Michelle Obama on partnering well | Inquirer Business

Michelle Obama on partnering well

/ 02:10 AM December 01, 2022

(First of four parts)

No partnership is perfect. When their children were young, Michelle and Barack Obama were so overwhelmed with political and legal responsibilities that they “desperately needed” couples counseling. Sometimes, Michelle was so exasperated with her husband that she felt like “pushing him out the window,” but they soon realized that a true partner does not compensate for our needs or fix our issues. Contrary to the movie “Jerry Maguire,” none of us should ever “complete” another.

Just like each player on a good basketball team knows how to shoot, pass and defend—even if they have their own specialties—each member in a partnership enters with a complete set of skills to complement and bolster each other, and together, “cover the full court, keeping yourselves versatile over time,” says Michelle Obama in her latest book “The Light We Carry.” “A partnership doesn’t change who you are, even as it challenges you to be accommodating of another person’s needs. Just as Barack hasn’t changed much in the 33 years since we met, neither have I.”


I quote the above to S, the matriarch of a textile family business, who does not want to throw a fete for their 25th wedding anniversary. She still loves her husband T, but he takes her for granted and she resents his quirks, which she used to find endearing long ago.


You are not perfect either, I gently tell S. I am certain T finds you irritating too, at times. But he loves you, even if he does not show it. Marriage is not a fairy tale (look at what happened to Charles and Diana). Marriage takes work. Have a heart-to-heart talk with T, with a counselor if needed, but celebrate the blessing of your togetherness—not with a huge bash, but with your family.

“The change is in what’s between us, the million small adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices we’ve each made in order to accommodate the close presence of the other … seasoned and battle-tested over decades,” says Obama. “Whatever small stirring happened between us on that first day of our acquaintance … that’s the thing we have grown and matured over time into certainty. That’s the ongoing miracle.”

It’s a miracle that T and I did not separate, says S. I have to take care of so many things 80 percent of the time.

But your husband runs the other difficult 20 percent, the part you don’t want to touch, I tell S. He deals with the union leaders; he lets go of dishonest employees. And if you keep score, then your partnership will implode. Marriage is not a business, with debits and credits to keep in balance.

I quote Obama again, “If you choose to try to make a life with another person, you will live by that choice. You’ll find yourself having to choose again and again to remain rather than run. It helps if you enter into a committed relationship prepared to work, ready to be humbled … And inside of that choice and those years, you’ll almost certainly come to see that there’s no such thing as a 50-50 balance. Instead, it’ll be like beads on an abacus, sliding back and forth—the math rarely tidy, the equation never quite solved. A relationship is dynamic this way … always evolving. At no point will both of you feel like things are perfectly fair and qual. Someone will always be adjusting. Someone will always be sacrificing. One person may be up while the other is down; one might bear more of the financial pressures while the other handles family obligations. Those choices and the stresses that go along with them are real … Your fulfillment rarely happens all at once. In a strong partnership, both people will take their turns at compromise, building that shared sense of home together.”

Of course, not all couples should stay together at all costs. Physical abuse, even if they beg forgiveness and swear never to strike again, should never be tolerated.


But many marriages are worth it, I tell S, like yours. With patience, humor and love, your partnership with T is worth it.

“True intimacy can be aggravating,” says Obama. “And yet we stay.”

(Next week: Michelle Obama on decoding fear)

Get “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama from National Bookstore (nationalbookstore.com).

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Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].

TAGS: All in the Family

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