Maria Shriver says she completely reevaluated her life after her split from Arnold Schwarzenegger and their subsequent divorce.
The Emmy-winning journalist, best-selling author and member of the famed Kennedy clan, 67, appeared on the Making Space with Hoda Kotb podcast to discuss her “continual quest to learn about myself.” She said after her 2011 separation from The Terminator star and former California governor, she visited a convent as part of healing journey and got sage advice. She also spoke about feeling “invisible” during her marriage — something she felt throughout her life within her famous family.
Shriver, who split from 75-year-old Schwarzenegger, with whom she shares four children, after he admitted he fathered their housekeeper’s teenage child, said when her marriage ended, it gave her the “freedom” to do some soul searching and “go and figure out” her truth.
“I did so many things,” on that journey. But one … was I went to a convent, a cloistered convent … to be in silence and look for advice, said Shriver, who was raised Catholic. “The reverend mother there … she said, ‘I think you came here looking for permission.'”
She said it felt like “a scene out of The Sound of Music… She goes, ‘You can’t come live here … but you do have permission to go out and become Maria.’ I was, like, sobbing… I had never given myself permission to … be vulnerable, to be weak, to be brought to my knees. And the world did it to me. And then I was like, ‘OK, God, let’s go. And I’m going to take this and learn everything I can about my role and what I need to learn … When the universe knocks you like that, I think you have to not focus on the other person [but] … what do you learn from this experience? So I gave myself permission to start learning.”
“I did everything that was available that I could find to heal myself. I still look at myself as on a healing journey,” she said, adding, “I will never abandon myself again.”
Shriver, who is “single” while her ex has been in a relationship with physical therapist Heather Milligan since 2013, said she felt “invisible” in her marriage with Schwarzenegger — a feeling that plagued her throughout her life.
“I grew up feeling invisible in an incredibly public, famous family,” said Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Shriver, was the sister of former President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy. “There were a lot of really big characters in that family … If you, as a child, are standing next to the president of the United States, two U.S. senators, the first lady, nobody’s looking at you. You are background noise. And you take that with you really through life, and you end up putting yourself in situations where that continues until you learn your lesson.”
The lesson, she said, was, “That it’s not about other people seeing you. It’s about you seeing yourself. And that took me a really long time, a really long time to learn.”
When she married Schwarzenegger in 1986, “I would find myself getting angry at people who … didn’t acknowledge that I existed when I was standing next to Arnold… or my uncle.” Now she sees, “They were teaching me a lesson. That it’s not about whether they see me. Do I see me? Am I visible to me?”
She talked about getting together with the Austrian bodybuilder turned actor in 1977 after an intro by NBC News’s Tom Brokaw. Her family had reservations — and expressed them.
“I grew up in this big Democratic family,” she said. “I was taught to believe that people who were Republicans were the enemy and then I fell in love with a Republican.”
Shriver said she “could see people in my family having judgments about the person I was choosing” because he “hadn’t gone to the same kind of schools that people I grew up with [did and] wasn’t the same political party and wasn’t this and wasn’t that… Then I moved to Los Angeles and my family was like: ‘Oh my god.’ … My mother was like: ‘You’re in Hollywood and that’s terrible.’ I was like, ‘Is it?’ … I feel blessed to have had obviously the parents that I had,” she said, also referring to Sargent Shriver, “but they’re very different than me” despite also sharing many similarities.
Shriver said some of her self-growth was also in making an effort to “be a different kind of mother” and a “different kind of wife” than hers was as well as generally “a different kind of woman.”
“I wanted to have a different kind of marriage than my parents did,” she said. I wanted to have a different kind of life that my parents did and the ending of all of that definitely sent me on a journey to reevaluate everything in my life. Every aspect of my life. How I had gotten where I was? What was my role in it? What could I do better? What had I done that put me in that place? … I looked at everything.”
Today, “I’m moving through the world in a different place and a different way than I was 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” she said.
Shriver said growing up she wasn’t able to talk to her parents about a lot of things. There had been two assassinations in her family. There was a lot they were going through that was never spoken about and it had a “detrimental” impact on her. As an adult, she sought a journalism career that was “chaotic.” She’s since looked at and asked, “Why was I attracted to chaos? … I actually wrote myself a poem [about being] addicted to chaos … to show myself that it was me and that I could take myself out of it.”
With her now adult kids, she sees her home as a “fueling station” for them, where they can come back at any time and get food, love, encouragement and truth.
She said her children’s relationships — including daughter Katherine’s marriage to Chris Pratt — is “so radically different that my generation” as far as “what people expect in a spouse or a partner today.” It’s also “very different from than I went into [in my] marriage.”
Her role as mother is one she’s most proud of.
“I always said to myself… I knew that my kids would end up in therapy at some point but I knew that they wouldn’t able to say: ‘She wasn’t there,'” she said. “They could say she was this, this or this, but I didn’t want them to say I had chosen something over them. I wanted them to know they were my priority and I wanted them to feel that.”
Shriver and Schwarzenegger separated in 2011 and took 10 years to finalize their divorce, which was complete in December 2021. Since their split, they have publicly appeared together at events in support of their children’s projects.