Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other troubled Kennedy marriages (PHOTOS).

Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other troubled Kennedy marriages (PHOTOS).

Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other troubled Kennedy marriages (PHOTOS).

What women really think.
May 13 2011 6:55 AM

The Other Kennedy Curse

Has Maria Shriver finally bucked her family's addiction to bad marriages?

Click to launch a slideshow of Kennedy marriages.

When Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger announced their separation earlier this week, after 25 years of marriage, the news was somehow surprising and yet at the same time entirely unsurprising. As amateur students of Kennedy family history well know, the women of the Kennedy family have a history of bad marriages. But they also have a history of suffering through those marriages, even when it means standing by men who've done them wrong.

While the story of why the journalist and the Hollywood-tough-guy-turned-governor-turned-Hollywood-tough-guy finally split hasn't been fully fleshed out, certain anonymously-sourced refrains already feel familiar. "Not being respected by your spouse is a death blow to any marriage, and Maria clearly doesn't feel Arnold has given her the respect she so richly deserves," someone described as a family friend told the Chicago Sun-Times.

What is less familiar is doing something about it. Countless biographies of the Kennedy family bear witness to the same pattern: A Kennedy woman—whether born or married into the clan— watches her marriage cool, usually as a result of infidelity or emotional distance. She grins and bears it. Rose Kennedy, the mother of JFK and his eight siblings, modeled this behavior to her five daughters in the face of her husband Joe's flagrant philandering. But as Doris Kearns Goodwin notes in The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, Rose was only copying her own mother, who was herself married to a man rumored to have a wandering eye (and hands). The family approach, as refined by Rose and distilled by Goodwin: "Suffer in silence rather than take the enormous risk of shattering the entire family and bringing public disgrace."

History is not destiny, of course, and if the Kennedys have endured a striking number of difficult marriages, they have also been married under intense scrutiny. The average-nobody marriage might not look so hot in the pages of a Kitty Kelley book, either. And there are notable exceptions, like the marriage of Maria Shriver's parents, Eunice and Sargent, which appears to have been a loving partnership.

Still, it's worth asking whether, for all these years, our definition of the Kennedy curse, previously focused on assassination, accidents, and addictions, has been too narrow. Perhaps it should have included Kennedy marriages, as well.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years.