Michelle Obama on why you should never rely on a partner to make you happy

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Jessica Rapana
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During an appearance at Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision Tour, Michelle Obama shared the biggest lesson she learnt during couples therapy with Barack.

Call me a cliche, but if I could have dinner with anyone in the world, it would be Michelle Obama.

We would probably go somewhere for tacos (like her and Meghan Markle did that time) – just a couple of girls knocking back margaritas on a Tuesday evening – and then, after we had covered all the basics, I would try to milk as much life advice as I could get.

As anyone who has devoured Michelle’s memoir, Becoming, well knows, the former first lady is five-feet-and-11-inches of pure wisdom. Page after page, pearl after pearl, her words continue to inspire women to unapologetically own their own story and to reject feelings of shame in favour of being a continuing work in progress.

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Over the weekend, Michelle joined Oprah Winfrey in New York for her 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus Tour, to talk everything from her time in the White House to her marriage to former president Barack.

When Oprah asked what it was like for the couple to be “empty nesters” again (their daughters, Malia and Sasha, are both now in college), Michelle answered without hesitation. “It is so good, y’all… No, it is really good,” she said with a playful wink.

Mentioning Barack’s sweet Instagram post to his wife on her birthday, Oprah asked: “And you call him your soul affirming partner?” She added: “Is it more so now in 28 years than earlier? Does it keep getting better? Or it’s more seasoned?”

Michelle responded: “It’s all of that. And this is what I keep trying to tell young people. Marriage is hard and raising a family together is a hard thing. It takes a toll.”

She went on to discuss some of the more tumultuous points in their marriage, saying their friendship was something they had always relied on. “We’re coming back to that point where we see each other again because some of the hardest times in our lives we just escaped, we survived it,” she said. “We went through a tough time, we did some hard things together. But now we’re out on the other end and I can look at him and I still recognize my husband. He’s still the man I fell in love with.”

In her book, Michelle writes openly about the fact the couple attended therapy. When Oprah brought this up, Michelle said: “Sometimes you need an objective person to just hear you out. It taught me that I was responsible for my own happiness. I didn’t marry Barack for him to make me happy. No one can make me happy.”

“If I’m going to show up equal in this partnership, I have to be able to make myself happy and so I had to stop focusing on what he wasn’t doing and start thinking about how to carve out the life that I wanted for myself, with or without Barack. The more I succeeded in defining myself for myself, the better I was in a partnership.”

While it is easy to become codependent on a partner for your happiness, Michelle is right: this rarely ends in a happy relationship. 

The happiest people I know don’t put all of their of their proverbial happiness eggs into one basket, or one person. Happy people are rely on themselves for happiness – and they probably get to hang out with Michelle Obama on a Tuesday.

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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