What We Can Learn From Hollywood’s Secret Uncouplings

5 min read
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Jada Pinkett Smith recently revealed she’s been separated from Will Smith for years.

Source: Tinseltown/Shutterstock

Fans were surprised to hear Jada Pinkett Smith reveal that she and her husband, Will Smith, have been living completely separate lives since 2016. Publicly, it appeared as though the couple were still together. They attended events together—including the 2022 Academy Awards, when Will slapped Chris Rock after he made a joke about Jada’s hair on stage.

Not long after the Pinkett Smith’s announcement, Meryl Streep revealed that she and her husband, Don Gummer, have also been separated for more than six years.

Why would Hollywood couples whose relationships were once so public now be engaging in “secret uncoupling”?

While their private separations have raised questions for many fans about why the couples weren’t more forthcoming, there are some important lessons to be learned from their examples. Perhaps there are some benefits to keeping your relationship status private when you’re separated, divorcing, or living an unconventional lifestyle.

Even when couples are married, their relationship status might be “it’s complicated.” You don’t necessarily need to give your friends and family the weekly play-by-play: “He sleeps on the couch now.” “He’s looking for his own apartment.” “I’ve met with an attorney—just in case.”

So, it stands to reason that not everyone wants to give updates on the state of their union. You might not know what you want, let alone what your partner wants for the future. And it’s quite possible that input from people might make a messy situation even messier.

Couples Can Maintain Boundaries, Even During a Split

It’s important for couples to have clear boundaries within the relationship and against the outside world. (To learn more, see 13 Things Mentally Strong Couples Don’t Do.)

In a healthy relationship, individuals set boundaries with their partner. Boundaries might include things like, “I’m keeping my social media passwords private,” or “I’m not going to share what I discussed in therapy.”

Couples also need boundaries that protect their relationship from the outside world. That could include things like not lending money to anyone, not allowing in-laws to show up without calling first, and not talking to other people about specific issues surrounding finances or infertility.

Just because a couple is separated doesn’t mean they can’t honor one another’s boundaries or the new boundaries they’ve created as a couple. A couple that plans to co-parent or a couple that still loves one another even though they’re not together may mutually agree to keep their relationship status private.

Privacy may help them avoid unsolicited advice or pressure to put a label on their relationship as other people may want to know, “Are you getting divorced?”

While celebrity couples may want to avoid having their relationship scrutinized by the general public, everyday people may also want to avoid the rumors, assumptions, or unwanted input they might face.

Well-meaning friends might weigh in on the relationship—and try to advise you on whether you should reconcile. Or a family member might think your separation is an opportunity to tell you they never liked your partner anyway—which you might not need to hear. Keeping your status private may help you make the best decisions without unwanted input.

There May Be Professional Reasons to Keep Things Private

While an employer can’t legally punish you for your relationship status, there’s always a chance your boss may make assumptions about your commitment to the job. A manager who hears about a change in relationship status might assume you’re not going to be able to concentrate at work. Or, a boss may assume you’re going to need to take more time off to address childcare issues if you’re raising children on your own.

The leadership team may have biases about single, separated, or divorced people. You may be given fewer opportunities if the boss thinks you’re heartbroken, or you might not be promoted if your manager suspects a divorce means you may relocate.

It’s Healthy to Process Emotions Privately

While you may want emotional support when you’re going through a difficult situation, you might also want time to process your feelings privately. Friends and family often have strong opinions about a breakup. Whether they insist you should reconcile or you should start dating right away, you may want some space to sort out your feelings on your own.

You may be grieving the loss of your relationship and the loss of the life you thought you were going to have. Or, you might be working on yourself or giving your partner space to work through something before you make any permanent decisions.

Ending a Relationship Can Be Healthy

As a therapist, I’ve seen many couples who stayed together at all costs. They thought they were doing a good thing by forcing themselves to keep grinding away in a relationship that wasn’t working. But sticking it out in an unhealthy relationship can come at a cost.

One or both partners’ mental health suffered in some instances. In other cases, kids suffered the cost of living with two adults who didn’t love one another.

Making the decision to “uncouple” can be a healthy one. And couples can empower themselves by choosing when to make their relationship status public knowledge.

So, while you might not have to worry about the paparazzi reporting on every relationship move you make, you might decide you don’t need to reveal any changes in your relationship status right away. If you separate, a “secret uncoupling” might empower you to feel better about the fact that you get to decide who to tell and when to tell on your own terms.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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