What Is Entanglement in a Relationship?

By Joel Balsam | | Dating
What Is Entanglement in a Relationship?
Mlyshova Liudmyla/Shutterstock

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith sent Twitter into a tizzy when she revealed she had an “entanglement” with another man in 2015 while separated from Will Smith. The celebrity news made headlines and caused many to wonder: What does entanglement mean in a relationship?

What is an entanglement?

The best way to define entanglement is calling it an unhealthy, codependent relationship that never evolves into a fuller commitment.

On her Facebook show Red Table Talk, Pinkett Smith explained she had an entanglement relationship with 27-year-old singer August Alsina while she and Will were separated. While the celebrity power couple had long been rumored to be in an open relationship, Pinkett Smith said her marriage felt “over” at that point.

“I got into a different kind of entanglement with August,” Pinkett Smith said.

Is it simply another word for an affair? Not exactly. The Smiths consented to seeing other people during their mutually agreed-upon separation.

So, is entanglement just a new word for a casual relationship, just like “conscious uncoupling” was used to describe Gwyneth Paltrow’s breakup from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin? Er, it’s not that, either.

Entanglement comes with a negative connotation. The guy with whom you sometimes hook up and occasionally hang out and you’d really be better off without but can’t seem to quit? That’s an entanglement.

What does entanglement mean in a relationship?

If you’re in a committed relationship but also having an entanglement, you are having an affair—you’re just using a hip celebrity-endorsed word to describe it.

When done in secret from a committed partner, entanglement relationships can be a major strain on all parties involved and could easily lead to hurt feelings all around.

But entanglements don’t necessarily have to mean an end to your committed relationship. If everyone involved has given their consent, entanglements can transform into successful polyamorous relationships that can be just as fulfilling as traditional monogamous relationships, according to a 2015 study by Canadian researchers at Brock University.

But again, consent is the key component here. If your partner entered the relationship with you with an expectation of monogamy, your “entanglement” isn’t a way to expand their horizons—it’s considered cheating.

How to get out of an entanglement

If you find yourself in an entanglement relationship you don’t want to be in any longer, the obvious response would be to get out of it—but that isn’t so easy. Sometimes you have feelings for two people at once. Or maybe you tried to break it off many times but something inside you deeply craves that connection.

Untangling an entanglement is hard, but a good place to start is to reflect on what you want. If you’re in an entanglement and sure it isn’t going anywhere, recognize it for what it is and move on. There are many other single people out there who deserve your affection.

Getting out of an entanglement would especially be a good idea if it’s a secret that’s hurting your committed relationship. Nobody deserves to be lied to, especially when love is involved.

The good news is that if you do end an entanglement happening in parallel with a committed relationship, you don’t necessarily have to lose them all. With communication and perhaps professional help, it’s possible to restore a relationship disrupted by an entanglement. The relationship could emerge stronger after working through the experience together.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.