It's been said that the only people who know what goes on in a marriage are the two people who are in it, and sometimes, even they're not sure.
The news that the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Maria Shriver 25-year marriage hit a major bump in the road from the former governor's decade-old infidelity and the subsequent child, it is likely the pair is headed toward an uncertain hell.
"This is so very, very, very common," said Dr. Laurie Moore, a licensed family and marriage therapist from Santa Cruz, California, in regards to the number of married couples who struggle through a confessed infidelity.
Dr. Steve Solomon, therapist and author of the book "Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage,”said that he was inspired by the considerable number of couples seeking counseling to save their marriages after infidelity.
Infidelity does not just occur because people don't like their sex lives at home.
"When people marry, they have this ideal of eternal fidelity," said Beth Hedva, a therapist and psychologist from Alberta, Canada. "A breach of that ideal can be cause for great injury, yes."
In her experience, Hedva has found that a man or woman can love his or her spouse very much and still be capable of having an affair. Infidelity is not as uncommon as we like to believe. Its acceptability varies with cultures; its tolerance varies within our circle of friends. "This is not about condemning or condoning that behavior, but what is true," said Hedva.
How common is infidelity?
If you were to go on the Internet and type in the website infidelityfacts.com/infidelity-statistics.html, you will see that the percentage of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, whether it is physical or emotional, is 41 percent.
In "The Monogomy Myth," author Peggy Vaughan reported that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an affair at some point in their marriage. Yet, according to a National Opinion Research Center study on American Sexual Behavior conducted by the University of Chicago, these statistics are often extremely unreliable.
One of the researchers Tom W. Smith wrote, "These studies typically find an extremely high level of extra-marital activity. Pop-sexologist Shere Hite, for example, reported that 70 percent of women married five or more years are having sex outside of their marriage." Scientific surveys, he wrote, indicate that it's more like 15 percent to 18 percent of married people who commit old-fashioned adultery. That may be, but everybody you talk to says nobody tells the truth on those surveys.
The truth is out there but who has it?
According to Dr. Solomon, what should I do first if this happens to me?
1) Don't rush into any big decisions, especially ones that are irreversible.
2) Don't tell your children, especially if they are small. It will only confuse and hurt them.
3) Put yourself first and take care of yourself. You will need to be calm and patient.
What is the worst part?
"Marriage has many obligations," said Donna Bellafiore, a licensed clinical social worker in Delray Beach, Florida. "Sexual fidelity is a fundamentally important part of that trust that has been broken, but the whole has been affected. Everything is questioned, then, about the marriage, if the faithfulness was not kept. What was real? Was I a fool? The impact is like a death. The grieving is like a death. Nothing was what it appeared. That is what has to be healed."
How will I feel?
"There is usually sadness, anger, hurt, betrayal and a lack of self-esteem on the part of the one betrayed," therapist Moore said. "But there is also a lack of self-respect and self-esteem and a sense of remorse for the betrayer. Lot of work there."
Who has to be healed?
Both parties will have to take an active responsibility to say what they want, Moore said. "We ask: What do we want to create? What do we want to release? What do we want to transform?"
What are the chances of keeping the marriage together?
“This is an opportunity for deep healing,” Hedva said. In her practice, one-third try to clean their conscience and to try again as a couple. A second third use the infidelity as a way to get out of the relationship. And the last third is actively trying to regain the trust in the relationship, which is the first step to move forward.
Finally, what should we do about Arnold and Maria?
In marriage counseling, Dr. Moore said, it helps immensely if the victimized partner realizes how imperfect they are as well. "When we offer ourselves up with some humility," she said, "we apportion less blame to others." Remember, no one is perfect.
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