Now that details are emerging on the divorce of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, what can people about to tie the knot or those contemplating divorce learn from the break-up of one of America's most famous power couples? You don't have to be a high roller with a household name to learn several important lessons from Arnold and Maria.
1. Arnold And Maria Were An Unlikely Couple
From the start of their marriage, it appears that Maria, like many of us, fell into the trap of believing that love, marriage and kids would make them a committed couple and that Arnold would "change." Who can forget Maria's impassioned defense of Arnold against the sexual harassment charges that threatened to derail his bid to become the Governor of California? It's common for people to turn a blind eye to the warning signs of things like infidelity, abusive behavior or financial irresponsibility, but 99 times out of 100 your instincts are right....where there's smoke there's fire. These are tendencies that are deeply imbedded into the DNA of a person's character, and the inevitable stresses and demands of marriage, kids and job will only make them worse. While initially it may be easier to ignore or rationalize these problems, intervention is necessary to avoid much pain, suffering and perhaps the demise of your marriage down the road. Couples in this situation find it beneficial to work with a marriage counselor who can help them discuss and address their problems in a positive manner. In this way, you and your spouse can make a conscious decision to work on the issues necessary to stay in the marriage.
2. Where's the Prenup?
It's shocking that a couple like Arnold and Maria, who both entered into marriage with significant assets and sophisticated financial advisors, did not have a prenuptial agreement. While no one likes getting a prenuptial agreement, the absence of one in a marriage such as the Schwarzeneggers signals a lack of communication between the prospective partners. Going through the process of reaching agreement on financial issues in a prenup is an exercise in honesty, transparency and mutual respect -- all qualities necessary in a successful marriage. Prenuptial agreements are beneficial for a wide range of people -- from those who own a business or a home before they get married to people who will inherit money, have children from another relationship or have been married previously and want to avoid the potential of an acrimonious divorce. If you fall into one of these categories and are avoiding a prenuptial agreement with your prospective spouse, please ask yourself why.
3. Waiting Until The Kids Are Grown Up
It appears that even with the considerable resources available to her, Maria was unable or unwilling to end the marriage until her children were almost grown and her own parents were no longer alive. A parent of young children may avoid leaving an unhappy marriage thinking it's a selfish act or will be bad for the children. More often, the compromises you make to stay in a troubled marriage for the sake of the children diminish your capacity to be a healthy, child-centered parent. Even if you are not fighting in front of the kids, all but the very youngest children will pick up what's going on from things like parents sleeping apart or not spending time together or from talk they overhear at school. As role models to our children, staying in a marriage where there's been infidelity can say to them that it's ok to cheat or that you can't stand up for yourself or them. Children are amazingly resilient and can thrive after the divorce of their parents. Shawn McCoy, Phd., a psychologist and child custody expert with whom I often work, says "All kids need is one healthy parent."
4. Closing The Door On The Marriage
When Maria walked out of the door of the family's estate in Brentwood, she was sending a very powerful message. At first blush, she seemed to be saying it was too painful to stay in the house where Arnold had cheated and fathered a child right under her nose. I've had clients who come home and have caught their husbands in their own bed with the mistress, but they still stay in the house and even want the sheets! I believe Maria's message was that she was done. She was quite literally closing the door on her life with Arnold and leaving him to re-establish her own identity -- starting with a new home of her own. Most women do not have the luxury of setting up residence in a suite at a Beverly Hills hotel and then purchasing a $10 million home a few blocks from her ex as Maria recently did. I would typically advise women to think carefully and get legal counsel before leaving the family home.
5. Damage Control
Without a prenuptial agreement and as residents of California, a community property state, Maria and Arnold could wind up in a long, painful and costly fight over who gets what. While his lawyers initially sought to deny Maria's petition for spousal support and attorneys' fees, Arnold filed papers this week indicating that he won't block her requests for support. Some observers are guessing that Arnold is eager to get on with his rejuvenated movie career, making him likely to settle with Marie for more than California law would have mandated -- 50 percent of their joint earnings during their 25-year marriage. It's not uncommon for men who have been exposed as womanizers to use money to assuage their guilt and to help rehabilitate their image in the community -- whether it's Hollywood or Hoboken. Arnold clearly has enough money to move large sums from his balance sheet to Maria's without diminishing his lifestyle. This would be a smart move that lets both of them get on with their lives.