Tag Archives: Schwarzenegger

Arnold’s Last Marriage Lesson?

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Part of keeping the sparks kindled in your own marriage means keeping the wrong sparks out of your marriage—the ones that can engulf you into an affair.

It turns out there was another lesson (Read Part I) to learn from the troubled marriage of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger: Don’t think you can live a double life of lies and infidelity without eventually facing the consequences.

I would imagine it was much easier for Schwarzenegger to apologize to the nameless, faceless cameras and masses than it was to admit to his transgressions to his own wife and to each of his children. In Monday’s post, I wished his children could be spared the devastation that a divorce would bring, but that wish was too late. Their public humiliation may be Arnold’s worst punishment. His son, Patrick, changed his last name on Twitter to Shriver within days of Arnold’s announcement, a clear sign of his displeasure with this father. The fact that the woman with whom he had an affair worked for the family for two decades likely makes the situation even harder to bear for all those involved.

Unfortunately, infidelity is a relatively common marriage problem. Social scientists have been unable to pin down an accurate estimate of the number of couples affected, because they don’t know who is telling the truth. CNN suggests some estimate 15 to 18 percent of marriages are affected by affairs, while others place the number closer to 40 percent or more for those affected by emotional or physical affairs.

I’ve interviewed both couples who have overcome infidelity and experts who say it is a situation that can be healed. However, no one will deny the difficulty of the situation (particularly one with a 10-year-old child born out of wedlock) and question whether the trust can be rebuilt. If serial philandering is involved, obviously that will make the situation tougher and will likely reduce the desire by the scorned spouse to rebuild the marriage. For example, did anyone really think Tiger Woods’ wife, Elin, could effectively rebuild their marriage, or that she would wish to?

Time Magazine and CNN revealed a study set to be published in Psychological Science found that the higher an individual rises in a business hierarchy, the more likely they were to consider or commit adultery. “With power comes both opportunity and confidence, the authors argue, and with confidence comes a sense of sexual entitlement.”

If we hope to live in lifelong marriages, we can expect to be tempted by someone with whom we feel an emotional or physical connection. The error is in thinking it can’t happen in your marriage. Even those in strong, loving marriages may sometimes feel an attraction to another person. We may even have opportunities to act on those temptations. Those with higher profiles or certain careers may have more opportunities to cheat than others. Don’t kid yourself by thinking no one will find out, even if you have people to lie and cover for you.

Just picture yourself having to come clean to your spouse, your parents, and especially to your children. Realize that children will likely view infidelity with their parent as if you cheated on them, too. If you hope to leave a legacy of love and trust, infidelity is the wrong road.

Read What Happens After Infidelity at CNN for more on how healing may be achieved after infidelity. For those who struggle with temptation, a classic book to help prevent infidelity is His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Dr. William Harley Jr. There are also many newer books found by searching “How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage.”

Do you think your marriage is protected from a possible affair–why or why not? Do you think marriages can overcome infidelity, or do you agree with “once a cheater, always a cheater”?

What lessons can we learn from Schwarzenegger, Shriver?

I don’t usually comment on celebrity marriages and breakups unless I feel there is a broader lesson that I can learn from the situation. In the case of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are clear lessons, even if we don’t know the details of their marriage.

The first lesson is that even if we love our spouses, as they profess to love one another, we can’t take for granted that we will be married happily ever after, even after 25 years. We still have to put the time in together and make the daily effort to keep our lives connected emotionally and physically. Their high-profile jobs as California governor and news journalist kept them separated and overcommitted. Although Shriver stepped away from her journalism work, she has remained very active in advocacy work. Being in the public eye and having many public and private responsibilities adds to their time commitments away from one another.

You don’t have to be famous to find your time together becoming more and more limited. In an article advising the couple, family psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery says of the troubled marriage, “We just live in such a fast-paced society and there are so many demands on men and women.” She adds, “Marriage requires constant time together. Even in the best marriage, if you let it go and the couple isn’t communicating and sharing an emotional, physical intimacy for weeks at a time, that marriage will deteriorate.”

This serves as a reminder that we can’t take a strong marriage for granted. We invest and grow, or we deteriorate. There is no maintaining the “status quo.” We may think we are staying still, but we are drifting due to the winds of change and the waves of life. Before we realize it, we’ve become separated and we’re not even sure where the other person is. Don’t take that risk.

The second lesson is that major life stresses and transitions will almost certainly affect the marriage. They have both experienced major upheaval, from recent death of Shriver’s father (with whom she was close) to the changes in both of their careers, including Schwarzenegger leaving his role as governor to return to the big screen. (I guess we should have believed him when he said in his famous accent, “I’ll be back.”) Shriver is trying to find her way personally and professionally, and trying to determine her next professional step. In addition, they are busily raising four children, and we all understand the time commitment and stress that can involve.

In a joint statement, the couple wrote “This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us.”

“Major life transitions, especially career transitions, are stressful, and that stress often bleeds into the marriage, said Branford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

There’s even a risk to overreact during such transitions. I believe it’s wise that the couple is holding off on a divorce at this time, because making such enormous decisions during a time of great upheaval can be very emotional and cause future regrets. Experts say the end of a career can also become a time to reassess relationships and personal goals. Women may try to “find themselves”, and men may be looking for new experiences.

The article “Career change can do a number on many relationships” offers many possibilities of how couples handle transitions. I would suggest it if you are nearing retirement, or if one of you is experiencing career transition.

A broader lesson is to try not to make major marital decisions during a great transition in your life, such as the death of a loved one or a career change or even a relocation. Career changes can be a blow to our ego, which affects how we relate to one another. Grief and sadness can also cloud our decisions. Even a relocation during which we may not be surrounded by an adequate social network can magnify marital problems. A pro-marriage counselor may be needed to help a couple move through difficult life transitions.

I’m hopeful not only for Shriver and Schwarzenegger, but also for their four children, aged 21, 19, 17, and 13, that they can keep their family together, because divorce has been shown to devastate even older children. Slattery explains that for older children who experience a family divorce, “It doesn’t lesson the impact at all,” explaining that the pre-teen, teen and even young adult years are some of the worst times for children to experience a family fracture. Their worldview is forever changed. It’s a mistake to believe children are resilient and will simply bounce back from such an event.

If you’re interested in research about children of divorce, I would recommend Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt, or simply talk to someone you know whose parents divorced when they were children.

What lessons do you see in this or similar situations where a long-term marriage that has previously been happy begins to unravel?

Related articles:
Christian counselors advise Schwarzenegger, Shriver on Marriage” at Christianpost.com

Career change can do a number on many relationships” at msnbc.com

Photo: copyright Reuters