Things you didn't know about the Obamas' marriage

Has there ever been a cuter couple than Michelle and Barack Obama? The charming couple enamored the world before ever setting foot in the White House, and continues to do so years after the end of Barack's presidency. Together with their daughters, Sasha and Malia, the former first family is still beloved, and their life seems like the stuff of fairy tales.

Things have not always been easy for the Obamas, though. Michelle and Barack have an epic love story that spans decades, but, like any other couple, have faced their fair share of hardships. In many ways, their challenges were even greater because they have been in the public eye for so long. Yet, through it all, they manage to stay happy and in love. What's their secret? To figure that out, we need to take a closer look at their relationship. Here's everything you didn't know about the Obamas' marriage.

Sparks flew from their very first meeting

While they were drawn to each other from the first time they met, Michelle was reluctant to date Barack. She was 25 and he was 27, but as a first year associate at Chicago's Sidley & Austin, a corporate law firm, Michelle was Barack's mentor when the first-year law student worked at the firm in the summer of 1989. "He sounded too good to be true," Michelle told David Mendell, author of Obama: From Promise to Power (via The Washington Post). She initially dismissed him as a "good-looking, smooth-talking guy." The fact that he was her subordinate, and her belief that "the only two black people" at the firm dating would be "tacky," delayed the beginning of their relationship.

Barack told Oprah that he was "struck by how tall and beautiful [Michelle] was," saying that working with her was "the luckiest break of my life." After Michelle turned down multiple requests for a date saying it would be inappropriate, she finally agreed to go out with him after he offered to quit his job for her. Michelle took Barack up on the date, but didn't make him leave his job.

Barack's desire to help the African American community won Michelle over

Even after she began dating Barack, Michelle wasn't sure right away that it would work out. Growing up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, Michelle worried that a life with Barack might be unstable. She told the Hyde Park Herald (via The Washington Post) that the future president "was really broke." He had a "cruddy" wardrobe and a rusted out car. "I thought, 'This brother is not interested in ever making a dime,'" she said.

Still, Michelle was drawn to Barack. On a date at a Chicago church, where Barack was meeting with people he had worked with as a community organizer, Michelle saw his passion for helping poor African-Americans. "He talked about the world as it is, and the world as it should be," she said in a speech at the 2008 National Democratic Convention. "And he said that, all too often, we accept the distance between the two, and we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations." Michelle was won over by Barack's idealism, and the rest is history.

Barack didn't want to get married at first, believing it to be a "meaningless institution"

Impossible as it is to imagine, the Obamas' celebrated marriage might not have happened if Michelle had been a little less persistent. At the end of the summer of 1989, Michelle continued to work in Chicago while Barack returned to Harvard to finish law school. According to The Washington Post, Barack was dedicated to the relationship and madly in love with Michelle, but he didn't believe that marriage was necessary, calling it a "meaningless institution."

Michelle kept turning up the pressure, though, wanting a decades-long marriage like her parents who, at the time, had been going strong for 30 years. In 1991, Barack finally surprised Michelle with a ring after she began to talk once again of marriage, telling her "That kind of shuts you up, doesn't it?" It might not have been the most conventional of proposals, but it was an effective one. The two were married the following year, taking their commitment to the next level.

Struggles with infertility put a strain on their marriage

Life wasn't all smooth sailing for Michelle and Barack once they were wed. In a 2018 interview with Good Morning America, Michelle said that she had suffered a miscarriage 20 years earlier. The loss was a heavy emotional blow. "I felt like I failed because I didn't know how common miscarriages were because we don't talk about them," she said. "We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we're broken."

Michelle underwent fertility treatments to conceive Malia and Sasha, and the process was another ordeal. Michelle had to inject herself daily for several weeks. Barack, who was serving in the state senate at this point, was "swallow[ed up] by work," Michelle wrote in her memoir, Becoming. This, she said, "left me largely on my own to manipulate my reproductive system into peak efficiency." While the process was grueling, Michelle said that Barack remained "sweet" and "attentive" throughout the entire journey.

Barack's political career made motherhood an even bigger challenge for Michelle

Michelle never set out to be a politician's wife, and her husband's long years of campaigning and being in public office took a toll. Barack first ran for State Senate in 1996, putting a lot of stress on their early years of marriage. Michelle wrote in Becoming that Barack would spend long hours working. "I understood it was nothing but good intentions that would lead him to say, 'I'm on my way!' or 'Almost home!,'" she wrote. "And for a while, I believed those words. I'd give the girls their nightly bath but delay bedtime so that they could wait up to give their dad a hug."

"I was mad," Michelle later told Elle. "When you get married and have kids, your whole plan, once again, gets upended. Especially if you get married to somebody who has a career that swallows up everything, which is what politics is."

Michelle supported Barack's presidential run because she didn't think he could win

Michelle has always been Barack's biggest cheerleader, but she confessed that she didn't think he had a hope of winning the 2008 presidential election. She had no real wish to be the first lady and supported her husband's run "because deep down I was like there's no way he's going to win," she said during her 2018 book tour for Becoming (via the New York Post). Far from not having faith in her husband's leadership skills, Michelle just didn't think America would elect a black president, "let alone a black president named Barack Hussein Obama."

In spite of her reluctance to take on the pressures of the White House, Michelle threw herself wholeheartedly into her husband's campaign. She insisted on playing an active role. Two of Barack's aides told the New York Times that Michelle told her husband's team "I've never done this before. I just need you to tell me what to do." Her open support of Barack and the display of their aspirational marriage would turn out to be one of the key factors in clinching the election.

Marriage counseling helped them get back on track

Hard as it may be for us to believe, the Obamas don't have a perfect marriage. Their strong relationship has been tested at many points over the decades, and they have had to turn to outside help to keep things going. In a 2018 interview with Elle, Michelle said that "there was work we had to do as a couple," and they had to go to counseling to work out some of their problems.

Michelle admitted that she thought counseling was going to be a way to help her "make [her] case against [Barack]," but it turned out that she learned a lot more about herself. "[Counseling] was about me exploring my sense of happiness," she said. "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."

Living in the White House brought them closer together

The long years of Barack being on the road and leaving Michelle alone with the children were rough, but temporary. Fortunately, things got better for the entire family once the Obamas moved to the White House. While, as president, Barack still had a full schedule, he was also able to dedicate more time to his wife and his children — aided in no small part by the fact that he was now able to work from home.

"That's the beauty of living above the office: Barack is home every day," Michelle told Oprah shortly after the family moved to the White House in 2009. "The four of us sit down to eat as a family. We haven't had that kind of normalcy for years. And now I can just pop over to his office, which sometimes I'll do if I know he's having a particularly frustrating day." 

They had to learn how to argue with each other

Like any other couple, the Obamas have their differences. Perhaps one of the reasons their marriage is so solid is because of the approach they take to fighting. Michelle and Barack argue and respond to anger in different ways, so learning how to argue with each other took some time.

"I am like a lit match," Michelle told Elle about her fighting style. "It's like, poof! And he wants to rationalize everything. So he had to learn how to give me, like, a couple minutes — or an hour — before he should even come in the room when he's made me mad. And he has to understand that he can't convince me out of my anger. That he can't logic me into some other feeling." It's a mark of how seriously they take their relationship that the Obamas have developed a way to make sure that they handle disagreements with grace.

Separate bathrooms help them keep the peace

Michelle and Barack might know how to give each other space to cool down in the heat of an argument, but this isn't the only area where they give each other space. In an interview with Today, Michelle revealed one of the secrets to the Obamas' strong relationship. "One of the keys to a successful marriage is separate bathrooms," she said. "When he [Barack] enters my bathroom sometimes I'm like 'Why are you in here?' And he's like 'I live here, can't I enjoy my bathroom too?'"

Anyone who has ever had to share a bathroom with someone can probably relate to wanting that space for themselves, and it's something that at least one other first lady has in common with Michelle. Current first lady Melania Trump has also said that she believes the secret to having a healthy marriage is for both spouses to have their own bathroom.

They don't make a big deal out of Valentine's Day

Seeing how much affection the Obamas have for each other, it would be natural to assume that they do it up big each year on Valentine's Day, but the couple doesn't actually celebrate the holiday. There's a pretty good reason for this, though, and it's not because they're V-Day grinches. Michelle's birthday is on January 17th, just after the rush of Christmas dies down. "So by Feb. 14, we're kind of tired," she said on Live! With Regis and Kelly in 2011 (via the New York Post).

They might not celebrate the holiday, but Michelle said that her husband is "very romantic" and still finds ways to woo her. "He doesn't forget a thing, even when I think he is… [and] I give him a little attitude, he always comes through." The then-first lady added, "Got to keep the romance alive, even in the White House."

Their social media posts about each other are downright adorable

Barack and Michelle are about as cute as couples come, and their social media posts to each other show how much they're still feeling the love. In November 2018, Barack couldn't help hyping the release of his wife's memoir, writing on Instagram: "Of course, [Michelle is] my wife, so I'm a little biased here. But she also happens to be brilliant, funny, wise — one of a kind. This book tells her quintessentially American story. I love it because it faithfully reflects the woman I have loved for so long."

The couple also posts about each other on special occasions, like Barack's birthday in 2018. Michelle posted a picture on Instagram of her husband looking off into the distance, and wrote "Happy birthday @BarackObama! The view is always better with you." Earlier that year, Barack captioned a picture of the couple on Instagram with a sweet birthday message of his own. "You're not only my wife and the mother of my children, you're my best friend. I love your strength, your grace, and your determination. And I love you more each day. Happy Birthday."

Could they be any more adorable?

Michelle says that being in the White House didn't change Barack

Power has a way of changing people, but Michelle swears that becoming the leader of the free world didn't go to her husband's head. "I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago," Michelle said in her speech at the 2012 National Democratic Convention (via NPR). 

"He's the same man who started his career by turning down high paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods where a steel plant had shut down, fighting to rebuild those communities and get folks back to work… because for Barack, success isn't about how much money you make, it's about the difference you make in people's lives." Michelle went on to talk about Barack's dedication to his children and his devotion to his wife. "And I didn't think it was possible, but today, I love my husband even more than I did four years ago… even more than I did 23 years ago, when we first met," she said.

"Laughter is the best form of unity in a marriage"

Clearly, there's a lot that goes into a strong relationship, and what works for one couple might not work for another. Maybe one day science will be able to come up with a formula for a perfect marriage, but we aren't there yet. For now, though, it's hard to imagine anyone going wrong with this piece of advice from the former first lady.

When asked at a White House luncheon in 2011 what keeps their union strong, the New York Post reported that Michelle said "I think a lot of laughing. I think in our house we don't take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity, I think, in a marriage." Michelle added that she and her husband "find ways to have fun together" and to carve out time for themselves. "We keep each other smiling and that's good," she said.

Michelle believes that marriage "still ain't equal"

She might have one of the most enviable marriages of the 21st century, but Michelle Obama knows that, as an institution, marriage still needs a lot of work. "Marriage still ain't equal, y'all," she said during a speech she gave as part of her book tour (via Vanity Fair). "It ain't equal. I tell women that whole 'you can have it all' — mmm, nope, not at the same time, that's a lie. It's not always enough to lean in because that s*** doesn't work."

The profanity might be surprising coming from the former first lady who has always been careful about the language she uses but, if anything, it drives her point in further. Michelle is the perfect example of how being a wife, mother, and career woman is a constant balancing act. "Be better!" she told the men in the room during in interview with Oprah at the first White House summit on the State of Women in 2016 (via VOA News). "Do the dishes. Don't babysit your children. You don't babysit your own children. Be engaged. Don't just think going to work and coming home makes you a man."