One of the best parts of the Obama presidency was witnessing Michelle and President Obama's relationship thrive. Few famous couples (or couples in general) make marriage look as loving and fun as they do, though they'll be the first to admit their relationship takes work like anyone else's. The Obamas' marriage advice ranges from funny to tender, but the common thread through it all is genuinely liking the person you spend your life with.
Many look up to the former first couple's relationship, with their first date even being the subject of the movie Southside With You. Their connection as a couple was clear throughout President Obama's tenure and after, and Michelle's acclaimed memoir Becoming shed even more light on their relationship, including the fact that they went to couples therapy. Both are candid about their love, acknowledging that even the strongest partnerships take hard work. It's inspiring and refreshing for a couple in the public eye, especially one involved in politics, be so honest about marriage, as it reassures people that ups and downs are normal and should be expected in a healthy union.
No one knows the exact key to a happy marriage, but listening to the Obamas thoughts on it can provide some insight on how to make it work. Read on to glean some wisdom from the couple, who will be celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary in October.
1. "In our house, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity, I think, in a marriage." — Michelle Obama
The former First Lady commented on the importance of keeping things light when you can with your partner during an appearance on Live! With Regis and Kelly in 2011, per ABC News. Marriage has so many stressful moments, especially when kids are involved, so learning to laugh at yourselves can make a huge difference. (Especially when your partner has one of the most serious jobs in the world.)
2. "We’ve been married now twenty years, and like every marriage you have your ups and you have your downs, but if you work through the tough times, the respect and love that you feel deepens." — Barack Obama
As Essence reported, President Obama talked about the importance of persistence and patience in a marriage during an interview with Barbara Walters in 2012. Surviving challenges with your spouse can ultimately strengthen your bond, and you'll get to know them in new ways as you face obstacles. At the end of the day, it's about what you can withstand together.
3. "It’s important to marry somebody who is your equal, and to marry somebody and to be with somebody who wants you to win as much as you want them to win." — Michelle Obama
Michelle took the time to talk about the kind of spouse people should look for at 2019's Essence Fest, and her message boils down to looking for a true partner. For her, a marriage based in competition has no chance of working, as your partner needs to be your biggest supporter. Think of them as your cheerleader and teammate all in one.
4. "Even if one builds a life together based on trust, attentiveness and mutual support, I think that it’s important that a partner continues to surprise." — Barack Obama
President Obama talked about the importance of having a partner who keeps things exciting way back in 1996 to the french publication Le Monde, according to Elite Daily. In the interview, he also said that "Sometimes, when we’re lying together, I look at her and I feel dizzy with the realization that here is another distinct person from me, who has memories, origins, thoughts, feelings that are different from my own. That tension between familiarity and mystery meshes something strong between us." Your spouse should be the person you know better than anyone in the world, but that element of mystery can help ensure your life with them is never boring.
5. "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." — Michelle Obama
When Obama was running for president in 2011, the couple appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where Michelle spoke on their marriage. She emphasized the importance of liking your partner, as opposed to the big romantic feelings so often celebrated in movies and books, because that often isn't enough to get you through the hardships of life. It's a strong foundation in respect for the person individually that will carry you through.
6. "...that's what marriage is about. Not the big, splashy stuff. It's just the little day-to-day sharing and routines and rituals that we still have." — Michelle Obama
Michelle also talked about how the small moments can make the most difference in a marriage, reported Glamour. Whether it's watching tv, talking, or taking a walk together, quality time with your partner can make you feel connected. And carving out that time just for the two of you when kids aren't around is crucial.
7. "You will spend more time with this person than anyone else for the rest of your life, and there is nothing more important than always wanting to hear what she has to say about things." — Barack Obama
President Obama echoed his wife's sentiments about really liking your partner in advice he gave to Dan Pfeiffer, the host of Pod Save America. He also talked about the importance of being with someone who makes you laugh and thinking about what kind of parent your partner would make before your get married if you want kids. Both Michelle and Barack encourage couples to think about the small, day-to-day moments of a marriage, as they will make up the big milestones in the long run.
8. "...what keeps me sane, what keeps me balanced, what allows me to deal with the pressure." — Barack Obama
In the same interview with Oprah in 2011, Obama explained that Michelle keeps him centered amid the craziness of their life. No matter who they are, your partner should be the person who enables you to take on life's challenges because of their support and love, rather than an additional obstacle you have to face. They're your teammate for life.
9. "But marriage counseling was a turning point for me, understanding that it wasn't up to my husband to make me happy, that I had to learn how to fill myself up and how to put myself higher on my priority list." — Michelle Obama
As I mentioned earlier, Michelle has also been frank about how helpful marriage counseling can be for couples, especially as they transition into new phases of life. During an appearance on the The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, she talked about how transformative therapy can be, as it allows you to find a way to be independent and connected to your partner. There are a myriad of benefits to couples therapy, and seeking help in your marriage doesn't make it any less strong.
10. "But Barack arrived in my life a wholly formed person. From our very first conversation, he'd shown me that he wasn't self-conscious about expressing fear or weakness and that he valued being truthful." — Michelle Obama
Michelle reiterated the importance of being an independent person in your relationship in Becoming, explaining that part of the reason she knew it would work with Barack was that he knew who he was outside of her. It's common for your marriage to become a big part of your identity, but having a defined sense of self before tying yourself to someone else can actually make your bond stronger, as it allows you both more room to grow. Sometimes you have to work on yourself before you can be ready for a relationship.
11. "You know, the word 'authenticity' is overused these days. 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." — Barack Obama
Talking to Ladies Home Journal in 2012, President Obama spoke on the importance of being genuine with your spouse — and in life. There will be many times throughout your marriage that your partner may need to tell you something you don't want to hear, and you have to be able to trust their judgement. If you can't be honest with your spouse, who can you be honest with?
12. "Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts ... good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don't hurt. They're not painful." — Michelle Obama
Michelle touched on toxic relationships during a speech in 2012, warning against including people in your life who bring you down. Your spouse should always bring positivity to your life, and a partner who makes you feel bad about yourself will only hurt you in the long run. There's a difference between getting through hard times together and someone who creates hardship.
13. "What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character. You hear me? It was his character. It was his decency, his honesty, his compassion and conviction." — Michelle Obama
Liking your spouse as a person independent of you came up for the former First Lady again in a speech she gave at Morgan State University in 2012. Her relationship started because of her admiration of Barack's character, and that love for who he is acts as a foundation in their relationship. It's good to keep in mind that your relationship can't get very far if you don't genuinely like your spouse.
14. "Because I always say, if you're married for 50 years, and 10 of them are horrible, you're doing really good!" — Michelle Obama
Michelle said this statement in a joking tone in the same interview with Jimmy Fallon, but the sentiment rings true. Not every moment of your marriage will be fabulous, but the good should outweigh the bad. And everyone goes through rough patches, so it's important not to be too hard on yourself as you get through it.
15. "Marriage is a choice you make every day. You don’t do it because it’s easy. You do it because you believe in it. You believe in the other person." — Michelle Obama
And finally, Michelle advises couples to see marriage as a choice at 2019's Essence Fest according to Glamour. You can love someone with your whole being, but if you don't choose to put energy into the relationship with them, it won't matter. Marriage can feel impossibly hard, but it's worth it if you really love the person.