Since Barack Obama left office as the President of the United States, you might think he and his family had no more surprises to offer. However, thanks to Michelle Obama, this family keeps on dropping our jaws to the ground!
While doing press for her memoir, Becoming, Michelle spilled a lot of tea about Barack and their relationship. And the biggest surprise of all was that the two of them had to go to marriage counseling at one point.
It’s a shocker because this power couple is often presented as the perfect relationship. What, then, could disrupt the perfect marriage and send them to a counselor?
Let’s delve into the truth of why Barack and Michelle Obama went to marriage counseling and what they learned from it.
How Barack and Michelle Obama met
In terms of how they met, Barack and Michelle Obama have a pretty standard love story. But it’s a little telling that Michelle initially thought it was a bit “tacky.”
At 25, Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson) worked at a law firm as an attorney. Eventually, she got a pretty unique task: to serve as a mentor to a 28-year-old Barack Obama, who was at that time a law student.
Barack was definitely hot for teacher, and he ended up asking her out about a month later. While Michelle had some misgivings, she eventually agreed to a first date where they went to a museum. And a mere two years later, the two of them got married.
On paper, what followed was absolutely perfect. They enjoyed adorable children, rising fame, and Barack’s eventual status as the most powerful person in the world. Years after leaving the White House, though, Michelle spilled the beans on their marriage problems.
Michelle wanted to ‘fix’ Barack Obama
If you’ve ever been to couples therapy, you know it’s a rookie mistake to think that only one person needs to change. Unfortunately, this was a mistake that Michelle ended up making.
In fact, she summed it up nicely when speaking with Jimmy Fallon in 2018. According to Michelle, she thought, ‘I’m taking you to marriage counseling so you can be fixed, Barack Obama. Because I was like, ‘I’m perfect.'”
She soon discovered that counseling was about mutual compromise and mutual change.
“You go because you think the counselor is going to help you make your case against the other person,” Michelle told Oprah in 2018. “And lo and behold, counseling wasn’t that at all.”
Next, we’ll discuss the issues that marriage counseling revealed Michelle needed to address.
The dangers of co-dependence
Counseling was an eye-opener for Michelle Obama regarding several things. And one of the big revelations was that she was developing a kind of co-dependent relationship with Barack.
Despite her own impressive education (like Barack, Michelle is Harvard-educated) and inspiring career, Michelle eventually ended up putting Barack’s needs ahead of her own. While that was a helpful instinct when he was running for president and needed her support, it’s not a good foundation for a happy relationship.
“[Marriage counseling] was about me exploring my sense of happiness and my voice ― the notion that you come to a relationship whole and that I couldn’t look to Barack and he couldn’t look to me to be everything,” Michelle told Oprah. “We had to make our everything on our own. 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.”
The necessity of boundaries
So far, we’ve been focusing merely on Michelle and Barack as a couple. But as their family grew, this affected the overall dynamic of their marriage.
In that same interview with Oprah, Michelle described Barack as “this swerving dervish of a person.” Instead of trying to keep up with Barack, Michelle turned the equation around. She decided that she would be the one who set boundaries for things like the children’s behavior. And as for Barack, he would simply “catch up” to those boundaries.
It’s a subtle thing, but it highlights the need for true equality between them. One person may be too busy to focus on family matters. It then becomes his responsibility to play catch up!
Putting Michelle Obama first
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Michelle Obama is actually a big fan of marriage counseling. She told Jimmy Fallon it was “a turning point” and that it helped her “learn how to fill myself up and how to put myself higher on my priority list.”
This goes hand-in-hand with not focusing entirely on her husband’s needs and career. Counseling helped Michelle realize that if she never filled herself up with her own happiness, she wouldn’t have anything left.
The struggle continues
Most people think of counseling as a one-time fix. They see a relationship as damaged or even broken and look to counseling to make it whole again.
However, Michelle Obama was quite blunt when speaking to Jimmy Fallon. She said, “Even the best marriages require work” and that some days will be better than others. She even went so far as to say, “If you’re married for 50 years and 10 of them are horrible, you’re doing really good.”
Ultimately, Michelle helps highlight that counseling is merely one way to work on communicating needs to a partner. But continuing to communicate in a way that makes each other happy is the work of a lifetime for any successful marriage.
“I know that people look to me and Barack as the ideal relationship,” Michelle told Oprah. “I know there’s #RelationshipGoals out there. But whoa, people, slow down — marriage is hard!”