s illogical to expect all our sexual needs be satisfied by one lover throughout our lives
‘People in open relationships have quite clear agreements about the rules of their relationships,’ says Dr Caroline Campbell, a senior lecturer in psychology at St Mary’s University College who has studied couples in open relationships. ‘They often write down these agreements which might include ‘only have sex with people when you are out of the city’ or ‘only have sex with people with my permission’ and some have a meeting once a month to discuss their sexual lives and check everything is okay. Every couple’s agreement is different.’
‘The main things for us are openness, honesty and negotiation,’ says Charlotte. ‘I never sleep with someone unless I first tell Sean about it by text or phone or in person. I also have a personal rule that I never sleep with anyone in an existing relationship without meeting their current partner and getting their permission first because I don’t want to be seeing someone and destroying their relationship. I won’t accept emails or letters as they can easily be forged by randy married guys.’
Why would someone choose this? For Charlotte, the sheer variety heats up each sexual encounter, charging it with the excitement, the rush, the novelty of new flesh. ‘It also helps knowing what a massive turn-on it is for Ben to hear me describing what I have done with another guy.’ Plus, she explains, the sex she has with Derek is athletic and urgent while the sex she has with Ben is often long, slow, playful and peppered with long chats about film and art, passions they both share. ‘We fit in different ways together and it’s that variety I love.’
The way people in open relationships see it is this, Dr Campbell explains: ‘We have more than one friend and don’t expect all our sexual needs to be met by any one person so it’s illogical to expect all our sexual needs be satisfied by one lover throughout our lives.’
For others, being in a non-monogamous relationship is as natural as being gay or straight. ‘Some people believe non-monogamy is an orientation, in the same way people are born gay and they may have had trouble with monogamy since they were teens,’ says Dr Campbell. ‘That’s got them to a point where they have finally said ‘Monogamy is not for me, how can I make non-monogamy work so people – myself included – don’t get hurt.‘
The only reason he is going to leave is if he doesn’t love me anymore and that’s not something I can control whether I am monogamous or not
It’s a familiar scenario for Charlotte. ‘I always had a string of concurrent boyfriends at school,’ she says. ‘But it wasn’t until I met Sean that I realised that you could conduct your life non-monogamously but also behave in a moral and principled way. That might not work for everyone but for me, it was a revelation.’
If you think this is a recipe for gnawing jealousies, you’d be right – to a point. ‘I always get jealous,’ admits Amelia. ‘I get jealous of Laura and Sean and the amount of time he spends with her and the fact that she lives with him and sees more of him than I do. It’s hard to sit there watching TV knowing your boyfriend is having sex with someone else.’
But for Amelia, jealousy isn’t about Sean doing something wrong, it’s something she has to work through and deal with. ‘For me, jealousy comes from within me, usually a comparison where I feel I am lacking something,’ says Amelia. ‘When I really think about it, I can’t feel jealous towards him if I have the same thing with Andy and can sleep with other people too whenever I want. So I look inward and think ‘What does this say about me? Do I stop loving him when I sleep with someone else? No, nor does he stop loving me when he sleeps with Laura and he has never done anything to make me feel unloved.’
What all jealousy comes down to, says Amelia is, ‘What if he leaves?’ ‘This isn’t an issue for me because I have faced the fact that the risk of him falling in love with someone else is always there and it’s something I accept. I don’t think he is any more likely to leave me because he is in an open relationship and probably less likely because he won’t leave for a stupid reason like wanting some variety in his sex life. The only reason he is going to leave is if he doesn’t love me anymore and that’s not something I can control whether I am monogamous or not’. According to Dr Campbell, non-monogamy doesn’t necessarily mean more jealousy. ‘I did a study on jealousy and found that non-monogamous people have significantly much lower overall levels of jealousy,’ she explains. ‘Whether that is because they are not jealous people or because of the work they did on themselves that helped them manage jealousy, we don’t know.’
Once you’ve sorted out the scheduling challenges and the niggling jealousies, the upsides of such a set up include the bottom-line knowledge that hey, you’ve still got it. ‘Being in an open relationship has increased my sexual confidence,’ says Amelia. ‘I have had a lot of body confidence issues in the past and five years ago was extremely unwell with an eating disorder. This has made me feel so much better about my body. Not only does it increase my libido because the more sex I have, the more I want but the ability to recognize there is not only one guy in the entire seven billion people in the world who fancies me but actually quite a few and they don’t do it because they have to is incredibly empowering. Both Andy and Sean have traditional partners they lives with and they don’t have to have relationships with me. There is nothing apart from wanting to be with me that makes them be with me. That is all the reassurance I need.’
If that’s unacceptable to you and me, those in open relationships respond to other people’s judgements with an ‘if you don’t get it we don’t care’ attitude. ‘There is still so much stigma associated with open relationships that I don’t expect people in monogamous marriages to understand,’ says Charlotte. ‘But it’s normal for us and it works.’
*names have been changed