Former California Goveror Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, in Los Angeles on February 18, 2011. The couple just announced that they are separating after 25 years of marriage. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
When Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that they were separating after 25 years of marriage, some wondered if politics had anything to do with it—not just because the two are firmly planted on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but because of the complications that come with being the wife of a famous politician.
Michelle Obama put her legal career on hold to support her husband in his efforts, and has been candid about the compromises she made in her personal and family life in order to be first lady. Hillary Rodham Clinton put her own political aspirations on hold—some might say unsuccessfully—while her husband rose through the political ranks. The stresses of political life led Betty Ford and Kitty Dukakis down the road to addiction. Would it be a surprise if politics were the home wrecker here?
Shriver is no stranger to life in the political limelight: Her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics and was the sister of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy; her father, Sargent Shriver, founded the Peace Corps and was a former vice presidential candidate.
She married Schwarzenegger in 1986, nine years after her family invited the Austrian-born body builder and movie star to play in a celebrity tennis tournament. But a political career for the actor was not an obvious path for his future at the time. Seventeen years later, Shriver made no secret of the fact that she was upset with Schwarzenegger's plan to run for governor of California in 2003.
"My experience with politics was one of loss," Shriver told Oprah Winfrey in an interview in 2008. "I'd learned early on that political life was about constant travel and being surrounded by 50 people in the house, and either you lose or you get assassinated. So I wanted nothing to do with that."
Arnold Schwarzenegger poses with his bride, Maria Kennedy Shriver, after their wedding on April 25, 1986. (AP file photo)
But, as Shriver bluntly admitted, she was not very happy about it.
"I was surprised by the fact that he was even running," Shriver said in her interview with Oprah. "I was surprised that I was suddenly the first lady of California. I was surprised that I lost my job. This all happened in 60 days."
After more than 20 years as a broadcast journalist, NBC news became reluctant to put her on the air because of her husband's political career; if she reported on a story, it could be seen as the news network's endorsement of her husband. In 2004, Shriver gave up her job with NBC News, saying that she could not juggle a journalism job with her new political duties.
"It has become clear to me that as I try to move forward and balance my career as a news journalist with my new role as first lady of California, my journalistic integrity and that of NBC News will be constantly scrutinized," Shriver said in a statement at the time. She was 48 years old, the mother of four children, a Democratic first lady in a Republican administration. Once again, her life was in transition.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver celebrate victory in the recall election (Photo: Chris Weeks/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
Instead, she decided not to return to journalism, and made the most out of her role as the reluctant first lady of California by spearheading initiatives for women around the world. She led the California Governor and First Lady Conference on Women (also called The Women's Conference) for seven years, created Architects of Change to inspire women, launched the Minerva Awards to honor women in California, and started the WE Connect program to help working families—and those are just a few of her pet projects.
As Shriver once told Oprah, "Politics is about competition, policy, and inspiration, but it's also about appearances." That could explain why the couple waited to announce their separation until after Schwarzenegger's last term as governor was over, in spite of gossip reports that she's been wanting to leave him since 2009 and after years of rumors of his infidelity.
Schwarzenegger's term ended in January. In February, he announced that he is ready to return to the silver screen. Shriver, on the other hand, recently told Katie Couric that she doesn't know what her next step will be.
When asked if she was looking forward to leaving the governor's mansion, Shriver replied: "I'm sad that it's ending. I'm scared to death, actually, because I don't know what I'm going to do. That's the first time since college that I haven't had a job, so it's the beginning of a whole new journey for me, and I don't know where it's going."
"I'm going to rock what I've got and hope someone will give me a job!" she added.
On March 28, Shriver uploaded a YouTube video asking her fans for advice. "I'd like to hear from other people who are in transition," she says. "How did you get through it?"
"As long as I was trying to anticipate what people wanted from me, as long as I was trying to fulfill other people’s expectations, I was in a losing game," Shriver said in 2007, during her speech at the annual Women's Conference. "You can spend the rest of your life trying to measure up, trying to figure out what other people expect from you and trying to fulfill their expectations of you. Or, right now, you can make a decision to let all that go."