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Michelle Obama’s sound relationship advice

This week it has been impossible to avoid the blanket media coverage of the visit by the United States President, Barack Obama and his wife. There were endless trips, rounds of speeches, royal meetings and photo opportunities. UK commentators waxed lyrical about the “special relationship” between our two countries.

I can’t say that I shared the enthusiasm. Like many others, I had high hopes when President Obama was elected, with his “Yes We Can” slogan and promises of sweeping change. So far, I have been disappointed that his actions have not matched up to his words. With civil wars and problems coming to a head in the Middle East, I’ve seen little to convince me that he is the man to achieve peace. (For example, chastising the Prime Minister of Israel before the world’s media clearly hasn’t had the desired effect; instead, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a defiant and rousing speech before the U.S. Congress this week, which received 29 standing ovations. And right now, nothing has changed.)

The First Lady, on the other hand, seems to hide her light under a bushel. In my opinion, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Michelle Obama may wear pretty clothes and have a welcoming smile, but we shouldn’t forget that she is also a formidable lawyer. She is a sharply intelligent woman and, although she clearly appears to like being “First Mom” and having her photo taken hugging lots of children, she talks some excellent common sense.

Addressing children at Christchurch College, Oxford this week, she tried to give them a goal. I think that her words apply to relationships as much as they do academia.

“To succeed at a place like this”, she told them, “you just have to work hard, you have to push yourself. More importantly you have to believe in yourself”.

Later, Mrs Obama gave some frank dating advice.

“Reach for partners that make you better. Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down.”

Her advice struck a chord with me. In my experience, a successful relationship requires mutual love, respect and self-belief. There is a world of difference between drawing upon your partner for inspiration to become a better person, and willing your partner to change for the better.

Sometimes I see clients who tell me, ruefully, of spouses who promised to change ways but never did. There are people who embark upon new relationships, knowing in their heart of hearts that their new partner isn’t right for them. When they know that the new partner has faults, they try to convince themselves that these faults aren’t make-or-break. Years later, however, those faults become relationship fault lines.

Some people know their partner will never change, but keep hoping against the odds that change will happen. They become weighed down by their partner’s empty promises, which keep on coming…

“I’m sorry. Forgive me. I won’t do it again. I will change, I promise!”

How many times do people hear this and think it might be worth going on? But how many times do those promises materialise? Can people truly change? Do leopards change their spots?

We all have our faults and, going into a new relationship, we bring them with us. But when both partners put one another first, each doing all they can to ensure the other’s happiness, I believe that the relationship has a very good chance of enduring.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how the “special relationship” between the UK and the USA fares in the coming months and years. Ever since Obama took office, there have been concerns on this side of the Atlantic that the relationship is not what it once was – concerns that were not eased when the new President removed Winston Churchill’s bust from the White House and gave Gordon Brown a DVD box set. Now President Obama, full of promises, is at pains to reassure the UK that the relationship is stronger than ever: it is not just “special”, but “essential”. This promised change has met with a rapturous reception from the media, but will it materialise? Or should we try not to get our hopes up?

Not for the first time, I find myself wondering how political relationships would fare if the smart First Lady brought her experience and insights to bear on the world stage…

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. ObiterJ says:

    I also have some disappointment with Mr Obama’s Presidency. After the Republican Bush administration, the ordinary people of America felt that there was a need for a change of direction both domestically and interntaionally. Obama, with his undoubted gift for oratory, was the candidate offering the ordinary American the change they yearned for. Sadly, despite all the rhetoric and euphoria of election time, it was always unlikely that he would be able, in one term in office, to deal with the complex problems of health care, the massive economic mess which he inherited as well as the abysmal foreign policy debacle left by Bush and the so-called “neocons.” There is cause for disappointment but I hope that the American people consider carefully their next step. Do they really wish to return to the right-wing style of administration offered by the Republicans? For my part, I hope not.

    Michelle Obama is a “class act.” Like the late Eleanor Roosevelt, she has something special and I like it. Her advice to those girls was spot on and it applies to young men as well. Bring into your life those who make you better. That is, those who inspire you; those who encourage you to “do your best” for self and family; those who create in you that desire to be (in the words of the late Ralph Reader) “the best that you can be.”

  2. ObiterJ says:

    Link to Ralph Reader’s song – the wording sounds “dated” these days but the message is eternal.

  3. Lukey says:

    Michelle Obama is not elected, so she doesn’t have to make any tough decisions, she can say lots of nice stuff and frankly it means sweet FA. I don’t agree with everything Obama has done, but sweeping change was simply not possible in reality if you understand the way american politics works.

    Suggesting Israel revert to its 1967 borders was hardly radical, Netanyahu is a hawk, he is not really interested in negotiations – period – and I speak as somebody who has some sympathy with Israel’s position.

  4. JamesB says:

    Those teeth are amaizing. Personally I think I prefer yellow. Much more character and stronger also.

  5. Marilyn Stowe says:

    If you google’ Netanyahu Obama Wikipedia ‘and first search’ Images,’ you will find a black and white photo someone has tagged together of these two in their younger days. I think it speaks volumes about how these two men have been shaped by their backgrounds which are more fully described in Wikipedia. Neither can change.
    My post is intended to highlight the near impossibility of achieving real change whether on the world stage or in relationships, which I wrote about because I noticed the Obamas had coincidentally both centered upon the topic, but with different views.

  6. Lukey says:

    “I noticed the Obamas had coincidentally both centered upon the topic, but with different views.”

    I would make 2 points Marilyn:

    (a) If they swapped roles I have no doubt that Michelle Obama would have said the same thing to Netanyahu as her husband – remember they talk politics all the time and he is known to place a great value on her opinion – and I also think that her husband would have been capable of saying equally fluffy and nice things to the children at Christchurch College Oxford.

    (b) when you speak of
    “the near impossibility of achieving real change whether on the world stage or in relationships”
    – what is the President supposed to do ? Netanyahu is the President’s Israeli ‘partner’ on the Palestinian issue whether he likes it or not because he is the democratically elected leader of Israel !

  7. Tulsa Divorce Attorneys says:

    According to the latest polls, most Americans are disappointed in the Obama Administration too.

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