Close your eyes and think about #RelationshipGoals. Who's the first couple you imagine? I'm willing to put money on the fact that it's Barack and Michelle Obama. They look like the epitome of a deeply loving, supportive, long-term marriage. In her new memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama's quotes about marriage counseling with Barack Obama illuminate so much about their bond — and show that it's absolutely normal and common for people to struggle even within the most outwardly smooth relationships.
Michelle graced the cover of ELLE's December issue and sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an interview that touched on the early years of her iconic relationship, the life-changing lessons she learned in marriage counseling, and what it's really like to be married to Barack.
She explained that she and Barack chose to enter counseling together due in part to his busy schedule as a politician.
When you get married and have kids, your whole plan, once again, gets upended. Especially if you get married to somebody who has a career that swallows up everything, which is what politics is. Barack Obama taught me how to swerve. But his swerving sort of — you know, I’m flailing in the wind. And now I’ve got two kids, and I’m trying to hold everything down while he’s traveling back and forth from Washington or Springfield. He had this wonderful optimism about time. [Laughs] He thought there was way more of it than there really was. And he would fill it up constantly. He’s a plate spinner — plates on sticks, and it’s not exciting unless one’s about to fall. So there was work we had to do as a couple. Counseling we had to do to work through this stuff.
According to Michelle, she had expected that their counselor would ask Barack to shape up. But instead, therapy became a tool for her, too, to dig introspectively and to grow into her best self.
Well, you go because you think the counselor is going to help you make your case against the other person. 'Would you tell him about himself?!' And lo and behold, counseling wasn’t that at all. It was about me exploring my sense of happiness. What clicked in me was that I need support and I need some from him. But I needed to figure out how to build my life in a way that works for me.
In her 26 years of marriage, she's learned two other crucial lessons: how to express her vulnerability and broaden her understanding of what love looks like.
I feel vulnerable all the time. And I had to learn how to express that to my husband, to tap into those parts of me that missed him — and the sadness that came from that — so that he could understand. He didn’t understand distance in the same way. You know, he grew up without his mother in his life for most of his years, and he knew his mother loved him dearly, right? I always thought love was up close. Love is the dinner table, love is consistency, it is presence. So I had to share my vulnerability and also learn to love differently. It was an important part of my journey of becoming. Understanding how to become us.
Michelle showed great strength and vulnerability by giving people a realistic portrayal of what it really takes to make a long-term partnership work. Even seemingly "perfect" couples go through challenges, but that doesn't mean those relationships are lesser or tarnished — it's just the opposite. Michelle showed that working through those challenges as a team is the truest marker of love.