The Marriage Lesson Behind Will Smith’s Slap

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Photo Caption: HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 27: Will Smith appears to slap Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Rarely does the whole world pause all of its conversations to collectively focus on a single incident, but that’s exactly what happened the night Will Smith climbed the stage at the Oscars to slap comedian, Chris Rock. Smith’s blow came as an emotional retaliation brought on by Rock’s ill-advised joke focusing on Smith’s wife’s appearance. Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from an auto-immune medical condition that attacks follicles and results in hair loss. During and after the Oscars, the world paused every other conversation to focus on this one story. Our family was no exception.

What’s the right way to defend my spouse?

Much like the rest of the world, our house buzzed with a discussion about “the slap”. For a brief moment, it was as if no other story existed. COVID disappeared. The war in Ukraine felt like a distant memory. Even gas prices seemed insignificant. Every other trending local and global news story took a break. Every other part of pop culture news temporarily vanished as this one bizarre moment took center stage. Meanwhile, web searches for the Smiths, Chris Rock, Alopecia, and anything else related to the slap topped search engine statistics.

My wife Ashley and I watched as the online debates unfolded, each person with a unique and differing perspective. We were fascinated with this strange happening because we are fans of Will Smith, Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock. We follow the Academy Awards. However, we were primarily interested because Will Smith responded to Rock’s joke in defense of his spouse. Ashley and I have devoted our lives to building and supporting stronger marriages, and we knew this cultural happening would be a teachable moment to help couples around the globe answer this question: “What’s the right way to defend my spouse?”

It’s not necessary or even helpful for me retroactively to attempt to referee who was right or wrong with what happened at the Oscars. But we make it our business to mentor many couples worldwide, so Ashley and I felt an immediate sense of responsibility to look at this incident as a teaching moment to help marriages. On Instagram, Ashley quickly posted a list intended to spark positive conversations around the subject of “How to stand up for your spouse.”

Her list included:

  1. Avoid people who are in the habit of badmouthing your spouse.
  2. Don’t talk negatively about your spouse around others. Build them up with your words.
  3. If someone says something unkind about your spouse, then quickly tell them that it is not okay. If they don’t stop, then walk away.
  4. If someone is physically harming your spouse, then immediately call the authorities and do your best to physically help defend them.
  5. If someone attacks your spouse online, then hide or block the post. If you’re in a relationship with the person who made the attack, then privately contact them, and tell them to stop (unless your spouse has asked you to let them handle this situation on their own.)

Ashley’s list isn’t comprehensive, but it is a good starting point. Her post has already generated some productive conversations, but it has also raised more questions. What happened at the Oscars was a wakeup call for many of us, because if a highly respected figure such as Will Smith is capable of losing his cool in such a regrettable reaction, then any of us could be susceptible to unhealthy emotional outbursts. Most of us will never have the opportunity to make that kind mistake in front of millions of people on live TV, but we all have taken temporary actions that led to permanent regret.

One of the lessons from this uncharacteristic public outburst is that our feelings often will lie to us. When they are given more influence than our convictions and our principles, then our feelings can have a way of derailing things. At a time when we feel anger, rage, or other intense emotions, our feelings will tempt us to retaliate in reckless ways. In those moments we need to step back and approach the situation with clearer minds. Our culture has given us many counterfeit messages that can ultimately sabotage our reputations and our relationships. I believe that’s part of the bigger story with this whole Oscars’ incident.

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Many of our most popular movies celebrate and romanticize themes like vengeance and wrath. We cheer as our heroes on the big screen walk on stage and slap the bullies or the villains. We romanticize moments like that and maybe even fantasize about carrying out such acts in our own lives; but in reality, it never plays out the way it does on the big screen. It’s a counterfeit.

All of us must do the hard work of identifying the counterfeit messages we’ve believed and then remove them from our mindsets and our marriages. We must also to extend grace to ourselves and others. We’ve all had moments we deeply regret, but if we’ll learn from them, then we can grow stronger and wiser as a result. It’s my hope that everyone involved in this Oscars’ incident will do just that.

One of the lessons from this uncharacteristic public outburst is that our feelings often will lie to us.

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