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What Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ Teaches Us

On the surface, it would be hard to find a more picture-perfect healthy, happy marriage — especially an uber-public marriage — than Michelle and Barack Obama’s. Despite the temptation to compare our romantic relationships with the curated happy relationships we often see on Instagram and Facebook — and some of us are guilty of that — many of us know that we can’t really judge a romantic relationship on the surface, that we can never really know what goes on behind closed doors. Which is why it’s so important that Michelle Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, gets real about her marriage to the man many people revere. And here’s what she says — it hasn’t always been all that.

Like a lot of people — OK, women — Michelle, a successful corporate lawyer when she met the man who would become her husband and, years later, our president, feared that she would lose herself once she became a wife, especially a wife to a man who had grand ambitions:

I felt like, I need to anchor myself in who I was so I wouldn’t be this woman following this man. I really felt that I could get caught up in his swerving, that I would just become part of his swerve rather then figuring out my own self. So, yes, it was destabilizing but it was a motivator. … So that I didn’t just become his woman, which I knew I didn’t want to be.”

Even a woman as accomplished as Michelle Obama felt destabilized.

Michelle’s ‘irritating and hard’ years

Once the Obamas had wed and their girls were born — she’s candid about her miscarriage and subsequent IVF treatments — she went through a period she considers “irritating and hard,” which just about every partnership goes through after x-number of years together and the birth of children, especially after struggling with infertility.

And yet they got through it. How?

They got marital counseling. As Michelle Obama says to Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts:

Marriage counseling for us was one of those ways where we learned how to talk out our differences. What I learned about myself was that my happiness was up to me. And I started working out more. I started asking for help, not just from him, but from other people. I stopped feeling guilt. I know too many young couples who struggle and think that somehow there’s something wrong with them. And I want them to know that Michelle and Barack Obama, who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other, we work on our marriage. And we get help with our marriage when we need it.”

What to avoid

It’s hard not to look at their marriage and the way they present it and think, I want a marriage like that. At the same time, it’s a well-curated view of their marriage, warts and all. So when we sift though all the PR fluff and buzz about Michelle Obama’s memoir, what’s the takeaway?

For me, it’s this:

  • it’s easy to lose oneself in a relationship, which can lead to resentments and contempt. Don’t do that.
  • it’s easy to expect another person to create our happiness. Don’t do that.
  • it’s easy to feel guilty about having needs — especially if you’re a woman and a mom. Don’t do that.
  • it’s easy to think we can — or (the dreaded) should — do it all ourselves instead of speaking our truth and asking for help. Don’t do that.

Becoming is a wonderful title for a memoir because all of us are becoming who we are — no matter what age and stage of life. It’s a journey. And if we’re in a committed romantic relationship, we have that journey to consider as well as our personal one.

There’s a path to making those journeys work. Actually, there are numerous paths to making those journeys work — we just have to find the right ones for us. (Which is, of course, what The New I Do is all about.)

Want to live your most authentic life within a romantic relationship? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

Originally published at

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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