Two months ago, Maria Shriver posed the question herself in a YouTube video: “How do you deal with transitions in your life?”
In the last two years, she had lost her parents, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, and her uncle Ted Kennedy. Her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger had been essentially run out of Sacramento after a disappointing term as California governor, and he was returning to action movies at age 63.
Shriver, 55, found herself with four children growing up and going off to college and no full-time job. She was no longer First Lady. Her TV news career had been put on hold for seven years while Schwarzenegger was in the statehouse.
“Everything she knows has been moving out from under her,” a longtime friend tells PEOPLE. “She has been keeping this very quiet. I don t know what she is going to do next; everything at the moment is on hold.”
Everything, including her 25-year marriage.
Late Monday, whispers that one of the most famous Hollywood/political couples had been leading separate lives for weeks and perhaps months were finally confirmed: “We are living apart,” they said in a joint statement that spoke to the fact they both were at a crossroads.
“This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us,” they said.
Although Schwarzenegger has faced allegations of misbehavior toward women, friends insist there’s no third-party, no smoking gun.
“I don’t think there was anything calculated about the timing,” says a source close to the couple. “For seven years, they both took their jobs very seriously – he as Governor and she as First Lady – and they were very, very busy. They weren’t concerned with how things look in the public eye. Whatever decision they made was after careful thought and through prayer and they did what they truly thought was right for themselves and their children.”
Sources say the separation was decided upon recently, and photographs in the last week show them both without wedding bands. It appeared that in the end, despite their wealth, fame and privilege, they are facing the same challenges and problems of many others.
“It s common for marriages at this point, where they are going through so many different things, to reach a period where they have to work harder at that marriage and work on it in their own way,” says another source. “It’s obviously very hard for him. He is doing the best he can. He s a very optimistic person. He loves her dearly. They are working on this together.”
Their split comes after an improbable love story between a member of the Democratic Kennedy dynasty and the Republican bodybuilder/action star from Austria. And those who know them say they’ll rely on their faith and commitment to family – and will bounce back.
“She will make something of herself again,” says a source close to her. “She is fantastic and smart and very motivated.”
• Reporting by LORENZO BENET, CHAMP CLARK, ELIZABETH LEONARD and LIZ McNEIL