Therapy Saved Barack and Michelle’s Marriage

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming" by Michelle Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why did Michelle Obama think she and Barack’s marriage was falling apart? What steps did they take to save it?

When Barack Obama became an Illinois State Senator, Michelle was left to do the job of a single parent while trying to pursue her own career. This eventually put such a strain on the Obamas’ marriage that Michelle didn’t know if it would last.

Keep reading to learn about Barack and Michelle’s marriage and how they managed to save it.

The Obamas’ Marriage Discord  

Years of Barack being away from home all week and returning late on Thursday nights had taken a toll on Michelle. She felt lonely when he was gone, and when he was home, she felt frustrated by their big and small disagreements. She was constantly annoyed by Barack’s lack of punctuality—he often got caught up in projects and lost track of time. Barack and Michelle’s marriage wasn’t going as she hoped.

As the children grew to be toddlers, the couple’s lives became even more hectic, and Michelle’s resentments deepened. Now 38 years old, she started to worry that her marriage might unravel. 

Michelle convinced Barack to go to couples’ counseling. After some resistance, he agreed. Michelle expected that their psychologist would validate all her grievances and convince Barack to change his ways, but he didn’t. Instead, he let both Michelle and Barack air their complaints, and he didn’t take sides. 

After several appointments with the psychologist, the couple began to find ways to communicate their needs more clearly and take care of themselves and each other. 

Michelle’s Ideas of Perfection

Looking back on this difficult time in her marriage, Michelle realizes that she was suffering from “a kind of psychic whiplash.” She wanted to be a wife and mother like her mom was, but she also wanted to be just like her childhood TV-show idol, Mary Tyler Moore, who was a vibrant career woman and the opposite of her mother. Michelle was yearning for an impossible degree of perfection—a stable family life, a successful career, and an ideal marriage—and then blaming Barack for not providing it. She’d gotten “caught up in the notion that everything was unfair,” but counseling taught her that she had to take responsibility for herself. 

Michelle’s Pivot Point 

After counseling, Michelle realized that she could take steps to make her own life happier, and it didn’t have to be at Barack’s expense. Barack didn’t have to quit the job he loved or stop going to the gym to make more time for Michelle and the girls. Instead, for example, Michelle needed to start going to the gym herself, and she needed to find other ways to set healthy boundaries. 

To simplify her life, Michelle stopped trying to accommodate Barack’s erratic schedule every day. Rather than waiting for Barack to get home, she kept a set schedule for the girls’ dinner time and bedtime. It was up to Barack to get home in time to see the girls before they went to sleep. 

Barack, too, made adjustments based on what he learned from counseling, especially in terms of his day-to-day communication with Michelle. He even began working harder at being punctual. 

Therapy Saved Barack and Michelle’s Marriage

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Michelle Obama's "Becoming" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming summary:

  • How Michelle Obama went from the South Side of Chicago to the White House
  • Why much of her success came from her being determined from a young age
  • How Michelle Obama continues to push herself and discover new opportunities

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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