On the outside, Michelle and Barack Obama appear like the picture-perfect couple – she was seen by his side throughout every step of his presidential campaign and the eight years he was in office – but behind-the-scenes it’s not always been smooth sailing for the former first family.
While at first glance their romance seems like a glorious tale of a doting husband and supportive wife, the truth about their decades-long relationship is a very different story.
The couple have spoken candidly about their martial struggles, with Michelle describing the ‘resentment’ she had over having to put her career on hold to be a mother while Barack’s continued to flourish, and her ‘stress’ over being propelled into the public eye, despite making it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the spotlight.
On the outside, Michelle and Barack Obama (seen in 2015) appear like the picture-perfect couple – but behind-the-scenes, the pair has been plagued with years of marital struggles
While a first glance at their romance seems like a glorious tale of a doting father and supportive wife – the truth about their decades-long relationship is a very different story
Michelle, 58, and Barack, 61, first met in 1989 when they both worked at a law firm in Chicago. The future president became smitten with Michelle almost immediately, but she was uninterested.
Despite her turning him down multiple times, Barack did not give up – and when she finally decided to give him a chance, the two fell hard and quickly for one another.
They wed in 1992, and welcomed their first daughter, Malia, six years later, and their second daughter, Sasha, two years after that.
From how they met and fell in love to how Barack’s aspirations almost ruined their marriage, here’s a look back at the many ups and downs of the Obama’s rollercoaster relationship. The family is pictured in 2015
But they later revealed that having children nearly tore them apart – since Michelle grew frustrated that she was stuck taking care of their kids alone most of the time, while budding politician Barack would commute on a six-hour round trip to work at the Illinois Senate, and sometimes spend days away due to his job.
For years, Michelle and Barack’s marriage was beset by late-night arguments and fierce fights, with him recalling an exhausted Michelle telling him on one occasion: ‘This isn’t what I signed up for, Barack. I feel like I’m doing it all by myself.’
And as he slowly made his way up the ranks in the US government, Michelle did not want any part of the ‘messy’ political world or the ‘exposure’ that came with it, with her stating after he decided to run for Senate: ‘Don’t expect me to do any campaigning. In fact, you shouldn’t even count on my vote.’
She was at first resistant when Barack decided he wanted to run for president.
But she eventually came around after she realized the enormous impact he could have on young, black children across the nation if he did become America’s first president of color.
Unfortunately, tensions only grew during their time in the White House – thanks to the immense ‘pressure’ that came with ‘needing to get everything right and be “on” at every moment,’ as well as Barack’s focus on his work rather than his family.
Despite all of their problems, Michelle and Barack never gave up on one another, and the President later explained that even during their darkest times, they did not stop showing each other ‘respect.’
‘Even if Michelle drives me crazy sometimes, I never thought that there was anybody who I would rather be with,’ he said.
The couple has been very vocal about the highs – and the lows – of their 30-year marriage, with the hopes that being honest about the negative times they endured together will serve as proof that true love can withstand anything.
From how they met and fell in love to how Barack’s aspirations almost ended their marriage, here’s a look back at the many ups and downs of the Obamas’ rollercoaster relationship – and how they managed to overcome their hardships to come out stronger than ever.
Barack won Michelle over despite her having no interest in him – but welcoming Malia early on in their romance nearly tore them apart
Michelle and Barack first met in 1989 when they both worked at a law firm in Chicago. The future president became smitten with Michelle almost immediately, but she was uninterested
Barack and Michelle first met in 1989 at a Chicago law firm called Sidley Austin. Michelle was already working there when Barack was hired and she was asked to show him the ropes on his first day.
‘Because I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, “Oh, we’ll hook these two people up,”‘ she explained to ABC in a 2008 interview.
Barack also opened up about the day they first met to Oprah Magazine in 2007, stating: ‘In the luckiest break of my life, [Michelle] was assigned to be my adviser. I remember being struck by how tall and beautiful she was.’
It’s been said that the former president quickly became smitten with Michelle, but she was uninterested in him.
Not only had she recently ‘sworn off dating altogether,’ but she said in her 2018 memoir, Becoming, that she ‘didn’t think of him’ as a potential love interest in the slightest.
‘Not once did I think about him as someone I’d want to date,’ she wrote. ‘For one thing, I was his mentor at the firm. I’d also recently sworn off dating altogether, too consumed with work to put any effort into it.’
Despite her turning him down multiple times, Barack did not give up – and when she finally decided to give him a chance, the two fell hard and quickly for one another
He recalled to Oprah: ‘I asked her out. She refused. I kept asking. She kept refusing.’
However, he eventually somehow convinced her to go on a date with him – they had lunch, saw a movie and got ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and the two hit it off.
Barack then proposed to Michelle during a romantic dinner date two years into their relationship in 1991. They are seen at their wedding
They soon started dating and Barack then proposed to Michelle during a romantic dinner date two years into their relationship in 1991.
They were celebrating Barack’s passing of the bar exam when he decided to pop the question.
‘The waiter came over with the dessert and a tray. And there was the ring,’ Michelle remembered to ABC, adding that she was ‘completely shocked.’
They officially became husband and wife the following year at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
They went on to welcome two daughters together, Malia, now 24, in 1998, and Sasha, 21, in 2000.
And according to the mother-of-two, having children was the first thing that put a strain on their marriage – because she started to feel ‘the sting of gender roles.’
She explained during an episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast in September 2020 that she was doing most of the work when it came to taking care of their daughters, which made her feel like she and Barack were no longer a ‘unit.’
‘I would not trade [my daughters] in, but whew, they can mess up a marriage,’ she said.
Here comes the bride: They officially became husband and wife in 1992 at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago
Expanding their family: They went on to welcome two daughters together, Malia, now 24, in 1998, and Sasha, 21, in 2000
‘I had to be there [taking care of the kids], and my husband was still sort of boppin’ around, living his life.’
‘The resentment starts to build up, or it started to. It’s like, well, what happened to the unit, what happened to my best friend?
‘What happened to my buddy, who’s at the gym? It’s like, how the Hell are you at the gym? You know, dude … I’ve got cabbage on my breast.’
Michelle also spoke to NPR in November about feeling like their marriage ‘wasn’t 50/50’ and having to ‘take her foot off of her career gas pedal’ to be a mother while Barack’s work flourished.
‘There were times when I felt I was 70 per cent in and he was doing 30 per cent and I had to compromise, as he has,’ she said.
‘Because of the choices that I made and the terms of how I wanted our family to look, I had to take my foot off of my career gas pedal, never putting on the break, but slowing up a bit.’
While reflecting on the early years of the marriage to Revolt earlier this month, Michelle admitted that there were ’10 years’ where she ‘couldn’t stand’ Barack
‘We were trying to build our careers and worrying about school and who was doing what and what, I was like, “Argh, this isn’t even.”‘
According to the mother-of-two, having children was the first thing that put a strain on their marriage – because she started to feel ‘the sting of gender roles.’ The family is seen in 2004
Disjointed: She explained that she was doing most of the work when it came to taking care of their daughters, which made her feel like she and Barack were no longer a ‘unit’
She also described her two daughters as ‘terrorists,’ when they were little.
‘Little kids, they’re terrorists. They have demands. They don’t talk. They’re poor communicators. They cry all the time,’ Michelle said.
Michelle also spoke about feeling like their marriage ‘wasn’t 50/50’ and having to ‘take her foot off of her career gas pedal’ to be a mother while Barack’s work flourished
‘They’re irrational. They’re needy. And you love them. And so you can’t blame them, right?… So you turn that ire on each other.’
Barack added during an interview with The Breakfast Club in November 2020 that their fiercely different personalities also resulted in them clashing early on in their marriage.
‘I think there were times where certainly [Michelle] thought this [marriage] wasn’t going to work,’ he revealed.
‘Michelle is somebody who has a different temperament than me. I’d think she’d admit that she has more than a temper than I do.
‘I think she can get more pessimistic about things than I can. I tend to be pretty even-keeled. “Yeah, we’ll figure this out” kind of approach.
‘But sometimes that itself is frustrating to your partner. If you’re all like, “Hey, honey. Relax. Why are you getting all excited about stuff?” Then, she’ll be like, “Oh you’re just not listening to me at all.”‘
Barack’s growing love of politics drove a wedge between them – and when he decided to run for president, she was not on board
After Barack (seen in 2004) was elected into the Illinois Senate, he said he struggled to balance his work with his family life
Around the same time that Malia was born Barack’s political career began to take off. He had just been elected into the Illinois Senate, but in his book, A Promised Land, he recalled struggling to balance his work with his family life.
He would go back and forth from Chicago, where he lived with Michelle and baby Malia, to Springfield, where he worked, but Michelle began to get fed up with him being gone so much.
‘We began arguing more, usually late at night when the two of us were thoroughly drained,’ he wrote, recalling a time Michelle told him, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for, Barack. I feel like I’m doing it all by myself.’
In her memoir, Michelle credits marriage counseling with helping them get through the difficult time.
‘What I learned about myself was that my happiness was up to me and I started working out more,’ she later told Good Morning America about her time in counseling.
‘I started asking for help, not just from him but from other people. I stopped feeling guilty.’
She added: ‘I know too many young couples who struggle and think somehow, there’s something wrong with them.
‘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.’
Michelle was not supportive of his political ambitions at first and when he decided to run for US Senate in 2004, she wasn’t on board. The family is seen in 2004
‘This is it, Barack, one last time,’ she said to him when he told her he had decided to run for Senate. ‘But don’t expect me to do any campaigning. You shouldn’t even count on my vote’
While on the outside it seemed like Michelle was by her husband’s side during every step of Barack’s presidential campaign and eight-year presidency, it started off as a very different story.
She was not supportive of his political ambitions at first, and when he decided to run for US Senate in 2004, Michelle made it clear to him that she wasn’t on board.
When Barack told Michelle he wanted to run for president, he recalled her asking, ‘When is it going to be enough?’ They are seen together during his 2008 campaign
‘This is it, Barack, one last time,’ she said to him, per his memoir, when he told her he had decided to run for Senate.
‘But don’t expect me to do any campaigning. In fact, you shouldn’t even count on my vote.’
You could imagine her surprise when he approached her with the idea of running for president a few years later.
‘She gave me a hard look and got up from the couch. “God, Barack… When is it going to be enough?”‘ he wrote of the moment he told her about his plan to run.
Days later, when Barack asked Michelle if she thought ‘we could win,’ he recalled her firing back, ‘Did you say “we?” You mean “you,” Barack… This is your thing.
‘I’ve supported you the whole time, because I believe in you, even though I hate politics.
‘I hate the way it exposes our family. Now, finally, we have some stability… and now you tell me you’re going to run for president?’
Barack explained that Michelle’s ‘skepticism’ about politics stemmed from her ‘mindfulness’ about the ‘sacrifices’ they were going to have to make as a family (seen in 2008)
Even so, Michelle did finally get on board with the idea after he voiced how important it would be for America to have a black president. They are seen together in 2008 during his campaign
Barack said he’d only do it with her blessing, to which she responded, ‘If that’s really true, then the answer is no.’
While speaking to People in November 2020, Barack explained that Michelle’s ‘skepticism’ about politics stemmed from her ‘mindfulness’ about the ‘sacrifices’ they were going to have to make as a family.
He added to The Breakfast Club: ‘Michelle once told me something that I think summed it up pretty well.
‘She said, “I have organized my life not to have a lot of mess in my life. And politics, by definition, brings mess into our household.
‘”You’ve got people with whom I never would associate with otherwise that suddenly are talking about us or have an impact on our wellbeing. That’s not what I want.”‘
Even so, Michelle did finally get on board with the idea after he voiced how important it would be for America to have a black president.
‘I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently,’ he remembered telling her in his book.
‘I know that kids all around this country – black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in – they’ll see themselves differently, too… and that alone… that would be worth it.’
Tensions grew in the White House as Barack became preoccupied by work and Michelle nearly crumbled from the ‘pressure and stress’
While Michelle did eventually support her husband’s decision, Barack (seen in 2009) recalled in his book an ‘undercurrent of tension in her’ during their early years in the White House
While Michelle did eventually support her husband’s decision to become president, Barack recalled in his book an ‘undercurrent of tension in her’ during their early years in the White House, which he said was ‘subtle but constant.’
‘There were nights when, lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered,’ he wrote.
‘My heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.’
In addition, Barack told People that the ‘pressure’ and ‘stress of needing to get everything right and be “on” at every moment’ got to her.
He also admitted that he was often preoccupied with his work, which lead to her feeling ‘lonely.’
‘There were times where I think she was frustrated or sad or angry but knew that I had Afghanistan or the financial crisis to worry about,’ he admitted.
He also said in his book: ‘It was as if, confined as we were within the walls of the White House, all her previous sources of frustration became more concentrated, more vivid, whether it was my round the clock absorption with work, or the way politics exposed our family to scrutiny and attacks, or the tendency of even friends and family members to treat her role as secondary in importance.’
In addition, Barack told People that the ‘pressure’ and ‘stress of needing to get everything right and be “on” at every moment’ got to her
He also admitted that he was often preoccupied with his work, which lead to her feeling ‘lonely.’ They are seen together in 2013
But even at their worst, Barack explained to The Breakfast Club that they never let their arguments turn too ugly – and that they always ‘respected’ one another.
But even at their worst, Barack explained that they never let their arguments turn too ugly – and that they always ‘respected’ one another. They are seen in 2014
And he made it clear that even when they would fight, he never considered a divorce.
‘We were pretty good even when things were tough, we never loss basic respect for the other person,’ he shared.
‘We never thought that person was a bad person. We never said things that would make it seem that you completely disrespect me.
‘It was more, “I love you, Barack, but this is driving me crazy,” or, “I respect you, but…” I think that’s what kept us ’cause we never doubted each other’s intentions.
‘Michelle is a remarkable woman. Even if she drives me crazy sometimes, I never thought that there was anybody who I would rather be with.’
The couple spent years ‘rediscovering their love’ after his Presidency came to an end
In his book, Barack recalled spending a lot of time ‘replenishing their friendship’ and ‘rediscovering their love’ after leaving the White House in 2017. They are seen in October 2017
In his book, Barack recalled spending a lot of time ‘replenishing their friendship’ and ‘rediscovering their love’ after leaving the White House in 2017.
‘We slept late, ate leisurely dinners, went for long walks, swam in the ocean, took stock, and planned for a less eventful but hopefully no less satisfying second act,’ he wrote.
While speaking to People, he described that time as a ‘big exhale,’ adding that Michelle seemed ‘more relaxed and more joyful’ right away.
On her podcast, the 58-year-old recalled wanting to ‘push Barack out of the window’ on numerous occasions, but added that she was glad she ‘didn’t quit’ on her husband.
‘You’ve got to know that there are going to be times, long periods of time, when you can’t stand each other,’ she told her listeners.
‘The feelings will be intense. But that doesn’t mean you quit and these periods can last a long time – they can last years.
‘[Me and Barack] have a very strong marriage. If I had given up on it, if I had walked away from it, in those tough times, then I would’ve missed all the beauty that was there as well.’
While speaking to People, he described that time as a ‘big exhale,’ adding that Michelle seemed ‘more relaxed and more joyful’ right away. They are pictured together in 2018
On her podcast, the 58-year-old recalled wanting to ‘push Barack out of the window’ on numerous occasions, but added that she was glad she ‘didn’t quit’ on her husband
As for why she decided to be so open about the ‘hard parts’ of their marriage over the years, she told People in March 2021 that she felt like she didn’t have any ‘role models’ to turn to during her marital problems.
She hoped that being so honest about the negative parts of their relationship would help others who may be struggling.
‘We didn’t have role models during the hard times because our parents, their generation were taught you don’t talk about marriage and you definitely don’t talk about the hard times,’ she said.
‘When you’re young and coming up and raising a family together, no one has prepared you for the fact that there will be times when you will have to devote your energies to other things.
‘What I’ve come to learn is that thankfully we had a strong enough foundation.’
In her second memoir, The Light We Carry, which came out in November 2022, Michelle spoke further about overcoming the hard year of their marriage, explaining that they both feel ‘triumph’ knowing ‘that neither one of them has walked away.’
‘We have our issues, of course, but I love the man, and he loves me, now, still, and seemingly forever,’ she gushed.
In her second memoir, Michelle explained that they both feel ‘triumph’ knowing ‘that neither one of them has walked away’ despite their past problems. They are seen earlier this year
‘We have our issues, of course, but I love the man, and he loves me, now, still, and seemingly forever,’ she gushed. They are pictured with their daughters earlier this year
‘Our love is not perfect, but it’s real and we’re committed to it. This particular certainty sits parked like a grand piano in the middle of every room we enter.
‘We are, in many ways, very different people. He’s a night owl who enjoys solitary pursuits. I’m an early bird who loves a crowded room.
‘In my opinion, he spends too much time golfing. In his opinion, I watch too much lowbrow TV.
‘But between us, there’s a loving assuredness that’s as simple as knowing the other person is there to stay, no matter what.’
She wrote that both she and Barack can be ‘thoroughly, comfortably, and often annoyingly themselves around one another.’
‘I tell this to my daughters now: You don’t want to settle down with someone because you’re looking for a breadwinner, or a caregiver, or a parent for your kids, or a rescue from your problems,’ she concluded.
‘The goal, instead, is to find someone who will do the work with you, not for you, contributing on all fronts and in all ways.
‘When someone wants to play just one role, declaring anything like, “I make the money, so don’t expect me to change diapers,” my advice would be to start running for the hills.’