When it comes to #couplesgoals, Barack and Michelle Obama are often one of the first duos to come to mind.
Few famous couples (or couples in general) make marriage look as loving and fun as they do,. The former president and First Lady have been long admired for their mutual respect, lockstep partnership and unflappable bond. Their love story was even made into a feature film (and if you haven’t seen Southside With You, grab a tissue and stream it now on Amazon Prime).
But as rock solid as the two have appeared from the outside, the 44th president got deeply personal in his upcoming memoir “A Promised Land,” and opened up about how his time in the White House put a strain on his marriage.
“Whether it was my around the clock absorption with work or the way politics exposed our family to scrutiny and attacks or the tendency of even friends or family members to treat her role as secondary importance,” he wrote of his wife of 28 years.
The toll the presidency took on the couple’s dynamic didn’t go unnoticed by the former Illinois senator.
“[There were nights] laying next to Michelle in the dark I think about those days when everything between us felt lighter when her smile was more constant and out love less encumbered and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.”
This is the first time the former president delved deeply into his private family matters. Michelle, with whom he shares daughters Malia, 22 and Sasha, 19, previously shed more light on their relationship in her own 2019 memoir “Becoming.” Reassuring that ups and downs are normal and should be expected in a healthy union, Michelle admitted that they attended couple’s counseling to deal with challenges they faced in their marriage.
“Sometimes you need an objective person to just hear you out,” she said. “If I’m going to show up equal in this partnership, I have to be able to make myself happy and so I had to stop focusing on what he wasn’t doing and start thinking about how to carve out the life that I wanted for myself, with or without Barack.
At the 2019 Essence Festival, The New York Times bestselling author sat in discussion with her friend, journalist Gayle King, and reflected on her envied union even further.
“There are a lot of young couples that look up to me and Barack,” she said. “We’re hashtag relationship goals. And young couples think, all they see of us are the fist bumps and love….Marriage is work, marriage is hard. But like a man, he was like, ‘Are you sure you want to talk about this?”
Michelle advised people to be cautious of the man or woman who wants the easy parts of a relationship.
“Equality is not just measured in terms of the wallet. Equality in terms of the value that they carry. Honesty is the beginning, middle and the end. I wouldn’t want to be bothered with someone I couldn’t trust on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It’s not just about how much money they make or title. Someone could have the right salary, but the wrong heart.”
The future First Couple met when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago. Michelle was assigned to mentor Barack while he was a summer associate and their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her. The couple’s first date was to Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do the Right Thing. Barack Obama has said that the couple had an “opposites attract” scenario in their initial interest in each other, since Michelle had stability from her two-parent home while he was “adventurous.” They married on October 3, 1992.
“You know, the word ‘authenticity’ is overused these days,” Barack Obama said to Ladies Home Journal in 2012. “But I do think it captures what folks are looking for — not just in leaders, but also in friends and in coworkers — and that is, folks who are on the level. People like that tell you what they think and don’t have a bunch of hidden motives. That’s who Michelle is.”
The Obama family lived on Chicago’s South Side and in 1996, Barack was elected to the state senate and then the U.S. Senate in 2004. Throughout her husband’s 2008 campaign for President, Michelle made a “commitment to be away overnight only once a week – to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day” for their two daughters. Once inside the White House that strong family never wavered and at its core, was the commitment and love between Barack and Michelle.
“It has to be a true partnership, and you have to really, really like and respect the person you’re married to because it is a hard road. I mean, that’s what I tell young couples,” Michelle has said. “Don’t expect it to be easy, melding two lives and trying to raise others, and doing it forever. I mean that’s a recipe made for disaster, so there are highs and lows. But if in the end you can look him in the eye and say, “I like you.”
The fact that the Obamas have been so candid in acknowledging that even the strongest partnerships take hard work is not only inspiring but totally refreshing. They will forever be the First Couple.