They seemed to have everything. Love. Money. Fame. Power. It was the stuff of fairytales, but we now know how completely Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage disintegrated after recent revelations of his affair (oh, and also child) with their former housekeeper.
Shriver can take comfort that she is in excellent company. Countless marriages have collapsed on account of infidelity, including a great many in the public eye. In some cases betrayed spouses, including Hillary Clinton and Silda Wall Spitzer, have forgiven, if not forgotten, the infidelity.
But how can any relationship withstand an affair?
“Where there has been an affair, there is a grievous emotional betrayal,” says Toronto and Thornhill marriage and family therapist, Bev Behar. “The one who had the affair needs to understand the hurt. The one who has been betrayed needs to be able to trust the partner again, and this can only happen through a rebuilding of trust.”
According to Behar, there are a multitude of reasons why people cheat on their partners. For some, there’s a sense of entitlement to have an extra-marital affair if their sex life with their spouse is less than satisfactory. For others, adultery can be due to a sexual addiction. There are those who are looking to fill an emotional void, escape stress or believe that sexual involvement with another person can help keep a marriage whole by fulfilling personal needs on the side.
Just weeks before their wedding, Anne’s (not her real name) fiancé got drunk and slept with someone else. He immediately came clean, but that didn’t make things any easier.
“I was in shock when I first found out,” says Anne. “I didn’t cry. I didn’t really react at all. It took me a few days to process the information. But when it hit me, it was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to deal with.”
The couple spent the weeks leading up to the wedding talking about what they were going to do.
“We both just wept and wept. I considered calling the wedding off… I had the support of my family members and knew that if I really wanted to, I could end it.”
But Anne says that the idea of not spending the rest of her life with the man she truly loved seemed all wrong.
“A life together is much more than one action, one moment,” she says. “I never questioned whether or not he loved me as a result of his actions. I knew he loved me. So, in the end, I decided that I still wanted to marry him. I still wanted to share my life with him. Our relationship was more important to me than that lapse in judgment.”
Things can, however, be more difficult to work through when the infidelity is a prolonged affair, as opposed to a one-shot deal.
“If the affair is long-standing and loving, it will be much harder to heal the marriage,” says Behar, who counsels couples that affairs must be ended immediately for trust to be rebuilt. “Sometimes there is reluctance or ambivalence about ending it (but the) marriage cannot be healed or even assessed until the affair is over.”
While Anne has long since forgiven her husband, the affair still springs into her mind every now and again. Her advice to other couples in similar situations is to think about their relationship as a whole.
“(Couples) have to decide what’s right for them and what they’re capable of forgiving. And whether or not they see enough value in the relationship to want to put the work in to repair it. I really think it’s harder to work at it then it is to just cut your losses and let it go.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com