With the {unconfirmed} news of Will and Jada Smith’s break-up on everyone’s mind today I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how hard we really work at our relationships.  These are two of the hardest working people in show business- blockbuster movies, indie bands, successful TV shows, and children who are quickly following in their celebrity footsteps.  Check out any of their interviews about their projects and you will find people who are passionate about their work and who seem to demonstrate a work ethic like no other.  In fact I remember a funny interview Will did on 60 minutes a few years ago.  when asked about his secret to success he responded,

“While the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy’s eating, I’m working. While the other guy’s making love, I mean, I’m making love, too, but I’m working really hard at it!”

That is what successful people do with their passions- they work.  They work when other people are too tired or frustrated.  They work when everyone else has given up because they don’t see the results they hoped for.  They work when, by everyone else’s standard, they are already the best.  And that is what a successful marriage (or any relationship) is built on- passionate dedication to hard work.  Love is a natural part of life, but committed love is not something that just happens.  It is an expression of our passion for another person and the life you are building together.  And just like professional success, it requires working harder than the next guy to maintain your goal. So what happened to Will and Jada?

I would never suggest that Will and Jada didn’t work at their marriage.  In fact, I am sure that they worked hard for the last 13 years and have tried to keep each other the focal point of their lives.  They have been lifted up as a relationship role model by many, particularly in the Black community, and seem to have taken that role very seriously.  But if the rumors are true {I hope that they aren’t}, then it’s hard to not ask the question-Where is that same work ethic they bring to their profession, when it comes to their marriage?

The problem for most couples, and I think celebrity couples in particular, is that professional success comes with adoration and recognition.  When someone like Will Smith works hard and has a successful movie, thousands of people sing his praises.  When Jada takes the stage with her band, crowds of people cheer and go wild for her.  When we work at our relationships, sometimes its noticed but often it just rolls into the details of everyday life. Our partners do not give us standing ovations for cooking dinner or golden statues for planning such a great date night last week.

Our recognition for the hard work of maintaining a relationship comes in small doses with very little fanfare.  A unexpectedly passionate kiss on the way out the door, a loving glance across the dinner table, or a special gift on your birthday.  And the big rewards, the moments where our commitment to our partner really pay off, are rarely as glamorous as walking the red carpet on Oscar night.  Having someone bring you soup when you have the flu or forgive you without resentment when everyone else around you has walked away- that is the reward for the hard work of marriage.  And it is easily forgotten in the midst of daily life with adoring fans (or flirtatious co-workers, misguided friends, and bad advice) telling you how perfect you are.

If I have learned nothing else in 16 years of marriage and 10 years of clinical work with couples it is that no one ever knows all the intricacies of  any relationship unless they are living in it.  And let’s face it, this could be nothing more than the rumor mill or a rough patch which they will successfully find their way out of.  Whatever lies ahead for the Smith’s marriage, I hope that the many couples who looked to them as role models will take away this one message – success, in life and in love, is always built on hard work.  Make your relationship your number one priority and work at it with passion and dedication.  You may never make millions of dollars or win a Grammy for your effort but you just might build a relationship that’s worth celebrating.


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