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…