I recently watched this YouTube video of Maria Shriver. It was posted on AOL before her divorce plans were in the news. I was struck by how desperate she seemed. I admire this woman, especially the work she has done since leaving television to be the First Lady of California. Her women's project is inspiring and far reaching. She always seemed so fearless, so self-assured, so centered. Yet in this clip she looks frail, her luxurious hair seems thin, her shoulders rounded. She looks lost. Even her smile at the end seemed more like a grimace. I wondered why this transition out of government life would be so difficult. She's doing incredible, important work; is loved and admired by many, has so many talents and strengths.
Then I heard the news, not only had her husband been unfaithful but it was with a family staff member and he has a thirteen year old son from the relationship. Blam! Now I understood completely. That transition. Life as she knew it, is over. The man she loved best in the world, the person she trusted above all others, the man she had devoted her life to, made sacrifices for, fathered her children... is a liar and a cheat. She is in shock and the repercussions from this shock will take her years, maybe the rest of her life, to recover from. I have complete faith in her ability to do this. But my heart breaks for her, aches for her.
I know that no matter how hard she tries to not have it so, those newly faced horrors are hammering in her mind every waking moment. He cheated. He lied. I know this woman. There is a child. Approximate age of my youngest. He's known for ten years and kept it from me while he cared for her and her son. What else don't I know? How could he? Why would he? He's hurt me. He's hurt my children. I have slept next to and with a man who is a stranger. Who is he? Worse, who am I? How did I not know? I am so humiliated. I have wasted my love on a liar and a cheat. What else has he lied about?
And then, when she gets past those big questions, she'll start examining the details. She'll realize more and more how deep the deception runs. How he has looked her in the eye for years and told her he loves her while he was having an affair and has another child. She'll start looking around her home, wondering. How could this woman be in my home and sleeping with my husband? She'll start piecing together the times she trusted and was deceived. She'll look at family photos from the past and wonder how he could do that. How he could pose as a devoted husband and father while he was committing adultery? She'll be haunted by what else she doesn't know.
But eventually, and for her sake I hope it does not take her as long as it took me, she'll realize what he did is on him. She did nothing to deserve that level of betrayal. No matter what difficulties there may or may not have been in their relationship, there is no right in his wrongs. If your needs aren't being met in your marriage, tell your partner. Love is a verb. Love and respect your partner enough to be honest and get help. If the problem is unresolvable, end the marriage with grace and dignity and respect. Only then look elsewhere.
The damage from this level of betrayal runs deep, right down to the cellular level, and requires so much work to heal. And she'll have to try and heal herself while also tending to her wounded children. Everywhere she looks her life is enmeshed with his and now she has to decide what life will look like from here on out. No wonder the poor woman is fumbling with questions about transitions.
I realize now that what I recognized in this video is her vulnerability, bewilderment, and pain. I recognized it because I have been there. She is lost. She is hurting. She is reaching out. She is also a survivor. She'll work her way through this. She'll do what is right for her children. Something he clearly gave little thought to as he took care of his own ego and needs. And she'll do it with as much dignity and grace as she can muster.
She is grieving the loss of her parents, her family of origin, and now she has to deal with the end of a marriage that was never what she thought it was or wanted it to be. When she most needs him, most needs to be loved and cherished, she has been disrespected. She now has to grieve the loss of her created family. She thought her family was a mother, a father, and four children. Now she knows there was at least one mistress and one other child. Who knows what else is hidden.
It does not matter how beautiful, intelligent, talented, generous you are. For some men, nothing is ever enough. They foolishly believe that if the wife doesn't know there will be no harm. The lie is the harm. And it will come out. What may have been a delicious affair for him is really just a pathetic secret. And as the saying goes, you're as sick as your secrets.
At the time of the video above, she knew the secret and was playing it close to the vest. Which brings me to my suggestions for how to handle the transition. First, no secrets. Face what you know. Just name the truth, no matter how painful. Walk right through that fire because the only healthy way out is through. Know that you will lose some friends, especially if you refuse to offer excuses or minimize the reality. There will be people who do not find it convenient to see the wrong. Most people will just want you to move on and pretend everything is fine. Get divorced, play nice, pretend. Don't do it! It is soul sucking. There is a huge difference between dealing with the truth and staying stuck or bitter. Get professional help. Friends are wonderful but will not be around for the length of time it takes to heal this. If you are doing all the work necessary people will think you are just not letting go and moving on. If he has power, and her husband certainly does, some people will not want to endanger their connection to that power. Take good care of yourself. Take all the time you need to fully heal. Be very, very kind to yourself. Practice good self-care. Review the people in your life. Ferret out all the folks you thought were trustworthy and you now see are moral relativists. Let go of the toxic relationships. Treasure the people who understand and are supportive. Find some more new supportive friends. When you are able to stand again, follow your passion. You no longer have to make all your life decisions based on what he needs. Take care of you. Eventually you will forgive but it takes time. And it is not a single act but rather an ongoing process. Know you are beautiful and strong and will get through this. And know that you can take as long as it takes to do so. You're worth it.