By Elizabeth Paige, GalTime.com
Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to fathering a child with a longtime member of his household staff. It happened more than a decade ago but Maria just found out after Schwarzenegger ended his run as Governor of California in January. He told the LA Times, "After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago." The woman apparently worked for the family for twenty years, retiring (with a severance package) just this past January.
Now, the housekeeper is identified as Mildred Patricia Baena and the child is said to be 13, the same age as Shriver and Schwarzenegger's youngest son Christopher.
How do you even begin to process the situation? Your husband, in the headlines over the years for alleged philandering, comes out and admits that he has a child you didn't know about, that the baby was fathered a decade ago, 15 years into your marriage and that --oh, by the way-- the mother is a house staffer you've worked with for twenty years, ten of which happened after the affair.
If you're Maria, where do you go from here? We turned to GalTime.com's relationship guru Jane Greer, Ph.D. for her thoughts.
Let's walk through the levels of what happened and where any couple in this situation may go from here. In general, what are the chances a marriage can survive after hearing news like this? What's the first step to processing and dealing with this kind of news?
Dr Greer: As a marriage therapist, I have dealt with countless couples who have experienced infidelity. There are times when, in fact, despite the trauma it causes, it can actually be a catalyst in rebuilding and revitalizing a stale marriage when partners have the opportunity to evaluate how important they really are to each other and if their marriage is worth trying to save.
In this instance, however, we are seeing a betrayal that cuts so deep and inflicts so much damage that it's pretty difficult for a marriage to survive this kind of betrayal.
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In my book, How Could You Do This To Me? Learning To Trust After Betrayal, I detail why betrayers betray as well as the different types of betrayals that occur. There are times when betrayal occurs and the person isn't aware or doesn't see their behavior as betraying their partner. There are those "couldn't help it " ones where they do know what they are doing but feel overpowered , helpless or simply out unable to stop themselves. Then there are those that I call "deliberate betrayals" whereby people know exactly what they are doing, the full extent of their deceitful behavior and do it anyway because of their own selfish needs.
This is the case in the Schwarzenegger marriage. The breach of trust and the enormity of the betrayal can't help but evoke profound feelings of anger that necessitate immediate action on Maria's part to look out for herself and protect herself emotionally since her welfare and well-being were so seriously compromised for so long.
Maria didn't know for years. How does NOT telling right away impact the couple's chances of staying together?
Dr Greer: The not telling makes it even more impossible to overcome because not only is there the trauma of the actual cheating and fathering a child to come to terms with, but "living a lie" for so many years completely shatters the foundation of trust upon which a marriage is built. Additionally, there is a complete dissolution of reality as you have known it that is utterly devastating. These betrayals are, in my opinion, the "ultimate betrayals" and severely difficult if not impossible to overcome.
Now, the person in question was a longtime staff member who continued to work with the family long after the birth of the child. How much does knowing the person with whom a spouse had an affair impact the psyche and emotions of the other spouse? Basically, how can Maria process the fact that this woman worked for her for 20 years?
Dr Greer: This compounds the pain of the actual betrayal itself, which is a knife in the heart. It can, in fact, make it a death wound to both the marriage and the relationship because of the degree of lying and deceit that went into hiding the truth. It is hard to surmount the awful feeling of being humiliated at what others have known and kept from you deliberately. It is total and complete breach of trust on every level and, as a result, it can leave you questioning your own judgment and feeling that you can't trust yourself. You must know that it was the deliberate actions of the people who betrayed you that needs to be dealt with first and foremost.
Ms Shriver has stood by her man through many alleged womanizing scandals over the years. Does the public acknowledgment of this level of betrayal typically hurt or help the 'victim'? Would it have been easier for Maria for noone to know...or is it possible that the outpouring of support can actually help?
Dr Greer: She's used to being in the public eye and a public figure, so going through this in the public forum is actually a continuation of how she's always lived her life. She has been a source of inspiration to so many and now is the time for her to draw great support from the people who look up to her and have great empathy for her and the sadness of what she is now enduring. The public can, in fact, stand by her as she has done for so long with her man. It is time for her to put herself first and lookout for herself. The acknowledgement of how "wronged" she has been can provide a tremendous degree of comfort as well as validation for just how unfair and awful her husband's actions have been. Public support can go a long way to helping people feel validated , understood and supported through their pain and trauma.
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The Schwarzeneggers have 4 children and both have said the kids are priority number one in terms of dealing with the news. What concrete steps can families take to make sure the children are as protected as possible and still feel some sense of stability at home?
Dr Greer: Make sure that the boundaries between their parents' marriage and their "family" life are clearly drawn, avoid talking about the infidelity in a disaparaging way to the children, and let them know that you will work together as a family to heal the pain of the break-up. Also, convey to them that their feelings are important to talk about and make room for their anger , hurt and disappointment. This is a huge and shocking betrayal for the whole family and it will be important to support one another and go through the healing process together.
We don't know all the facts yet, but it appears the baby born out of wedlock easily could've had a relationship with the Schwarzenegger clan up to this point, not knowing they were related. How will that impact all sides: Maria, the kids, the newest child?
Dr Greer: Again, it is the extent to which the lie stretched across the family world to keep everyone in the dark that can wreak the most havoc. Ultimately, if there is going to be room for a relationship to develop among the children, it will be over time and only after the shock and deceit of the affair has been worked through. Until the hurt starts to diminish, it's difficult to move forward on a practical level and figure out what's going to work best for everyone involved.
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What steps can Maria, or anyone in her situation take, to make the right decisions for herself (or himself if the situation were reversed?) What are important steps to healing?
Dr Greer: Let yourself have your anger... know that you have a right to be mad and even unwilling to accept an apology at this point. That said, expect an apology but know that it's a start --not a finish-- to the process of healing . Even if you do accept it, you will still need to know and genuinely feel that your partner really understands the magnitude and enormity of the hurt, pain and devastation that he/she caused you and the damage that disrupted your world. Give yourself time and know that the work and rebuilding really is going to be based on your partner's actions and his/her willingness to work at regaining your trust.
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What steps would the perpetrator of the affair have to do to ever repair the damage?
Dr Greer: This queston ties into the one below on whether trust can be rebuilt. The betrayer first has to apologize, then has to be wlling to do the work to rebuild the relationship. He must be wllling to keep apologizing over and over for as many times as it takes. Sometimes, an apology may be needed for a year or two... until the betrayed person really comes to believe that their partner genuinely understands the magnitude of the pain they caused and how much damage they did and that they truly demonsrate continued remorse for their behavior.
No matter what happens, how much does forgiveness play a role in helping all parties move forward?
Dr Greer: Forgiveness is important in moving forward, however, it is something that also may take time. Just because an apology is given doesn't automatically make it OK, or mean that it's time to forgive a betraying partner. Generally, forgiveness is the first step , but sometimes rebuilding trust needs to occur for it to be given , and sometimes the pain runs so deep that people aren't ready or able to forgive.
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Can trust actually be rebuilt after something like this? What if it were a one-night stand type affair?
Dr Greer: Trust can be rebuilt but it is a long process and a betrayer must be willling to do the hard work to make it happen. It entails being open and accountable about every detail of your life, which up until this point has been kept secret and hidden. You can't just say "trust me", you have to literally show that you can be trusted by sharing the details of your whereabouts at all times, as well as being willing to answer any and all questions your partner may have about the affair.
If you could give Maria Shriver any piece of advice right now, what would it be?
Dr Greer: Forget what anybody tells you to do. This is your life, was your marriage. You and only you know what you can handle or not in the best interest of your children and family, so go with your gut. Additionally, the support of a counselor to help sort through the myriad of feelings that you are coping with can be extremely helpful in making the tough choices ahead. Right now, more than ever, it's important to be true to yourself. You have been a source of strength and support for so many millions of women who respect and admire your courage and resilience. Now is the opportunity to carry on in your own tradition and continue to be an inspiration to all those who have similiarlly experienced the anguish of betrayal.
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