Whenever our forever First Lady Michelle Obama speaks, we listen…but if you're like me, then you pack a journal and take notes. This is exactly what I did recently when I attended Michelle Obama's "#IAmBecoming" tour in Atlanta.
I -- along with my mother and more than 20,000 people "dressed to the nines" -- pressed our way into the arena like we were on a mission to go see the Queen (which, for many of us, she basically is our Queen). The energy was electrifying from the time we arrived until the time she exited the stage and even as we departed and headed back to our designated cars. We were so excited just to get a picture next to her life-size posters and banners that were strategically placed throughout the arena.
Often times, we refer to or classify her marriage to President Barack Obama as "#RelationshipGoals" or "#BlackLove" – something that she is very much aware of. For many of us, they provide hope; an awe-inspiring example and vision of love for those who aspire to experience something like that. While Michelle is humbled and appreciative of the titles associated with her and Barack, she candidly acknowledged that love and marriage is hard work no matter who you are.
One thing we love most about Michelle is the fact that we see so much of ourselves in her because of her transparency and authenticity. And this occasion made it even that much more apparent especially when she shared - so eloquently and honestly - some gems and insights about love and marriage.
1. “You don’t have to aspire to just be the wind beneath someone’s wing…Prioritize yourself.”
It was evident from the beginning – as an adolescent, as a Princeton and Harvard graduate, as an attorney, and even as a First Lady - that Michelle Obama believed and was committed to her personal belief that, "it's up to me to establish and define my voice." She's more than Barack Obama's wife, more than a First Lady, more than a mother, more than a daughter…she is becoming the woman she was destined to be.
During the event, Michelle revealed that at a certain season in her life, she realized that she had made everyone else a priority except for herself. She went on to share how even though she struggled with it as a wife, a mother, and career woman, "Barack had no problem with making himself a priority." He did what he wanted to do.
She, like many of us as women, realized that she needed to do the same - focus on making herself, and her self-care, a priority. As she's mentioned before, "We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our to-do list." Nevertheless, she became more committed to doing things that she enjoyed as well.
Like Michelle, we too must realize that our "happiness isn't predicated on our spouse making us happy." Instead, we find happiness in the simple pleasures of life and by doing what we love, instead of expecting others to do what we aren't willing to do for ourselves.
2. “When it comes to our partners, we aren’t just reviewing their stats, but their story and their soul.”
"Barack was different for me…He made me stop and think about things." Instead of merely going through life and checking off her list, Michelle was challenged to think deeper about why she was doing what she was doing versus just checking off a list of accomplishments.
Finding the love of your life is more than just what's on paper: where did they go to school, how much money do they make, what is their social status, etc. Nevertheless, it's more about what lies beneath the surface. It's the difference between love versus lust, and romance versus intimacy. It's knowing that the other person feeds our soul more than they drain us; they help us more than they hinder us; they treat us differently and better than those who came before them.
3. “Relationships have different seasons and different chapters.”
None of us will truly understand the peaks and valleys of being married to the President of the United States. However, anyone who has been in a relationship or has been married long enough knows that you will have ups and downs. Michelle reminded us that the "test of a marriage comes when you build things together."
So, whether we're building the relationship, bridging the two backgrounds, or building a family, we're going to have obstacles. At the end of the day, we have to be more committed to fighting for each other than against each other.
4. You can’t just “fix” someone.
It's no secret that Michelle has been open about her and Barack going to marriage counseling. During the tour, she openly shared how initially she "took Barack to counseling to fix him." Nonetheless, to her surprise, the counselor's attention soon shifted from Barack to Michelle…something she wasn't necessarily expecting. Hence, it was evident that their marriage issues weren't going to resolve if she, too, wasn't able to look within herself as well.
Obviously, we can't force anyone to change – including our spouses. Nevertheless, we can't become so obsessed with trying to better someone else that we miss the opportunity to better ourselves. Both spouses have to be willing and committed to doing the "self-work."
5. “You can’t expect your spouse to do for you what you know they won’t do.”
When Michelle described their marriage counseling, she also admitted: "I wanted him (Barack) to do for me what he wasn't going to do." The reality, however, was that Barack was doing what she already knew he would do.
So often, we expect people to do or be something different from who we already know them to be. Part of learning to truly love someone else is learning to love them for who they truly are. Real love allows you to be your real self.
6. “Don’t sit in isolation with your problems.”
Although Michelle was referring to younger couples as well as young mothers, this tip applies to so many areas and challenges of our lives including: love, relationships, mental health, illnesses, and simply living life as a black woman.
Whether you're a woman and a mother, a wife, a girlfriend, a sister…Michelle reminded us that "we are not alone…that's why it's important to surround yourself with wisdom. We owe it to our young people to be better." No more acting like we have a perfect life, and allowing others to believe that what they're going through is uncommon. Often times, just knowing that we're not alone in our journey, and especially our struggles, can be quite comforting and can often lead us on a path towards healing.
As Michelle said, we have to "believe in the validity of who we are and have the courage to share our stories." It benefits no one when we act like we have the perfect marriage, the perfect career, or the perfect life. The more we're honest about our journey, the more we can help heal each other and encourage other women to do the same.