- (Photo: Reuters / Tomas Bravo)
Realize there is always hope in despair, have faith you can reconcile your marriage and drop everything and seek help for your relationship. That's the advice Christian marriage ministers Jay and Laura Laffoon would give struggling couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.
Schwarzenegger, 63, told the public on Tuesday that he and Shriver, 55, "both love each other very much" and are "taking it one day at a time." His comments were the first since the couple released a statement on Monday announcing their separation after 25 years together.
The Laffoons, authors of He Said. She Said., said that if he wants to heal his relationship with his wife, Schwarzenegger must do more than take things slow. The husband-and-wife counselors say the former California governor must clear his schedule of speaking engagements like the Tuesday engagement where he made those comments and really commit to working on his marriage.
Christian marriage counselors agree that Schwarzenegger's and Shriver's public separation is symptomatic of a problem that erodes most marriages: limited private time with each other.
In the case of Schwarzenegger and Shriver, their celebrity status may have diminished their quality time with each other.
"We just live in such a fast-paced society and there are so many demands on men and women," said Dr. Juli Slattery, family psychologist at Focus on the Family.
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Schwarzenegger's past job as a two-term California governor placed a lot of demands on the couple. Although both decided to remain in their secluded Pacific Ocean home, Schwarzenegger's position required that he spend a lot of time and energy focused on solving problems such as the state's debt ridden-economy.
Shriver, a successful television news reporter until 2007, led efforts to overhaul the California Museum and organized a popular annual women's conference as the state's first lady.
In the midst of busy schedules, Jay Laffoon said, "You really have to set aside time to work on your marriage, maintain your marriage and when you do, the benefits are huge."
The Laffoons said together time could be as short as a 15-minute coffee break together or as long as a weekend getaway. They simply recommended that couples arrange joint time together away from kids to date each other again or simply just discuss issues.
Agreeing, Slattery stressed, "Marriage requires constant time together. Even in the best marriage, if you let it go and the couple isn't communicating and sharing an emotional, physical intimacy for weeks at a time, that marriage will deteriorate. "
The Laffoons also underscored that emotional intimacy is especially important when one partner is grieving a death in the family as Shriver did when her father, Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver, died in January. Death, Jay Laffoon said, is a definite "stressor" in marriage that either brings couples together or tears them apart. Which one "depends on how you've been operating in your married life," Laura Laffoon said.
The Laffoons hold many Celebrate Your Marriage conferences through their ministry, Celebrate Ministries. Together they encourage couples to adopt a "we, our, us" mentality so that they can get through life challenges in a mutually supportive way.
It's unclear what kind of support system Schwarzenegger and Shriver had. News reports have said there were hints of a rift prior to the announcement.
The former governor tweeted frequently during his recent travels to Brazil, Nigeria and France, but Shriver was not mentioned in his online updates from the road, The Associated Press reported. The news outlet also reported that Shriver had posted three updates on her Twitter page on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary, April 26, but did not mention the milestone.
Additionally, a month before the anniversary, Shriver asked YouTube viewers to give her some advice to handle a transition. She did not specify the nature of that transition.
On Monday, the couples' publicist released a statement announcing their separation. The statement read, "After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion, and prayer, we came to this decision together."
Both Slattery and the Laffoons fear that, by the tone of the statement, Schwarzenegger and Shriver may be leaning towards getting a divorce. They strongly urge against divorce especially for their children's sake.
"It devastates kids of all ages," said Jay Laffoon.
Schwarzenegger and Shriver have four children – Katherine, 21, Christina, 19, Patrick, 17, and Christopher, 13.
Slattery said of older children and divorce, "It doesn't lessen the impact at all." In fact, she asserted that some of the most devastating times for divorces are during the pre-teen years, the teen years and even the young adult years.
"The research coming out says that creates a lot of instability in young adults when they don't have a solid foundation at home to come back to as they're making decisions in their own lives, in their own marriages," she shared.
Moreover, divorce has serious religious implications as well.
"When a marriage dies it's not just the death of a family," Slattery stated. "But it also mars what the world understands as God's unfailing love for His people."
Both Schwarzenegger and his wife are Roman Catholic.
The Laffoons have strongly recommended that the pair find a professional to help them mend their marriage.
The couple was married on a spring weekend in 1986. Shriver is the niece of President John F. Kennedy. Schwarzenegger is an Austrian movie star made famous by the "Terminator" movies.