High-Profile Infidelity: A Response to Maria Shriver’s Story

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So, it just came out that my former governor had an illegitimate child with one of his household staffers over ten years ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have been married for 25 years. 25 YEARS!! Does that mean nothing to him?! It’s an understatement to say that it’s so pathetic he had to go and do something like this–something that he knew could ruin his life and change it irreversibly. Arnold, I thought you were one of the few good guys left in Hollywood/California’s political arena!

While political and celebrity sex scandals are far from uncommon, I was still a little shocked by this one. Yes, Arnold is a political figure AND a celebrity–meaning he was under double the pressure to cave into infidelity–but I thought (perhaps naively) he was better than that. Back in 2003 before his gubernatorial election, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles in which 16 women accused him of sexual harassment over a 30 year period. Schwarzenegger dismissed them, claiming he knew nothing about the women or the charges. He even commented that the timing of the accusations seemed "rather odd" considering his impending election and the fact that he had never been accused of anything of the sort in the 35 years he’d lived in the United States. That, to me, was a sure sign that these women were only complaining for the ten seconds of spotlight they’d receive.

But it’s not 2003 anymore. To add to the depravity of the current situation, Shriver even defended her husband when this was all going down eight years ago. "You can listen to all the negativity, and you can listen to people who have never met Arnold, or who met him for five seconds 30 years ago. Or you can listen to me," she said in an impassioned speech to a Republican women’s group in Orange County, Calif. "I wouldn’t be standing here if this man weren’t an A-plus human being. I wouldn’t be taking my time, I wouldn’t have left my job that I love, I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t believe in this man."

Considering how she felt back then–and probably still wants to feel today to a certain extent–Maria must feel so duped. "There is usually sadness, anger, hurt, betrayal and a lack of self-esteem on the part of the one betrayed," said Dr. Laurie Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Santa Cruz, Calif. It’s safe to say that if I were Maria, I would feel all of these things. And honestly, Shriver most likely is feeling her fair share of bitterness and depression–heck, she’s already separated from the guy! But luckily for her family’s sake, Maria is a strong and courageous woman.

I LOVE the way she is handling herself right now. It must be absolutely devastating to go through something like this, especially in the public eye. But Maria has been nothing but pleasant about it on the outside, despite how she’s undoubtedly feeling on the inside. "As a mother, my concern is for the children," Shriver said with the ease of someone who’s been in the spotlight for practically her whole life. "I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal. I will have no further comment."

Her concern for her children in this pitiful and tragic situation is commendable, to put it lightly. One source said she "is very much ‘Don’t abandon your father.’ It is very admirable to not show your children the anger and also ask your children to be supportive of their father." I can’t even imagine how much discipline that must take. Then again, I also understand that she loved him, and has clearly been in love with him, for the past 25 years. Not to mention, he is the loving father of her four children. What a difficult place to be in.

In response to the "painful and heartbreaking time" Shriver is in, her now-estranged husband is in touch with the family and "will do whatever they want him to do–give them space or be there–to allow them to heal and get through this," says a source close to Schwarzenegger. Added this confidant: "He realizes the terrible mistake he made and has a lot of work to do to repair his relationship with his family."

Sure, he realizes his mistake. NOW. But why couldn’t he have realized it before he knocked up his maid, thus preventing a public scandal and more importantly, irreconcilably hurting the most important humans in his life?

Unfortunately (and disgustingly, if you ask me), infidelity "is so very, very, very common," said Dr. Moore.

It pains me to even type out that sentence, yet I know it’s so true. According to statistics from 2006, at least one spouse has admitted to infidelity in 41 percent of married couples. If this seems like a high number to you, you’re not alone. Researcher Tom W. Smith wrote that "there are probably more scientifically worthless ‘facts’ on extra-marital relations than on any other facet of human behavior." In his opinion, the rate of adultery in marriage is around 15 to 18 percent. Ok, that seems a little better to me too. But that doesn’t make me any less revolted by the idea of someone cheating on his or her partner.

When I think of my own relationship, I would be irreparably frustrated, humiliated, and broken if he cheated on me, let alone if he fathered a child with another woman! How do you heal from something like that?

Donna Bellafiore, a licensed clinical social worker in Delray Beach, Florida, had something to say about that: "Sexual fidelity is a fundamentally important part of that trust that has been broken, but the whole has been affected. Everything is questioned, then, about the marriage, if the faithfulness was not kept. What was real? Was I a fool? The impact is like a death. The grieving is like a death. Nothing was what it appeared. That is what has to be healed."

I suppose a person could eventually bounce back from an ultimate betrayal like this. I mean, look at Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example. After all, Schwarzenegger does sound pretty remorseful: "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family," he said. "There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry."

Even though he apologized, Arnold Schwarzenegger has forever changed the course of his wife’s (and family’s) life. One incredibly thoughtless decision over a ten years ago has now cost him a lifetime of achievement, recognition, dignity, and most of all, respect. The question today is whether Maria will remember the words she said in 2003: "Nothing hurts, because I know the man that I’m married to. Has he said and done everything absolutely (right) 100% of the time? No. But I don’t know anybody on the planet, male or female, who’s led a perfect life."

Or has his mistake caused too much heartache already? For better or for worse (which, ironically, are the words he should have been thinking about so many years ago), it looks like the suffering Arnold inflicted on his family has been too much to deal with for his grieving wife. Over a decade later, Schwarzenegger’s testosterone-driven choice will soon add him to America’s expanding book of divorce statistics.

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