05/19/2011 02:17 pm ET | Updated Jul 19, 2011

Maria Shriver Is Seizing Control

I am often asked in crisis situations such as we have in the news today, what should be done and how this will affect the reputation and image of those involved? Since the former Governor has no intention of returning to politics, the reputational damage he has inflicted on himself will more than likely have minimal lasting effect on his future plans which are now focused on reviving his Hollywood career and expanding his business interests.

However, what happens to the image of Maria Shriver is another story entirely. In the past some women in her position have opted to "stand by their man," many times in order to protect him and his current or future political aspirations. In my view, that only works to convince the public on the rare occasion when it is genuine, because the American people can sense when such a gesture is disingenuous. Did anyone believe that Eliot Spitzer's wife wanted to be there by his side that soon? The stricken expression on her face told the real story. On the other hand, when Maria came to Arnold's defense and insisted that she believed in her husband despite his flaws when rumors of his boorish behavior surfaced, it was a wholehearted and sincere effort that came across as credible. An act that many political onlookers say was responsible for saving his campaign.

This time the circumstances are different, the transgression is greater and undeniable and Arnold is no longer in public office or running for it. Now it appears Maria is clearly making decisions based on what is best for her and her children without having to consider her husband's future. The fact that she is taking control of the situation is important not only for her, but because so many people -- in particular young women -- are paying attention to what she does and says at this moment. And although she issued a public statement requesting privacy, her actions have visibly demonstrated that she is going on with her life, including making time to attend her close friend Oprah Winfrey's farewell television appearance.

While some may argue that this is inconsistent with her statement requesting privacy, it can be argued, equally, that she is remaining true to her platform of empowering women embodied in The Women's Conference she developed as First Lady of California by making sure the situation with her estranged husband does not own or dictate her decisions. She is seizing control of her life and how it is viewed by making a powerful statement that this too shall pass and she will not let this moment destroy her life and future aspirations or those of her children. It will be interesting to see if and how she will continue to apply her public platform to her private life as she navigates through this crisis.

Judy Smith has over 25 years of crisis management experience and is the founder and President of Impact Strategies, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. A former assistant United States Attorney she also served in the White House as Deputy Press Secretary to President George H.W. Bush.