Maria Shriver's Pain
by Peggy Vaughan

Our hearts go out to Maria Shriver as she faces this painful situation. Of course, she's not the first (and won't be the last) wife of a politician or celebrity who faces this kind of public exposure of her personal life.
But this situation feels particularly painful—for many reasons:
        • the affair itself (and the rumors that there were others)
        • the child born from the affair
        • the length of time of the deception
        • the woman being part of her household for 20 years

Exposure of the affairs of high-profile people creates a media storm that adds to the difficulty for people in Maria's situation. But she's part of a long list of women (and men), both famous and "unknown," who struggle to pick up the pieces after this kind of blow. And there's every reason to believe that Maria will handle this with the same kind of strength she has shown throughout her life. Even now, she's made clear that her first priority is the well-being of her children.

As we watch this story unfold, it will be tempting to second-guess what Maria should say or do. But I hope people will withhold judging the "rightness" or "wrongness" of any of her decisions or statements.

Also, she should not be judged as to whether she knew (or should have known) about Arnold's extracurricular activities through the years. I know personally how confusing and challenging it can be to determine whether/when/how to fully "know"—and how difficult it can be to weigh the consequences of taking some particular action vs. not taking it. There are many factors to be considered at every step along the way, and you can not walk in someone else's shoes.

As I have pointed out before, those who haven't been through this experience really don't have a clue as to what they would or wouldn't do unless and until it happens to them. And even those of us who have been through it can't judge for someone else. No two people and no two situations are exactly alike. So there should be NO judgment of anyone's decisions in how they handle it.

While we can never know for sure how we would react (regardless of what we think we would do), I can say that Maria is responding as she said she would in a situation like this. It was 1981 (30 years ago) when James and I were promoting our first book, Beyond Affairs and telling our own personal story, that we appeared on a TV show called "Leave it to the Women." The panel was made up of four women, one of whom was Maria Shriver.

This was five years before her marriage to Arnold, but they were already a couple, albeit a "secret" one. He was at the show with her, and we talked with him backstage. He had read our book, but most of our discussion with him focused on his advice about marketing rather than on the content.

However, on the show itself, Maria directly addressed us with these words:
"I wouldn't have tolerated that in my marriage.
I have a serious boyfriend. He knows it. He agrees.
I read the book. I was so mad at you [James] that I wanted to wring your neck."

These words were typical of the reactions we got in the hundreds of media events we did in those early years. Since we were the first couple to "go public" about our struggle with affairs and staying married, we unleased the pent-up emotions that most people hold about this issue.

The exposure of affairs continues to create strong emotions among the public, leading to lots of discussion of this topic. But rather than talking only about Maria and Arnold's marriage, I encourage everyone to use this as an opportunity to talk about your own personal relationships.

How well do you really know your "significant other?"
How honest are you about attractions, temptations, and actions regarding monogamy?

If you haven't had these conversations, now is the time to start. As difficult as it may be to talk about it now, it's far more difficult to deal with it after an affair takes place.

Regardless of the current state of your relationship, no one is immune to the threat of affairs. They happen to all kinds of people in all walks of life, including "good people in good marriages." My most recent book, To Have and To Hold is aimed at helping people prevent affairs.

For previous postings on the exposure of the affairs of famous people, see:
Elizabeth Edwards 'goes public'
Silda Spitzer's Public Pain
Why did Hillary Stay in her Marriage?
The Truth, the Whole Truth
Exposure of Affairs of Politicians and Celebrities

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