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The Fight That Made Michelle Obama Re-Think Her Marriage & Communication Style

You can’t have a real relationship or a real strong marriage without knowing how to fight. Of course, knowing how to fight effectively and knowing how to win a fight are two very different things. For former first-lady Michelle Obama, she says that it took her some time to find that balance in her marriage to former President Barack Obama — and that it took one fight when they were engaged to change how she approached communication and conflict in their marriage.

In the latest episode of “The Michelle Obama Podcast” Obama and Conan O’Brien turn their attention and humor to talk about marriages and the lasting communication skills they’ve learned through their relationships — and there’s plenty of solid takeaways to consider.

The two, of course, talk about how important it is to know yourself in your relationship — to let yourself grow into the ride-or-die kind of team player (a Lebron!) you’d want to draft. But, from there, they also say that the continuation of that work once you’re partnered up is to continue being able to use the voice you’ve developed to make sure that you’re really communicating and not letting resentments pile up. After all, you can sort out a fight about money or chores or specific incidents — but it’s a lot harder to resolve a fight that’s about everything (but especially when you’re fighting to win, not to resolve the conflict).


“I’ve already written about our lawyerly way of arguing, you know, because we each, you know, we know how to win an argument,” Obama said.  “And sometimes, we can feel ourselves, just, lawyering ourselves to death. We both like to win. I know that we’ve had to learn how to argue differently. Because I, I hit fast and hard, and then I forget, it’s like, oh, did that cut you deeply?”

Michelle says that those lawyering skills and their very different fighting styles — she hits “fast and hard” — have made her have to reconsider how she delivers thoughts and feelings during a fight with her husband. Particularly, she remembers an example of a fight that stuck with Barack much more than it did with her.

“I remember, Barack knows the story when we were engaged, I got mad at him about something, and I took my engagement ring off, and I said ‘Forget this. Who needs this? And I threw the ring,” she said. “We were in my car, I wasn’t really throwing it out, I threw it where I would know it would go. I didn’t mean it, I wasn’t like, this is it, I just, it was, it was a’s like, bloop! You know, it was on the floor, I knew where it was going, but, you know, whenever he gets the chance to relive that, as an example of, you know, how, where how fast and quickly I can go there. Do, he remembers it and I don’t, right?”

She says from that fight — and more specifically how it stuck with her husband in such a lasting way — made her realize “he feels things much more deeply for over a longer period of time.”

“He remembers the exact words used, the context that they were in, and I’m like ‘wow, was I really? I don’t even remember being mad!'” Obama said. “So I had to learn, how not to go there.” And when going there can be lasting, hurtful or make one partner feel like the relationship is on shaky ground (even if that’s not your intent) that’s a good lesson to take home to your own partners. Because, ultimately, when you fight it’s not about just being heard or saying your peace, but finding your way back to each other (that ideal teammate you drafted) to resolve a conflict or overcome a challenge

“You have to learn how to communicate in a way that the other person is actually going to hear it,” Obama adds, “not just, in a way that’s going to ease you of your feelings.”

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