Former President Barack Obama admits that his time in the White House put a strain on his marriage. In a new long-form interview with PEOPLE, the 44th president of the United States explained how the office was hard on him and Michelle Obama — and how they are getting things back on track now. Obama also addressed this problem in his new memoir, A Promised Land.
Obama frankly told people that, from his perspective, marital tension was one of the defining factors of the eight years he spent running the United States. "That was the truth of our time in the White House," he said. "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."
Thankfully, Obama said that his marriage and their family "came out of it whole," thanks in large part to the history-making import of their time there. He said: "There were great joys in the White House. There was never a time where we didn't recognize what an extraordinary privilege it was to be there. Most importantly, our children emerged intact and they are wonderful, kind, thoughtful, creative — and not entitled — young women. So that's a big sigh of relief."
Still, the pressure of the office was also one of the main factors in the tensions between him and Michelle. He said that "during the time we were there, Michelle felt this underlying tension. The pressure, stress, of needing to get everything right, to be 'on' at every moment."
Obama explained that his personal way of handling the stress of politics has always been to let it roll off of his back. "I tend to be 'uh, that'll be fine,' and I worry a little bit less, just temperamentally," he said. In retrospect, he believes this isolated him from Michelle, who felt many of the same pressures but felt she could not share them with him. He also admitted frankly that she hates the "blood sport" of the political arena. "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, so she would tamp it down," he said.
Thankfully, Barack and Michelle Obama are closer than ever, the former president said. He told his interviewers "it was like a big exhale right after we left office," but he also said that it took some conscientious work to get their relationship back to normal. "It took some time to talk about how she had felt," he said. "Once [the presidency] was done, there was the possibility of her opening up ... but more importantly just her being able to let out a breath and relax."
Obama even said that isolating during the coronavirus has helped him and Michelle reconnect, while she told reporters that it "allowed us to just enjoy the deep love that comes with a marriage this long. But also to be friends again." Obama's memoir, A Promised Land, is available now wherever books are sold in print, digital and audiobook formats.