Former first lady Michelle Obama has been more open about her marriage to former President Barack Obama since officially leaving the White House in 2017. In her first book Becoming, she discussed the ups, downs and in-betweens of their union while her husband served as commander-in-chief. Now, in her latest memoir, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, she shares more about what it took to make her 30-year marriage successful.
“This book is my best attempt at offering people – a look into my toolbox: the practices and habits, the people who keep me balanced,” Obama told NPR in a recent interview. Learn more about her philosophy around marriage, parenting, partnerships and more.
Marriage is never 50/50
The Obamas recently celebrated 30 years of marriage, but not all of those years were easy to bear, the mother of two disclosed. Marriage is about understanding that “somebody was always giving way more,” which meant that sometimes she’s had to sacrifice her own career to be her whole self to her husband when he first decided to run for president.
“We have to understand that marriage is never 50/50. Marriage is less like a scale, and more like an abacus – with beads sliding back and forth. Over time, there will eventually be a 50/50 split of attention, support and love, but it’s important to let a relationship be dynamic.”
Don’t ‘quit too soon’
The Chicago native further divulged that culture today hasn’t done a good job of teaching young couples about what it takes to survive in a long-term relationship. She says you should ask yourself these critical questions when you think about leaving.
“What are you trying to get out of this relationship with this other person? Have you thought it through? Are you seeking a wedding or do you want a relationship? Those are two very different things,” she advises. “I think it’s important for us not to glamorize what a partnership feels like because then young people quit too soon. They quit before they’ve really played out the full scenario.”
Raise adults, not children
Parenting was no easy feat for the couple when they first brought Malia, 24, into the world, and their marriage grew even more complicated when Sasha, 21, was born three years later. But she said that learning from her own mother, Marian Robinson, provided her with the insight to be a good mother to her children.
“She always [said] I’m not raising children, I’m raising adults.”
When Obama was a child, she said her mother “made sure we felt heard. She made sure that she took our concerns and issues seriously. We were never treated as kids [who] should be seen and not heard.”
Be your ‘authentic self’
Learning to embrace who you truly are is key to a successful marriage – and more importantly – to a successful love of self, which must be there in order to love your partner the right way, Obama recommends.
Being “the only” person of color or woman in the room felt isolating, she recalled. Whether it was while working as a corporate attorney or serving as First Lady in the White House, being the “only” of her kind could be intimidating.
“When that occurs, you start feeling self-conscious,” Obama says. “You’re carrying that burden rather than focusing on the task at hand. And that makes overcoming all of that just even more difficult.”
She says what worked for her was to quiet her mind and to remind herself about “the power that I have and bring. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to keep telling ourselves: I am going to show up in the world as my authentic self — and that is good enough.”