(Photo: Reuters / Jason Reed)
Arnold Schwarzenegger's confessed infidelity complicates an already troubled marriage but does not doom it to divorce, say Christian marriage counselors.
The former California governor told The Los Angeles Times that he and wife Maria Shriver separated after he confessed to an affair with a longtime staff member. Schwarzenegger fathered a child as a result of the affair, the LA Times reported.
The affair allegedly occurred before Schwarzenegger first ran for office. Both he and the staff member tried to cover up the affair. The woman had initially said that her then husband was the child's father. Schwarzenegger, according to the LA Times, has been keeping up with his financial obligations to the child born out of wedlock.
Schwarzenegger confessed the truth in January following the end of his second term in office.
"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago. I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family," he said in a statement to the LA Times.
Shriver, 55, responded Tuesday, saying, "This is a painful and heartbreaking time."
The staff member, who had worked for the family for 20 years, retired in January. She said she voluntarily left her position with the couple.
"I wanted to achieve my 20 years, [and] then I asked to retire," she said, adding she received a severance package and "left on good terms with them."
The news seemingly rocked Shriver, a former television anchor, who launched a YouTube video a month before her April 26 wedding anniversary asking viewers for advice on handling a transition.
Last week, the couple's publicist announced the famed couple’s separation in a statement saying, "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. At this time, we are living apart while we work on the future of our relationship."
News of this messy affair adds a new layer of complication to Schwarzenegger and Shriver's marriage.
Dr. Juli Slattery, family psychologist at Focus on the Family, confirmed this, saying infidelity is a serious concern when it comes to marriage.
"Infidelity is taken so seriously by God because it's a breach of the promise that you make, it's a breach of trust," she explained. "No marriage can really operate without having that basic trust that you are committed to being faithful to me."
Infidelity is a legitimate cause for divorce, according to the Bible.
Slattery acknowledged this point but also stated, "A lot of times in the church, because the Bible allows for divorce after infidelity, we think that means there has to be a divorce after infidelity and that's not true."
Whether or not a couple can reconcile after an infidelity depends on whether or not the offending partner is repentant and willing to work towards rebuilding trust, Slattery noted.
"If the person is really willing to rebuild trust, [then] especially from a Christian perspective, I do believe that God calls us to show a kind of forgiveness and unconditional love," she said.
In Schwarzenegger's statement about the affair, he said, "I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused." He also stated that he has apologized to his wife, children and family.
The earlier joint statement also informed the public that the couple is working on the marriage.
Slattery affirmed that marriages can overcome infidelity. "There are a lot of marriages that have recovered from infidelity and are very strong today."
Jay Laffoon said if Schwarzenegger and Shriver want to be one of those couples that have recovered from an affair, then both spouses must come together and clear their schedules.
Shriver allegedly moved out of the family's Brentwood mansion following the confession. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has maintained a public profile with speaking engagements and reportedly signing a deal to star in the drama "Cry Macho." His reps at CAA also are shopping a package for a new Terminator sequel.
Laffoon, who counsels married couples with his wife Laura through Celebrate Ministries, said married partners' priorities should be God first, spouse second, children third, work fourth.
"You really have to set aside time to work on your marriage, maintain your marriage and when you do, the benefits are huge," he told The Christian Post.
Once the couple has reunited in the home, he recommended that they set time aside regularly to talk, date each other again and sort through the problems that caused the split in the first place.
Overall, Slattery said the two must recognize that reconciliation is not a one-day decision, but a process. Part of this process, she said, is to uncover why Schwarzenegger cheated in the first place.
Gossip site TMZ reported that Shriver was "extremely unhappy" in their marriage for years and faulted the fact that the couple spent "very little time together."
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 traveled to Sacramento regularly to tackle problems such as the state's debt ridden-economy.
Shriver, a successful news reporter until 2007, also busied herself with efforts to overhaul the California Museum and organize a popular annual women's conference as the state's first lady.
Absences in communication, physical intimacy and forgiveness can cause marriages to crack, said Slattery.
In discovering the source of infidelity, the cheating spouse must assume the added "burden of proof" of demonstrating to the spouse that he or she can be trusted again, Slattery added.
She strongly recommended that couples willing to work through an infidelity seek the guidance of a pastor, counselor or, at the very least, a mentoring couple that has had a similar experience.