Maria Shriver Bore Grief Over Family Deaths, Alleged Affairs

Wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger cared for dying father after mother died.

ByABC News
May 10, 2011, 3:08 PM

May 10, 2011— -- Maria Shriver, who will separate from her husband, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has borne a burden of grief. Her mother, Eunice Shriver, died in August 2010. Her beloved uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, died two weeks later. Finally, in January, she buried her father, Sargent Shriver, the onetime vice-presidential candidate who fought a long battle with Alzheimer's.

And, on top of that, Shriver, who had given up a career as a successful television journalist so her husband could run for political office, also faced humiliating rumors of her husband's affairs with other women.

When Schwarzenegger ran for governor in 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that six women over the course of more than two decades alleged that they were fondled or groped by him.

Grief "compounds," according to psychologists, and a second and third loss "floods back" the feelings of bereavement and the sense that life is short.

"The death of anyone who is significant brings on a crisis of life's meaning...and anytime anyone betrays you with an affair, that's a loss," said Dee Shepherd-Look, professor of psychology at California State University-Northridge, who specializes in attachment and the effects of death and divorce.

"You question the value of your life, what you have accomplished in the past and how you want to live your life, and I think that certainly must be going on with Maria Shriver," she said.

"I also think that at least in her public life, Maria Shriver is a woman of commitment and actually walks the talk," said Shepherd-Look. "She gave Schwarzenegger her commitment to see through the governorship of California and I think she is a woman of her word. This is a good time for her to end her segment with him."

The former governor and first lady, who have four children -- Katherine, 22, Christina, 20, Patrick, 18, and Christopher, 12 -- announced they were "amicably separating" in a statement Monday night.

They will live apart while "they decide on the future of their relationship," it said. "This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us. After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion, and prayer, we came to this decision together."

One German study of 17,000 people found that 72 percent of couples who divorce show no change in life satisfaction. Only 9 percent say their lives are better, according to the study, which is soon to be published in the Journal of Individual Differences.

"Life events don't impact us as much as we think they do," said George Bonanno, professor of psychology at Columbia University who specializes in trauma and was a co-author of the article. "Most people handle grief pretty well without long-lasting scars.

Shriver likely experienced the most stress caring for her sick father, and any depression would have "dramatically decreased" after his death. "People have the most suffering when [their loved ones] are alive."