Women Who Walk: Jenny Sanford, Maria Shriver Leave Cheating Govs

VIDEO: Lara Spencer examines why powerful men stray, and the familiar faces they go to.
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While many wives of unfaithful high-powered men grin and bear the infidelities, California's former First Lady Maria Shriver followed another highly admired governor's wife who moved out after painful public revelations of her husband's philandering: Jenny Sanford divorced former Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., after he publicly proclaimed he'd found his soulmate in an Argentine woman with whom he'd been carrying on an affair.

Shriver, a former NBC News journalist, left former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., , her husband of 25 years, and father of their four children, after he told her that he had fathered a love child more than a decade ago with a 20-year member of their household staff, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. The couple announced May 9 that they had separated. Since leaving Sacramento, The Governator has announced plans to resume his acting career and his website depicts him with a chessboard under the words: "Stay tuned for my next move."

In deciding to separate, Shriver likely felt that the child Schwarzenegger fathered outside their marriage was a constant reminder of his betrayal, said Kate Wachs, a psychologist in private practice in Schaumburg, Ill., and author of the 2002 book, "Relationships for Dummies." "That's a big problem with trying to forgive someone in the present…the girl still exists, you can't take it away."

"That child probably played with their children," said Jodi Conway, a certified sex addiction therapist in Dumont, N.J. "When women find out that their husbands have betrayed them in this way, they are devastated, and the trauma they experience from that is the equivalent of rape trauma."

On top of that, Shriver likely felt another kind of violation in knowing her husband had sex with a woman entrusted with caring for their home, the santum sanctorum of family life. "She's in your house, she's dealing with intimacies. That's a much bigger betrayal," Wachs said.

"For her, enough was enough," Conway said. "She'd had enough heartache in her life," given the recent deaths of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, her father Sargent Shriver and her uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. "She's always been an example for women, and I think people do look up to her, and as a mentor for women, you've got to live by example."

"Very sad for Maria Shriver, but she did the right thing for herself to leave him. And I bet she will survive and thrive in the future," Debbie Then, a social psychologist in Los Angeles and San Francisco and author of the 1999 book, "Women Who Stay with Men Who Stray," said. She predicted that Shriver would be "an inspiration to other women," much like South Carolina's former first lady.

"I think collectively a lot of people in this country and a lot of women in this country really like Jenny Sanford for saying, 'I'm sticking up for myself; I'm not going to put up with this,'" Then said. "Sometimes a woman must walk in order to save herself."

Jenny Sanford learned of her husband's affair in January 2009 and asked him to end it. In June of that year, the governor held a news conference during which he tearfully confessed that he'd spent a week in Argentina with his lover, rather than hiking the Appalachian Trial as he'd told his staff. Unlike many political wives who have stood by their husbands as cameras record their apologies, Jenny Sanford was nowhere near the state Capitol in Columbia that day. Instead, she issued a public statement in which she said she tried to "seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage," and had asked her husband to leave when "we reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong."

In August 2009, she and the couple's four sons moved out of the South Carolina Governor's Mansion and into the family's Charleston-area beach house; she filed for divorce in December 2009.

"I don't know that she could have done anything else," said Wachs. "She asked him to quit (the affair); she shouldn't have to do that. He should be the one saying 'I'm so sorry, I'm never going to see her again.' Instead, she really made it easy for him to apologize and change his stripes, and he turned it down."

Sanford won kudos from women who admired her strength in leaving. Many bought her book, "Staying True," also released in February 2010, in which she laid out some early red flags that might have suggested her husband wasn't the best marriage material. Among the revelations: her husband had modified their marriage vows to remove the promise of fidelity.

Eva Longoria, Sandra Bullock Divorce Husbands After Discovering Infidelity

Among other high-profile women who have ended marriages after learning of their husbands' infidelities, "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria, 35, filed for divorce from her husband of 3 years, three-time NBA All-Star Tony Parker, after learning that he had been sending romantic texts to the wife of a former teammate. Longoria, who began dating Parker in 2005, said she also learned that Parker, 28, a point guard with the San Antonio Spurs, had cheated earlier with a woman with whom he communicated on Facebook.

Actress Sandra Bullock filed for divorce in April 2010 from husband Jesse James, the tattooed host of TV's "Monster Garage," to whom she gushed "I love you so much" as she accepted a Golden Globe award for her role in "The Blind Side" three months earlier. The marriage failed after several women claimed to have had affairs with James, the owner of West Coast Choppers.

"I see it as such a sign of personal strength for these women to move on with their lives," Then said. "Once trust is broken, it is very difficult to forge ahead with a truly intimate marriage. Some couples do, but the man must stop the cheating and really apologize, and be ready to work hard to regain the trust of his wife. Some 'powerful men' scoff at this, and in that situation, it is best that the woman walks."

Then said that narcissists are incapable of the honesty and truth that are essential building blocks of a successful relationship, as well as the empathy that "would otherwise allow them to feel the pain they create for another person."

"I hope that 'real' women are empowered by seeing the actresses, and other women in the public eye, say 'enough is enough' to philandering men," Then said. But, she added, "it is important not to portray women who stay like doormats. Every woman faced with a cheating spouse faces emotional trauma, but every woman must decide for herself what she wants to do about her situation. It is often said that only the two people in the marriage know what really goes on. Now it seems that in so many cases of a cheating husband, only one person knows what is going on! It must be stressful for a philandering man to live with his secrets."

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