Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross on the Power of Women’s Stories

GALANES Mrs. Obama, the second revelation is about your going to marriage counseling, as a young mom, with your husband. Selfishly, I want to ask: Were you as annoyed as everyone else that a marriage counselor never says anything like: “The court finds in favor of Michelle”?

OBAMA I think we all feel that. “I know I’m right. I just need someone to tell him that.” But I hit a point of struggle. I was married to an ambitious man who traveled, and I had two little kids. That wasn’t my plan, and it hacked into my insecurities. And what I learned in counseling was that I was asking him to make me happy. This light bulb went off! What do I need to make my life work for me? And I demanded it unapologetically. I asked for more help at home, more flexibility at work. And that’s what I want for all women — the power that comes with education and the leverage to walk away.

ROSS That’s the way I was raised, knowing I had choices. And the more we can pop these stories into girls’ heads, the more choices we give them.

OBAMA That’s why girls have to be educated. If they’re hanging on to bad choices because they don’t have the power to walk away, that’s how stuff never gets fixed. And I always put myself in a position where I knew I didn’t need to be there: I don’t need this job. I love my husband, but I don’t need him to pay my bills or put my kids through school. That gives me leverage in life.

GALANES How is marriage easier after the White House?

OBAMA We celebrated our 26th anniversary this year. Now, I love my children. Obviously, I wanted them. But they are a big interruption to the process of a relationship. I joke with my girls: “You really got in the way of my marriage!” But now, after the presidency and the other jobs, the financial stress, we’re getting to that point in our 50s when we’re rediscovering each other. We’re the same people. But we went through this maze. We’ve got cuts on our backs, but we’re still holding hands. And it’s like: “Are you good? You lost a shoe. Leave it. Leave the shoe.” But we’re still there together.

GALANES Last question: First lady is a job that comes with recriminations: She gave too many parties, she didn’t give enough parties. Who elected her? When did you reach the point, both of you, when you thought: This is my voice, and I’m good with it?

ROSS About two years ago, I realized my life was actually mine. And that’s been a big unfolding for me. Here I am! And then all of a sudden you’re tripping on a new thing. Then there’s a new arrival and a new dark hallway. It’s a process.

OBAMA That’s why the book is called “Becoming.” Because there’s no one point where you just say: “Yeah!” Maybe now, at 54, I’ve done a lot of things. I think: “This is a big deal. It’s over, and I did it.” I had that sit-down with Barack, too. Stepping back from it a little and recovering from some of the wounds, I can look him in the eye and go: “Man, you were amazing!” But it takes some time to get to that place, and it’s always a process. You’re going to have so many lives within a life.

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