When I heard that Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were splitting up after 25 years of marriage, my immediate thought was that he had finally truly crossed the line. Let's face it, there is betrayal and then there is betrayal with a capital B and, while there had long been reports of inappropriate behavior with other women, this time, I figured, it was something big. I imagined an affair with a best friend or a family member. In the end, as we have all heard, Arnold had an affair and a child with a household staff member, someone close to the family. For Maria, it must have been the final straw.
In so many ways Arnold and Maria embodied what it takes to have a strong, solid marriage. They come from such different sides of the political spectrum and yet they were able to accept those differences, appreciate them even, and love each other for them. As a marriage and family therapist it is something I encourage all of my patients to do, and Arnold and Maria seemed to do it. In that way, they epitomized the essence of positivity in a union because it spoke to their willingness to work together as a team and compromise. They repeatedly stood by each other and together they have four children. What does it take to erode a marriage like that?
To begin with, the political arena is rich with opportunity for infidelity. From Thomas Jefferson to John Edwards to Arnold, we hear about it over and over again. Certainly Maria was not naïve to this sort of thing, coming from a political family herself. But infidelity has so many nuances, and everyone's breaking point is different. Maria chose to stay with Arnold, and even defend him publicly, through his previous transgressions. So why have they split now? As far as I can tell there are probably a few reasons. Because it was necessary to maintain their united front for the public, it might have made it easier to brush off the earlier affairs as meaningless flings. However, the magnitude of this betrayal is probably too much to live with. The sacredness of their intimacy was violated. Everything is a question of degree and this is just impossible to accept and sweep under the rug.
In my book "How Could You Do This To Me? Learning To Trust After Betrayal," I talk about the different types of betrayals including those of which the perpetrator is unaware they are hurting their partner, and those which are deliberate. Having an affair with a trusted member of the household staff, fathering her child and then keeping it a secret for over a decade, absolutely fits into the deliberate betrayal category and is the hardest to recover from.
There were a few other things going on with Maria and Arnold that probably contributed to their decision to split now. Arnold's term as governor of the state of California is over so they no longer had to maintain the image of the perfect couple. In addition, Maria is still dealing with the deaths of her parents. Even if she wanted to attempt to fix things with Arnold, she might be completely depleted emotionally and unable to do so. As I have talked about before, losses from one area of your life can oftentimes get repeated in other parts of your life and in that way this might be an extension of the loss of her family.
But really, it seems this split was a long time in coming. One friend was quoted as saying that those who were surprised by the announcement were buying into the fairy tale aspect of the marriage that was not a reality. There had been many bumps in the road before, but this finally stopped the car.
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