Michelle Obama reminds us that even the best marriages require continual work. On tour for her just-released memoir, Becoming, she revealed the early years of her 26-year marriage to former President Barack Obama endured multiple strains. They turned to marital counseling, which Michelle paints as an ordinary tool to help marriage partners sort through the normal struggles of married life.
“And I share this because I know that people look to me and Barack as the ideal relationship. I know there’s #RelationshipGoals out there. But whoa, people, slow down—marriage is hard!” Michelle told Oprah Winfrey in an interview. Counseling changed nothing in the marriage except Michelle’s perception of what was happening. That different outlook made her happier.
“Well, you go because you think the counselor is going to help you make your case against the other person. ‘Would you tell him about himself?!’ And lo and behold, counseling wasn’t that at all. It was about me exploring my sense of happiness. 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.”
Michelle describes struggling through daily life with a spouse who had a demanding job that required a lot of travel. “When it came down to it, I felt vulnerable when he was away.”
Counseling helped her learn to express that vulnerability to her husband and learn to love differently, she said. “He didn’t understand distance in the same way. You know, he grew up without his mother in his life for most of his years, and he knew his mother loved him dearly, right? I always thought love was up close. Love is the dinner table, love is consistency, it is presence.”
Marriage united two people who are fundamentally different, and outside help is often needed to sort through those differences. “I know too many young couples who struggle and think that somehow there’s something wrong with them,” Michelle told ABC News. “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.”
By talking about the role of therapy in her own marriage, Michelle Obama is changing the way we view couples counseling from an effort to save a failing marriage into necessary help in building a healthy and lasting relationship.
Counseling can be particularly valuable for couples who, like the Obamas, suffer the pain of a miscarriage. Michelle revealed in an interview with “Good Morning America” that enduring an early miscarriage made her feel “lost and alone.”
“I felt like I failed because I didn’t know how common miscarriages were because we don’t talk about them,” she said. Studies show that 10 percent to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and couple that lose a pregnancy are 22 percent more likely to separate. The Obamas eventually turned to in-vitro fertilization to conceive.
Read More: Michelle Obama Is Still Optimistic