What makes a happy marriage? Retirement, maybe. In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE Magazine, the 44th president of the United States opened up about the strains that being the president took on his marriage with Former First Lady Michelle Obama — and how leaving the White House immediately relieved a lot of tension in their marriage.
The interview, much like Obama’s most recent memoir, A Promised Land, offers readers a peek into a marriage that is often publicly described as #goals. But like any couple revered in the public sphere, the Obamas had their fair share of stress and trouble. At one point in the book, he reveals how the conversation went when he was telling Michelle that he wanted to run for the presidency. Unbeknownst to Michelle, this was more than just an idea he was entertaining. He’d already laid much of the foundation for a presidential run.
“She gave me a hard look and got up from the couch. ‘God, Barack… When is it going to be enough?” She walked away from him and closed their bedroom door behind him.
The Obamas have long been pioneers in talking openly about how they’ve worked hard to maintain a healthy marriage. When First Lady Michelle released Becoming in 2018, she talked about how they sought couples therapy to improve their communication with one another — showing how they’ve actively worked on their marriage to keep it working amid major stress. “There was work we had to do as a couple. Counseling we had to do to work through stuff,” she told Oprah a few years ago.
In an interview with the publication, Barack reveals that Michelle was supportive but skeptical of his presidential ambitions. “Michelle very much believed in the work I did but was less optimistic about what I could get done. … She’s more skeptical about politics and more mindful of the sacrifices to the family,” he revealed. “During the time we were [in the White House,] Michelle felt this underlying tension. The pressure, stress, of needing to get everything right, to be ‘on’ at every moment,” he says.
He also noted how their different temperaments contributed to the strain in their marriage. He said to PEOPLE: “I tend to be ‘uh, that’ll be fine,’ and I worry a little bit less, temperamentally.” Any married person knows this interplay between the person who stresses more and the person who stresses less — and how it isn’t always a helpful contrast in a marriage.
He then describes in the interview how leaving the White House lifted an immediate weight off their shoulders. “It was like a big exhale right after we left office,” he tells the magazine.
But in his own words, retirement meant there was a possibility of her “opening up,” and, perhaps more pressingly, an opportunity to let her “let out a breath and relax.” He also points to the fact that Sasha and Malia, now well on their way to adulthood, are out of the roost and are fairly successful young adults — which helped them both relax amid their retirements and second-acts in public life and spend more time with one another without the weight of the world on their shoulders.