May 20, 2011— -- Maria Shriver, who hired a divorce lawyer after husband Arnold Schwarzenegger's admission that he fathered a child with the housekeeper, has joined at least three generations of Kennedy women who have been stung by womanizing.
A dynamic, smart professional, Shriver gave up her career as a successful television newswoman in 2003 when Schwarzenegger -- a former Austrian body builder and larger-than-life actor of "Terminator" fame -- was elected California governor.
"It's a mystery; isn't Maria Shriver a modern woman who had to assert herself in work and raise her daughters to believe that boys couldn't do this to them?" said Stanton Peele, a psychologist who has blogged about the couple's marital woes for Psychology Today.
Shriver, 55, is the granddaughter of Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Irish-American political clan, who carried on affairs with Hollywood actresses, and the niece of President John F. Kennedy, who was rumored to have slept with numerous women, including actress Marilyn Monroe.
The wives were silent as long the infidelities didn't arrive on their doorsteps. "Those people keep their secrets," Peele said. "And I believe [Shriver] learned that message from her family.
"It was a family cultural characteristic that they learned to accept, starting with the grandfather," he said. "That was the family creed that was taught."
In Schwarzenegger's case, however, Shriver apparently didn't learn of his love child until several months ago and one psychologist emphasized that she is not at fault.
Psychologists and sociologists have a name for the way in which trauma and relationship patterns are passed down through families: intergenerational transmission. They point to battered wives who raise daughters who are beaten and victims of sexual abuse who go on to abuse their own children, continuing an unconscious cycle.
When the Los Angeles Times interviewed a dozen women in 2003 who said they had fought off Schwarzenegger's unwanted sexual advances between 1975 and 2000, Shriver denied that Kennedy women look the other way.
The women who had worked with Schwarzenegger said they had thought they were powerless to report the actor, who admitted he had "behaved badly."
"Well, you know, that ticks me off. ... I am my own woman," Shriver told friend Oprah Winfrey on her TV show. "I have not been, quote, 'Bred' to look the other way. I look at that man [Schwarzenegger] back there in the green room straight on, eyes wide open, and I look at him with an open heart."
This time, however, Schwarzenegger crossed the line by sleeping with the family's longtime housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena, during daytime romps in the couple's Brentwood home while Shriver was away, Peele said. The woman the family called "Patty" gave birth to a son, who is now 14.
"Joe Kennedy could [sleep with actress] Gloria Swanson, but he couldn't bring it home or insult or defile Rose Kennedy," he said. "You might say Arnold Schwarzenegger learned the cultural thing to do perfectly. Men do whatever they want until it's discovered in the home. Then 'boom,' it's over."
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy's wife, Joan, was perhaps the longest-suffering Kennedy wife, drowning herself in alcohol and blaming the 1969 Chappaquiddick scandal on the dissolution of their marriage. Kennedy admitted responsibility for the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne, 27, in a fatal car crash on Martha's Vineyard, as his wife stood at his side. She later miscarried.
Her brother-in-law, Jack Kennedy, often referred to the leggy blonde Joan as "the dish," and, like his wife, Jackie, Joan supported the family's political causes while ignoring persistent rumors of infidelities.
Listening to a videotape of her 1958 wedding to the youngest Kennedy brother, Joan heard Jack whisper to Ted that marriage "didn't mean that you had to be faithful."
Kennedy Womanizing Transcends Generations
That Kennedy "credo" has also been seen in the third generation; Shriver's male cousins.
The late Michael Kennedy, son of assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, was married with three children when he was alleged to have had an affair with their 14-year-old babysitter. The girl refused to press charges. Kennedy was killed in a skiing accident in 1998.
William Smith, son of Jean Kennedy Smith, was charged in 1991 but later acquitted of rape while staying with his "Uncle Ted" at the family's Palm Beach, Fla., estate.
Shriver's own family life was not tarnished by rumored affairs. Mother Eunice, founder of the Special Olympics, and father Sargent Shriver, former vice presidential candidate, enjoyed a stable, 56-year marriage.
"Maria did admire her mother and father's relationship, but she had a different idea of what an ideal man was," Peele said. "She picked a bodybuilder, not an intellectual and empathetic kind of guy, saying, 'I want something more exciting.'"
At Sargent Shriver's funeral in January, about the time she learned of Schwarzenegger's love child, Maria Shriver eulogized her father -- in retrospect perhaps pointedly -- as a man whose greatest accomplishment beyond public service was, "how to treat a wife."
She said he taught his sons, "how to be a gentleman, a gentle man."
The Shriver-Schwarzenegger political alliance was an odd one: she a Democrat and he a Republican, but many were also baffled by other differences.
"I often wondered whether choosing a guy like him was kind of a rebellion," said Michael Diamond, a clinical psychologist from Los Angeles who specializes in trauma and relationship patterns.
"He didn't seem to espouse the family's liberal family values and didn't come from an intellectual tradition," said Diamond, who has not treated the couple. "There may have been some effort to break away."
Diamond said the intergenerational transmission of relationship dynamics are often at play in families like the Kennedys: "Presumably, when we talk about women who pick certain men, you would think they would know better.
"We see it all the time clinically -- most blatantly in trauma, like survivors of the Holocaust or other terrible tragedies of that nature," Diamond said. "We also see it in eating disorders -- often transmitted mother to daughter. We see abusive dynamics in a man and a woman repeating itself in the next generation.
"We also see it in narcissism when a father or mother creates a child who is equally narcissistic, although it may look different on the surface," he said.
Shriver is not to blame, Diamond said. The identification that takes place is often unconscious and unrecognized. And without therapy, the cycle continues.
In cases of infidelity, women often deny the truth, wanting to protect their children and to protect themselves. When Shriver denied allegations of Schwarzenegger's baiting and groping of other women, she suggested "the women were crazy," he said.
"It's very common," Diamond said. "To try to deny and rationalize it and see it as someone else's political agenda, to deny something that a deeper level you know is true. You have to go against yourself."
A long marriage, four children and plenty of "perks" being the wife of a celebrity governor can also make a wife deny the existence of infidelity, he said.
Positive Kennedy values -- an obligation to serve their country and to show compassion for the downtrodden -- were also in abundance. Those, too, transcended the generations and can be seen in Shriver's work with the Women's Conference and her commitment to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease.
Her brother, Timothy, 52, is chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics, and brother Mark, 47, directs U.S. programs for the charity, Save the Children.
But Maria Shriver is still an "enigma," Peele said. "On the one hand, she fought for women's rights and asserted herself, and on the other hand, she may have enabled her husband's abuse."
The fourth generation of Kennedys, a large brood that includes the four Schwarzenegger children -- two boys and two girls, ages 13 to 21 -- might take several lessons from their father's indiscretions.
"They could learn one of two things or both," Peele said. "Noblesse oblige, as RFK cried for poor people, or the rules don't apply to us. We are the Kennedys."