Inside Maria Shriver And Arnold Schwarzenegger's Relationship And Divorce

From the time of their marriage in 1985 to their shocking separation 25 years later in 2011, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were near the top of the list of Hollywood's A-list couples. The sheer glamor factor of their careers (per Vanity Fair, Shriver was a prominent news broadcaster, while Schwarzenegger had made a name for himself first as a champion bodybuilder, then as an actor in films like "Terminator") was enough to make them a star couple. But compounding the public intrigue surrounding them were their odd-couple political energy: A niece of President John F. Kennedy, Shriver grew up fully immersed in America's best-known Democratic political dynasty, only to marry a Republican actor who made a moonshot run for governor of California — and won.

As Schwarzenegger attempted to make the bumpy transition from showman to statesman after his election, the public spotlight shone even more brightly on the couple, who were also raising their four children in the public eye. But while they faced rumors of friction in their marriage – not uncommon for celebrity couples — they kept up a unified public front until 2011, when they abruptly announced their separation. This separation, like most of their marriage, appeared amicable, and the couple stayed separated for over 10 years, only finalizing their divorce in 2021.

They were introduced by Tom Brokaw

A possible reason Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were such an intriguing couple was because they seemed so unlikely together — casual observers with a passing knowledge of their life histories would have a hard time imagining what they could possibly have in common. But among the things they did have in common before they met were fame and money, and fame and money often get you invited to any number of high-profile events.

And for Shriver and Schwarzenegger, one of these events was the 1977 RFK Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament, which, as its name suggests, paired celebrities and pros in friendly doubles matches as a charity benefit (per the Washington Post). Shriver's presence there was no surprise, since the event honored her late uncle, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Schwarzenegger was one of many high-profile celebrities on hand. And per People, it was a mutual acquaintance, then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who introduced them to each other. And whether he intended to or not, Brokaw sparked a love affair between the pair that would change the trajectories of their lives.

Caroline Kennedy was the maid of honor at their wedding

The courtship between Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger was no whirlwind romance. Per History, the pair took their time building their relationship, dating for nearly ten years before finally marrying in 1996. During this time, the pair kept up a long-distance romance, with Shriver building her career at CBS News on the East Coast (later moving to NBC) while Schwarzenegger pursued his acting career in Hollywood.

When they finally did marry, their wedding — like their marriage to come — was a high-profile affair. Honoring the Kennedy family's Irish-Catholic roots, the pair was married at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, in Hyannis, Massachusetts, with 500 guests in attendance. (The reception was held, like many Kennedy family celebrations, at the family's compound nearby.) And the bride and groom weren't the only celebrities at the altar: Shriver's maid of honor was her cousin, Caroline Kennedy, while Schwarzenegger's best man was fellow bodybuilder Franco Columbu, a former Mr. Universe.

Maria Shriver wasn't thrilled about her husband's political ambitions

Maria Shriver grew up with a front-row view of the American political process. Per People, as the niece of a president (John F. Kennedy) and two senators (Robert and Edward Kennedy), as well as the daughter of the founder of the Peace Corps, Shriver saw firsthand the pressures of political life and the obligations it imposes on not just office holders, but their families. So when Arnold Schwarzenegger began floating his idea of a gubernatorial run, she wasn't very enthusiastic about the prospect.

"When he told me he was interested, I said I'd spent my whole life getting away from politics," Shriver told Oprah Winfrey (via People). But quashing her husband's dreams didn't hold much appeal for her either. "I realized that if I said no, I'd be stopping my husband from achieving his dream. It was a catch-22," she explained to Winfrey. "So I told Arnold that he should do what he wanted to do ... Two months later, I was the Democratic first lady of a Republican administration."

Maria Shriver had to give up her TV career when her husband became governor

Per Britannica, Maria Shriver had been striving for a career in journalism since the start of her adult life. After graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in American studies, she landed her first journalism job as a writer and producer for a TV station in Philadelphia before moving on to another writer-producer job in Baltimore. She continued to rise through the ranks, becoming a national news correspondent for CBS before being named co-anchor for "CBS Morning News" in 1983.

Her trajectory did not end here, however. Seeking new opportunities, she moved to NBC in 1986, where she served as anchor for "Main Street," a newsmagazine for young adults. From there, she became the Sunday anchor for "Today" and a regular correspondent on "Dateline." But as Vanity Fair noted, her husband's election as governor of California brought her rise through the broadcasting ranks to an abrupt halt: The potential conflicts between her husband's career and her need for journalistic objectivity were unacceptable, and she stepped down from her roles at NBC. But as Vanity Fair notes, while leaving a career she loved was bittersweet, it was her media savvy and insider knowledge of the workings of political campaigns that was largely responsible for Schwarzenegger getting elected in the first place.

Maria Shriver embraced her role as California's first lady

Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor of California was a seismic transition not only for him, but for Maria Shriver. Not only did she have to give up her high-profile career in broadcast journalism, as California's new first lady, she was now, whether she liked it or not, a pivotal and highly visible part of her husband's new political image.

But per Vanity Fair, once she realized the magnitude of her new role, she leaned into it, turning to her predecessors for their advice on how to best use her newly amplified voice. As she recalled to Vanity Fair, Nancy Reagan advised her, "Do what you want. Because no matter what you do, you will be criticized." Shriver decided to focus on women's issues and "give an identity to the 17 million women of California." Among her many projects were reviving the long-neglected California State History Museum with an exhibit on prominent California women, and per the Los Angeles Times, spearheading the annual California Governor's Conference on Women and Families, expanding it into an event that attracted tens of thousands of attendees and celebrity guests.

Accusations of womanizing dogged Arnold Schwarzenegger long before his divorce

When Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver married, he made his devotion to her obvious. Per People, he reassured guests at their wedding, "I love her and I will always take care of her. Nobody should worry." But during his campaign for governor of California — long before reports of infidelity in his own marriage emerged — Schwarzenegger had to face allegations of his inappropriate treatment of women in the past, especially on movie sets. And to his credit, he owned up to his past misdeeds.

"I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful," he told People. "But I now recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize." 

None of this was a deal-breaker for Shriver, who quickly came to her husband's defense. "The Arnold I know ... is a man who cares about people — always has," she told People.

As the couple drifted apart, so did their politics

Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for governor of California raised a lot of eyebrows, and not just because of the unlikely prospect of a former champion bodybuilder leading the nation's most populous state. What really fascinated California political junkies (per the Los Angeles Times) was the question of how his wife, Maria Shriver — a proud member of a staunchly Democratic family — could reconcile her own politics with her personal support of her Republican husband's campaign.

Initially, she handled it with grace and diplomacy. Per Vanity Fair, she focused heavily on the common concerns of those on both sides of the political spectrum, and per People, emphasized that despite his party label, her husband was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. "He is not right wing or not left wing, but makes decisions based on what he thinks is right for all of California," she told People. But over time, their unified front started to crack. In 2008, Shriver actively supported Barack Obama's presidential campaign, while Schwarzenegger publicly endorsed Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain.

Schwarzenegger's affair — and love child — was a deal-breaker for Shriver

During the first part of their marriage, Maria Shriver appeared to navigate smoothly around her differences with Arnold Schwarzenegger — neither their political differences nor his past history of womanizing seemed to be issues in their relationship. But per the Los Angeles Times, the pair seemed to drift apart after Schwarzenegger left the governor's office, travelling separately and engaging in separate, unrelated projects.

But (per the Daily News), for Shriver, the last straw was the confirmation of something she'd long suspected: that Joseph Baena, the son of their longtime housekeeper, Mildred Baena, was in fact fathered by Schwarzenegger, not Baena's husband. As the child matured and his resemblance to Schwarzenegger became increasingly obvious, Shriver became suspicious and confronted Schwarzenegger, who initially denied her allegations. But during a marriage counseling session shortly after leaving office, he was confronted with the question again and finally confessed. "Instead of doing the right thing, I'd just put the truth in a mental compartment and locked it up where I didn't deal with it every day," he wrote in his memoir "Total Recall" (via the Daily News). Regretful as he was, his apology was too little, too late for Shriver. The pair soon separated, and Shriver filed for divorce.

Their four adult children are thriving

No matter what drama unfolded in their own relationship and public lives, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger remained steadfastly dedicated to their four children. "Fatherhood is really the greatest joy," Schwarzenegger told Men's Health (via Parade). "Watching all five of my kids grow into their own successful lives is fantastic. You start to realize, wow, they are really growing up and now it's not just me pumping them up. We are all pumping each other up."

And according to Parade, their now-grown children are thriving in their chosen careers. Oldest daughter Katherine Schwarzenegger is a published author with several books to her name, and is also married to actor Chris Pratt. Their second daughter, Christina Schwarzenegger, followed her mother's footsteps to Georgetown University and collaborated with her mother as co-executive producers for the Netflix documentary on Adderall abuse, "Take Your Pills," based on her own challenges with ADHD and related drugs. Son Patrick Schwarzenegger is a model, and youngest son Christopher Schwarzenegger graduated from the University of Michigan in 2020.

The couple stayed separated for ten years

Just as Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger spent close to a decade dating before marriage (per People), they took an equally long time parting ways. While the pair separated in 2011 and according to the New York Post, each entered subsequent romantic relationships (Shriver with political consultant Matthew Dowd, Schwarzenegger with physical therapist Heather Milligan), they didn't finalize their divorce until 2021. A mutual acquaintance of the pair told the New York Post that Schwarzenegger and Shriver had a close friendship despite their separation, and felt no rush to take the next step. "They have a great relationship, they're very close and take care of the kids, and they see each other a lot," the acquaintance said.

Their reasons for staying in relationship limbo for so long may have been more than sentimental, however. According to the New York Post, the couple did not have a prenup — but as TMZ notes, they did have around $400 million in shared assets. And while TMZ believed the couple to have agreed to split their estate equally, the technical details of divvying it up were complex — and not a problem either Shriver nor Schwarzenegger felt much urgency to address.

A second marriage may be in the cards for Arnold Schwarzenegger

When Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced their divorce at the end of 2021, more than 10 years after they first separated, the first question most observers had was, "Why now?" A mutual acquaintance of the pair shared some plausible theories with the New York Post. Among them, quietly divorcing during the winter holiday season was a good way to keep the matter under everyone's radar and thus avoid a lot of public drama. "You can get things done quietly when people are busy celebrating the holidays," the acquaintance said.

But there may have been another reason as well: Schwarzenegger has been in a steady relationship with physical therapist Heather Milligan since 2013, and the divorce may be a sign he's ready to try marriage again. An acquaintance tells the New York Post that their relationship is serious, and that Milligan has even accompanied Schwarzenegger on visits to Austria, his homeland. The serious nature of the relationship might have been just the motivation he needed to finally put his first marriage behind him.

They still share a bond as parents and grandparents

As noted by the New York Post, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger continued to appear together publicly throughout their separation and after their long-delayed divorce. And the strongest bond remaining between them is their dedication to their children. While Shriver had ample reason to be bitter about Schwarzenegger's infidelity, she never let her hurt color how she treated or talked about him in public. As one of Shriver's former staffers told the New York Post, "Maria's always been respectful of Arnold because he's her [children's] dad. She's never, ever bashed him. All her kids seem to be very close, they're very tight. Family and faith is very important to all of them."

In recent years, Shriver and Schwarzenegger have embraced a new family role together: grandparents. Their oldest daughter, Katherine Schwarzenegger, told Us Weekly in 2020 that both her parents love spending time with her daughter Lyla. "They really love [being grandparents]," she told Us Weekly. "It's such a great and cool new role for both of them to be able to experience. Also, for me as their daughter to watch them in this new role is such a beautiful thing."