Michelle Obama: There were 10 years where I couldn’t stand my husband

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is on her press tour promoting her book, The Light We Carry. Considering how raw her interviews are, I can only imagine how far she goes in her book. It’s not that she says anything terrible, though. Much of what she’s saying is pretty relatable. It’s just that people don’t say this stuff out loud usually. Especially when they’re talking about their husband who happens to be one of the most popular men in the country. While speaking with Kelly Rowland, H.E.R., Winnie Harlow and Tina Knowles-Lawson on Revolt TV, Michelle said there was a full decade that she couldn’t stand her husband, former POTUS Barack Obama. And while that’s pretty shocking to hear, it becomes less shocking when she revealed it was when their daughters Sasha and Malia were young and both Michelle and Barack were trying to balance raising the kids and their high-powered careers.

Former first lady Michelle Obama has said she “couldn’t stand” her husband for a decade while the couple’s children were young.

In frank comments to the Black news station Revolt TV last week, Obama – one of the most popular women in America – said that raising children had put strains on her three-decade marriage to Barack Obama, the US president for two four-year terms beginning in 2009.

“People think I’m being catty by saying this – it’s like, there were 10 years where I couldn’t stand my husband,” she told a round-table forum. “And guess when it happened? When those kids were little.”

Obama, 58, was speaking with Kelly Rowland, H.E.R., Winnie Harlow and Beyoncé’s mother Tina Knowles-Lawson, about an imbalance in her marriage to Barack Obama while his political star was ascending and she was primarily looking after their daughters, Sasha and Malia, who are now in their 20s.

“And for 10 years while we’re trying to build our careers and, you know, worrying about school and who’s doing what and what, I was like, ‘Ugh, this isn’t even,’” Obama said. “And guess what? Marriage isn’t 50/50 – ever, ever.

“There are times I’m 70, he’s 30. There are times he’s 60, 40, but guess what?” she continued. “Ten years – we’ve been married 30. I would take 10 bad years over 30 – it’s just how you look at it. And people give up … [saying], ‘Five years – I can’t take it.’”

[From The Guardian via Just Jared]

I’ve said this before, but I have a friend who said raising kids is what broke up her first marriage. Remember that Michelle was a lawyer when she met Barack and after they married, she worked in city government as well as heading up the nonprofit Public Allies. And then she got into her hospital work, all of which were executive positions. So it’s not like there’s any reason Michelle should have automatically been the primary caregiver when the girls were younger, especially since she made more money once Barack went into politics. The only default qualifier is that she’s the mom so that makes her the one who has to raise the kids. In which case, I can understand her resentment. My guess is it wasn’t a huge surprise, though. When your husband decides to run for Congress, you probably know what you’re signing up for. That’s probably why she settled for 10 years of umbrage rather than ditching the marriage, she anticipated some of it. I’m not saying that makes it right, just that she probably expected it.

As for Michelle sticking it out for 10 years while others might abandon ship after five, folks need to do what’s best for them. Like Michelle said, she’s happy with her percentages, 20 good – probably great – years and 10 not-great years. But for others, five years might be enough to snap the twig and bailing is a perfectly acceptable option. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the magic back. Michelle and Barack may be lucky or maybe they worked like hell to overcome those bad years. I’m sure Barack spent most of their post-White House years making up for everything Michelle had to sacrifice for his career. But some partners never acknowledge the other person’s sacrifices, nor do they ever close the gap to find a 50/50 balance in the marriage. My point is, I don’t think it’s fair to say people “give up” on their marriage when they’ve been expected to carry the brunt of the family care. Sometimes it’s self-preservation or the best thing for the family dynamic to acknowledge the marriage isn’t working. Maybe that’s what Michelle is saying too.

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51 Responses to “Michelle Obama: There were 10 years where I couldn’t stand my husband”

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  1. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Michelle has been open about this before and said they were in counseling while they were in the White House. I have a feeling, knowing Barack’s career was going to “end,” made things more bearable and her able to stick it out. In a way, a time limit on a job or a pursuit might be a saving grace for many marriages.

    • Yup, Me says:

      Barack also talks, in his books, about how he was away for work a lot when the girls were really little and then he was coming home; basically being a bum (likely fried from the work week and with no concept of how fried Michelle was from working AND parenting).

      I’ve thought, for YEARS, about him casually mentioning how she had to start getting up at 4:45 or 5:45 to go to the gym and just leaving the girls with him because he was hella checked out.

  2. IForget says:

    I adore Michelle. I love her candour in this.

    I’m not having kids, and this is part of the reason why. Mainly it’s because of trauma, a horrific childhood, etc. However, my identity and time to myself are so important. I love kids, I love babies, and I love being an aunt. But I need time to myself, otherwise I lose myself so easily.

    Parenthood isn’t for everyone, and I think it’s great when parents, particularly mothers, are brutally honest about it. Some of my friends who had childhoods like mine, went on to become parents and said it was the best decision they ever made, made their relationship with their SO even stronger and richer, etc. But they went into it with eyes open, knowing how badly it can go. I love Michelle for highlighting this.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      I’m similar. I love being an aunt & I love being able to see my friends’ kids grow up. It’s a privilege to know them & I think kids benefit from having non-parent adults in their lives. But I definitely need time with myself.

  3. ChillinginDC says:

    I think she was saying that you are never going to have it all and most marriages are not 50/50. I honestly think that’s true. I mean we mock having it all now. But so many women in the 90s and early 2000s were going on and on about having it all.

    I read a lot of Dear Prudence and I notice there are a lot of women who will write in complaining about their husbands not doing housework, picking up the kids, etc. And I always want to know if they have enough cash to toss some money at it. I bring that up because women in the work place have so much going on, but I think we often have these weird expectations that we must do everything and get mad when our husbands or partners are “not doing enough.”

    I also read her first book and it drove her crazy how messy Barack was. I can see her being very organized and getting tired of picking up after him.

  4. Woke says:

    I completely get what Michelle is saying and at the same time I’m just rolling my eyes. We have enough of these kind of stories we don’t need to hear it, it’s just so typical men’s ambition get prioritized and it’s the women that suffer.

    • cws says:

      I find her reasoning abhorrent: Understand your man and his strengthens.
      So, you have to do everything because he isn’t good at changing diapers? Or you have to do more so he can go to the gym?

      • Kingston says:

        Some weird hop-skipping-and-jumping you did to get to that conclusion, LOL

      • AMA1977 says:

        I say this as someone who will be married 18 (mostly happy) years in a couple of months, with two school-age kids. It’s good to be clear-eyed about your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and to do what you can to mitigate them. It’s also healthy to be DONE at times. Been there, done that. My mother (married 50 years last year to my father) told me once that the longevity of their marriage was mostly due to them not both being over it at the same time.

        The hardest time in our marriage was after the birth of our oldest. We were both exhausted, resentful, and thought we were doing WAY more than the other. It passed, we figured it out, and I am grateful that it was just a season. We’ve had a couple other “rough patches” along the way (most recently Pandemic Year 2) but have come through stronger and better than before.

        I feel Michelle on this. It’s a slog when the kids are little and you’re both working on career advancement. I suspect it’s also a slog when one parent works outside the home and one is the primary at-home caregiver. It’s just tough. But it’s worth it, and it gets easier when they get bigger. The poster who suggests throwing some money at the inequality is too right. If you can afford it, trustworthy childcare, housecleaning, and paying more for services like grocery delivery/takeout/meal prep is a good way to claw some time back.

        My husband is NEVER going to be too bothered by clutter or dirty floors to sit his a$$ down and relax, and I am NEVER going to be able to ignore those things to do the same. We are wired differently. I like many things done a certain way, and I am okay with being the doer so that I can be “in charge.” Other things I will relax on so they get done by someone other than me.

        My husband is my very favorite person in the whole world. I love the security of our relationship, and I know and feel every day how he appreciates and supports me. He is always in my corner and is a great dad. The “little things” are in no way worth more to me than all that he brings to the table. I’ve done the calculation of “better with or without?” and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life is better WITH. YMMV.

      • Yup, Me says:

        You don’t sound like someone who is living the experience.

        My father told me, years ago when my first child was small and my husband and I were going through a rough patch that relationships are almost never 50/50. There will be times where they are. But there will be the 20/80, 60/40, the 30/70 and other divisions. And they will happen for stretches and through difficult times. There will also be things you just are never good at, where your partner has to take the lead or where you have to find outside help and vice versa. The point is that there should be enough reciprocity in your relationship that the ultimate result is balance (or balanced enough that it works for both partners).

        I loved what Michelle said because it aligned with what my father had told me.

  5. Happyoften says:

    God Bless Michelle, but not all men can be compared to Obama…. One has to be worth sticking around for, if ya know what I mean. So many just are NOT worth the effort.

    • C says:

      LOL. Yes!! There are men I would do this kind of thing for. But they definitely do not make up the majority, let’s phrase it that way.

    • Lemons says:

      Haha, yes! Michelle, if ever you were going to go through it for someone, Obama is probably the one.

      But that’s probably also her point…like if the person is really worth it, you might be ready to make that calculation…because Lord knows, I may be the one to have some off years and I hope my partner can afford me that grace if I can do the same for him.

    • Yup, Me says:

      The Barack Obama we all love is NOT the dude Michelle was dealing with. He’s grown into this man over the years. And it sounds like he had some growing to do.

      I’m glad she’s lifting the veil and talking about this stuff. He’s not a god. He’s not a myth or a legend. He’s a person and fallible (and irritating as hell at times for a wife/ partner).

    • Ravensdaughter says:

      They weathered it, so good for them….

  6. TikiChica says:

    She’s a better person than me. Or maybe it’s cultural and when she says “couldn’t stand” she doesn’t mean it to sound as bad as it sounds to me. I could not spend 10 years with a man I couldn’t stand.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      I agree. She could have stated this more diplomatically because “I couldn’t stand him” for ten years is not relatable, at least by me. She goes on to explain, but I wonder how she ever got through ten years living with someone she couldn’t stand. Either she’s exaggerating for effect or there’s something else going on here.

      • Twin Falls says:

        She says later in the interview and I think she talks about it in Becoming as well that she loved him and knew he loved her the entire time. She didn’t like the division of labor in their marriage and resented/couldn’t stand him for it during that time but understood they were making sacrifices as a family for his political career.

      • Yup, Me says:

        They weren’t living together full time for part of that because he was traveling back and forth to and from Washington DC for work.

  7. Rosa says:

    Not about Obama specifically, but generally- I’m pretty sure that if a dude showed up at work and said hey I’m just gonna show up for the fun stuff and leave all the work for you regardless of what you think, and I’m gonna spend hours sitting while you continue to work, I’m pretty sure he’d get fired in two seconds. There’s a culturally sanctioned off button to their decency editing as soon as that home door closes.

  8. Becks1 says:

    I can understand this. For me there was about a 5 year span where I did not like my husband – I didn’t hate him, I just didn’t like him – but I kept thinking “well maybe it will get better.” And it is better now. I think part of that is because our kids are older and more self sufficient (they’re still kids, 10 and 8, but life is so much easier even at these ages.) Young kids really are an “all hands on deck” situation and if you can’t have all hands on deck bc of extremely demanding careers, its hard.

    for us, our marriage is not 50/50 – I make more money, but I have a more flexible job and I WFH full time. So it ends up that just more falls on my plate. But interestingly enough, the pandemic sort of reset some things. As an example, before the pandemic, my husband left the house around 730 every day to get to work on time, with traffic etc. During the pandemic, he was able to WFH for a few months so it just worked out that he started being the one who gives the kids breakfast, since his work dropped off a lot during that time and mine was basically just same old, same old. And here we are, almost three years later, and he makes them breakfast every morning, packs their lunches and is usually the one who takes them to the bus stop (also his work has gotten more flexible with start times and traffic has gotten better.) So now he’s the one who needs to look up the school lunch menus to see when the kids want to buy, he’s the one who keeps track of how much bread we have or need or whether he needs to add fruit snacks to the grocery list. It sounds like a little thing but it really does make my life easier, bc I can wake up and log into work and get some work done before 8/9 am which just makes the day more productive overall. And that’s just a quick example off the top of my head.

    I will also admit that I’m a control freak and its hard for me to cede control to him. Like he’ll say “I’ll stop on the way home and buy the boys clothes for christmas” and i’m like NOOOOO I want to pick them out! but he is perfectly capable of picking them out clothes, lol. So that’s something that I’m actively working on as well – I can’t really complain that things aren’t 50/50 if I’m actively blocking them from being 50/50.

    • AMA1977 says:

      OMG, are we the same person (re: “ceding control” which I am not so great at, lol.) I have a long-winded reply up a little further, but this is so relatable to me. My kids are a little older (10 and 15) and it’s gotten easier every year (which is good because now that I am staring down the barrel of the big one flying the nest, I need those resources. I may have had a little meltdown the other day putting his “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament away when we took down the tree…)

      Now my biggest struggle is in making sure they know how to do things that functional adults should know how to do (clean a bathroom, do laundry, cook) while acknowledging that things will get messy and/or not be done “right.” Oh, the issues! 😂

  9. Looty says:

    Are we saying life will not be hard if you don’t get married and/or don’t have kids?
    My husband did his share and more, it was still hard. People in my extended family have done all variations of not marrying and/or having children. They had years that were excruciating.
    I love Michelle Obama but if she is saying there were no significant good times in her marriage for 10 years, that seems like something is off.

  10. DouchesOfCambridge says:

    What I’m understanding is that Michelle warns us that 50/50 in couples don’t exist, so don’t expect that in a relationship and also although it might be hard, if you stick it out, you might be happy you kept it together. I agree with her 100%, there were years where I wasnt happy about things (when the kids were younger too) but after 27 years together we have made it to a stage where we feel our love, bond, and relationship are unbreakable. but you know, if you’re in a relationship with an abuser, don’t force yourself to stay to prove this statement right. It’s ok to want to get out of a relationship, whether you have kids or not.

  11. bitsycs says:

    Even when you have a perfectly engaged partner who is splitting duties evenly, or even taking on a bit more than half, those early years are still so hard and kids need so much. To me, more than resenting my husband for not doing as much, I basically didn’t like much of anyone or anything, lol. I have relatively easy kids, but when kids are young, they are needy, and sometimes you’re just tapped out on meeting someone else’s needs and that goes both ways. I’m an introvert who likes being alone so I know this played into my perspective during those hard years.

    My kids are 12&16 now and I feel like I like myself and my husband a lot more than I did 10-15y ago. Sometimes there is just not a lot left and your partner is another obligation to check off.

    Also, I think some of this is hindsight for me personally. At the time I wasn’t miserable really, but looking back I can see how those years were more difficult for me and how I’m much happier now and much happier in my relationship, which may also be the case with the Obamas. I think a lot of times you don’t realize how bad it was until you have a point of comparison (or how good it is or was), you’re just trying to get by.

  12. Helonearth says:

    Unfortunately I know too many women who feel this way because their husbands do not share the load of family, housework’s etc.

    Two close friends have divorced their spouse in the last three years and a further one would if it wouldn’t financially destroy them. All three work full time and have late teens/grown up children but their husbands still expected them to do all the cooking/laundry/cleaning whilst they sat of the sofa “needing” to relax. I hope the upcoming generation of men step up and women don’t accept this treatment anymore.

  13. thaisajs says:

    What she’s saying is so relatable. Also, important to note that you can still love someone you can’t stand to be around. I love my mom. She’s older now and slowing down and when she passes I will be devastated. AND she’s a narcissist and drives me bananas and I can’t stand to be around her.

  14. aang says:

    Marriage was hard when the kids were little. And I was a sahm married to a high earner so there was privilege. But having to be in charge of a house and children (one on the spectrum) is a 24/7 job and I felt alone and overworked and anxious. But once we went through a critical health scare with our oldest I realized how much I could count on him to be there in every way. It happened at the same time his sister was going through her third divorce and he saw how easy it is to just give up. He listened to what I needed and was willing to step up. It has been a different relationship since then. I’m glad I gave us the chance to work on our marriage instead of bailing.

  15. Trish says:

    I love Michelle. Iv’e always felt like Barack was more concerned with himself and his ambitions, and that can be annoying. I have no doubt they love each other, but they are so opposite. Michelle has always seemed down to earth in that church girl way where she’s very nurturing and caring more about family and Barack is well, he’s a Leo. What can ya say, lol.

  16. Kate says:

    Yeah marriage talk is so nuanced and I worry about the takeaway of an entire conversation being that even this golden couple had a very long rocky period but now they’re good so don’t give up! I think as people get older they tend to downplay a “5 year bad spell” bc they have greater perspective and hindsight but if people aren’t doing any emotional or relational work during that time it doesn’t magically just fix itself. I saw others say that the Obamas went to counseling and I think that’s really central to why they came out of the bad period – not just bc she came to an understanding that marriage is never 50/50.

  17. Concern Fae says:

    I read something that really clarified this for me. She said that what happens is that your kids are so needy and when your husband acts needy too, you just end up becoming explosively resentful. She was talking specifically about sex and getting “grabbed at.”

    No kids because of fertility issues and a split, but I can see how men’s neediness, which is seen as romantic early on, can swiftly become toxic when their needs become secondary.

    People (mothers) changed how they raised daughters when “women’s lib” came around, will how we raise boys change with this horrifying wave of toxicity.

    Michelle is right about how a relationship built on a deep love can stand a lot. But when it snaps it snaps. Can’t be put back together.

    • JanetDR says:

      I remember when a good friend told me of a conversation she had with my not yet ex husband after we had 2 babies. She was trying to get him to acknowledge how much my life had changed (as a SAH mother with a traveling spouse who might be home a night or two during the week or maybe not until the weekend). All he could come up with was that I could no longer join him for an evening out if he decided to stop before coming home….. She said he didn’t get it at all, but she felt better for trying.
      Basically, he spent a few years sulking because I couldn’t cater to his every whim. He was mentally gone before he got involved with someone else.
      I had a window open to a thought that our relationship wasn’t what I wanted a few times, (the first time when I was in labor) but I shut that window because well, we had a child, then 2, and what could I do at that point…
      I’m not saying that I wasn’t hurt and blindsided at the end, but I instantly recognized a feeling of relief as well.

  18. girl_ninja says:

    I appreciate and love that Michelle Obama shares her experiences about life, marriage, love and parenthood with such realness. I really enjoy hearing her perspective.

  19. Cat says:

    I suspect this is why Barack Obama has largely stayed out of the limelight since leaving office: he owes his wife some quality time and it’s his turn to take on the lion’s share of the sacrifice for their relationship. Fair.

    • GoshTina says:

      I totally agree with this. It probably helped that there was no possibility of “coming out of retirement” and returning to be president after his second term ended. Contrast that against the Tom Brady/Gisele Bundchen situation.

  20. QuiteContrary says:

    I’ve been fortunate to hear her speak during both book tours. I adore her. She never has felt the need to be a worshipful, silent political wife — she’s always been open about the challenges of marriage.
    She’s not telling women to suffer in silence for years — quite the opposite. She’s being realistic about the uneven division of responsibilities most couples experience when raising young kids. She’s saying that it’s unfair and she’s making it possible for other women to talk about it.

  21. imara219 says:

    She said no lies. I appreciate the conversation of marriage or long-term partnerships not reflecting 50-50. That seems to be an admirable goal, but it’s not always a reality. Sometimes my marriage has been 40-60 or even 30-70. The hardest for me was just after I had our child. I was so used to us being on the same page, and then a baby came, and everything had to be rewritten. I had to step up my communication and listening game, and my husband had to recognize my shifting needs. I’m not throwing away our relationship over a rough patch.

  22. Diamond Rottweiler says:

    Given the number of working women, and the sociological data regarding how men perceive shared work effort in taking care of a home and raising children (if a man perceives he’s doing 50%, the actual number is around 20%, etc.), I think we need to start seriously educating boys about what family labor is and teaching them to de-center themselves as somehow more special than the women in the household. Only way this is ever going to change. I made it 5 years, then realized I was going to be stuck spending another 50 functioning as the wife, the husband, the full-time childcare worker, AND the cleaning lady. I have women friends who seem to somehow manage this without simmering with anger all the time. I wasn’t able to. In any case, I’m working on it with my son. But it’s hard when the whole culture still sets the expectation and model for what “women’s work” is. Ugh.

  23. Emmi says:

    10 years is a long time. And she wouldn’t be talking like it was worth it if he hadn’t been this successful, if his ambition hadn’t led to this and if his failure had forced her to abandon her career and raise the girls. I doubt their marriage would be in great shape now. You have to decide if you’re fine with giving him 10 years of your life regardless of success. I wouldn’t. But I’m not interested in marriage in general so I‘m probably not seeing the upside because of that.

  24. Ben says:

    Michelle you married a man that literally made history in USA and around the world. Pretty sure you always knew the potential was there. Not everyone is worth to spent one bad year with let alone TEN years.

    I read Barrack’s first biography Dreams of My Father and his life story is so compelling and inspiring.

  25. NotSoSocialB says:

    Kin- keeping is exhausting work- truly. Married to my now best friend for almost 28 years, but there were years that I wanted to blow that popsicle stand. Those soul crushing years were worth it in the end, though. MO is a pragmatic and honest woman.

    Read about kin keeping. Undervalued, invisible effort with little positive feedback leaves one partner lacking in support and one partner knowing they need to do more, but for various reasons, does not.

  26. J says:

    I read Becoming a couple of years ago. Michelle doesn’t say anything as forthright on this topic as that quote, but I came away from it thinking that being married to Barack was tough and that he was an absent husband and father. It made me question whether people running for president should have young kids. I admire him as a person and politician but his job really came at the expense of his family.

  27. Dolly234 says:

    I appreciate what MO says as well as many others. I also think taking the long-view in a marriage is really important. Unfortunately my husband or rather ex-husband didn’t feel the same way. While I thought we had a good marriage and that we did a decent job of managing a household with two young kids and two demanding full time jobs, he felt like I asked too much of him. He had an ‘epiphany’ during the pandemic that his life would be better without me in it. Hurt like hell to hear that. Two years later I still wish that he had wanted to stick it out as I love our family. But he didn’t. Two years later I’m doing alright as the switch to being a single parent wasn’t as hard for me as it has been for him given that I was always the primary caregiver and household manager.

    Meanwhile I think he’s realizing that I didn’t ask too much from him, just a little more equity in the house. Now he’s on the hunt for wife #3 and hoping that happens before he turns 40.

    • Shiera_S says:

      I’m really sorry. My ex-husband also had this epiphany during the pandemic after 6 years together and not even a full year of marriage. We did not have any kid but we moved with his (racist and classist) dad in 2019, to not leave him alone when his wife died. It was supposed to be temporary. That created a lot of new tension between us or awaken the old ones.

      So I don’t know how complicated it was regarding the kids but I understand the hurt of having someone not sticking for the hard parts, especially if you did. I wish you peace and happiness; and even love if that’s also what you want.

      • Dolly234 says:

        Thank you for that! It means a lot to me to hear those words. I wish the same for you. Onwards.

  28. Jennifer Smith says:

    I can’t wait to read her book. “Becoming” was perspective-changing in fundamental ways — I wish every parent of young children read it.

  29. Candy says:

    I don’t know. They’re both amazing people but I get no sexual vibe from B. Obama. I think it’s possible their problems were physical, not emotional. Partnership is definitely a huge compromise and a noble challenge if you’re up for it. But it’s long past time we equate the length of a relationship with its success. Some couples last and some couples don’t. It’s mainly a selfish pursuit either way.

    Also, nothing to idealize about women perpetuating self sacrifice to an extreme, like giving up your goals or career just to stick it out. It’s also false to suggest she did that. They were a power couple through and through.

  30. bisynaptic says:

    Wow, where do I sign up.
    —“I would take 10 bad years over 30”
    No kidding?