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Fame, fortune or not: Affairs still happen

Published: May. 20, 2011 at 7:13 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2011 at 6:14 PM EDT
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Seventy-five percent of marriages that end in divorce list infidelity as a factor. (Source: KTRE)
Seventy-five percent of marriages that end in divorce list infidelity as a factor. (Source: KTRE)
After a 25 year marriage, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are separated due to his...
After a 25 year marriage, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are separated due to his affair and resulting child. (Source: WTOC)

(RNN) - Not even 2 1/2 decades of marriage, four children, lavish homes, fancy pedigrees and social status could keep Maria and Arnold together after news broke of an affair and an out-of-wedlock child.

An affair is one of the most difficult challenges a couple can face, and nothing destroys a marriage faster than infidelity. Divorce statistics alone may make one wonder if it's even possible to affair-proof a marriage.

Joan Leary, who owns her own professional counseling service in Birmingham, AL, said the biggest problem in most marriages is communication - or the lack thereof.

In the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, there may have been bigger issues at play - distance, ego, the pressures of fame and elected office - but the foundation of almost every marital problem is communication.

The couple made news this week when Schwarzenegger admitted to the Los Angeles Times that he had fathered a child with a member of his household staff more than 10 years ago.

Infidelity by percentages

2%: Number of children who are the result of affairs.

50-60%: Number of married men who engage in extramarital sex at some time during their relationships.

80%: People who become addicted to an online affair.

75%: Percent of divorces in which cheating is a factor.

25%: Affairs lasting less than a week.

53%: Estimated number of people who will have one or more affairs during their lifetime.

98%: Men who have frequent fantasies about someone other than their partner, but it's not just men. 80 percent of women do it too.

65%: Affairs that ended within the first six months.

45-55%: Married women engage in extramarital sex at some time during their relationship.

57%: People have used the internet to flirt.

3%: Marry the lovers they had the affair with.

90%: Americans who believe adultery is morally wrong.

Source: Various studies.

Mildred Baena worked for the family for 20 years and retired in January. Documents prove that Baena's son with Schwarzenegger was born just days after Shriver gave birth to the couple's youngest child, Christopher.

Birth certificates indicate the Christopher was born Sept. 27, 1997, while Baena's son was born less than week later on Oct. 7.

The news must have been devastating to his wife of 25 years and their children, Katherine, 21; Christina, 19; Patrick, 17; and 13-year-old Christopher.

Shriver moved out of the mansion after the secret was revealed.

"After leaving the governor's office, I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger said in a statement to the Times. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family."

The couple publicly announced their separation on May 9.

They are proof that fame, fortune and status do nothing to insulate a marriage from infidelity.

So what does? Leary offers some suggestions.

Can marriage last through an affair?

"Anything is possible. Couples seem to expect a relationship to be healthy, but the problem really is communication and learning to agree to disagree.

"Communication seems to be the root of everything. Not really hearing or understanding one another, and so there tends to be a lot of mind reading going on. Partners must be active listeners. Achieving clarity in a conversation is extremely important so no misinterpretations are left behind.

"If couples feel therapy could help, it's important to know whether you want to make the marriage work or end it altogether.

Life factors can add stress to a marriage

"A surprising fact is that work and duties in the household can really bring a lot of issues. It's easy to think one person can be responsible for all the chores, but that can get frustrating. Having both a written and verbal contract can really help.

"A lot of common issues seem to be family, sexual, financial and even spiritual. But again, communication is very key in any relationship. Openness and clarity about wants and needs can aid in building strength.

"Couples get busy, and love can't solve all problems. When someone is feeling angry and doesn't voice how they're feeling, resentments can really start to build.

"Weekly check-ins, for example, family meetings can build a bond. Talk about how the week went, rate the relationship, and talk about issues or how things are going well, capture the essence of what is really being said or else it could leads to strings of misunderstandings."

Younger couples seem to be more at risk for affairs.

"A lot of younger couples seem to look at media and think affairs are a way of life, to go outside of a relationship and not really take the sacred vowel of marriage.

"They seem to get tangled in the wedding, but in reality they don't know one another, and after the wedding, it becomes dull and depression sets in.

"With sexuality being so prevalent early on in relationships, couples now seem to do things backward. And instead of getting to know each other first, the physicality of the relationship beats the emotional side.

"With couples that have been married for many years, you start to see problems once the kids leave the nest."

Leary said she believes the definition of marriage has changed over the years. But no matter how devastating the divorce statistics are, she said getting one doesn't have to be a major life failure.

For couples who remained in a long-term marriage, and then decide to divorce, the decision can be more of a life success than failure, she said.

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