Obama admits wife Michelle 'tense, lonely and isolated' in White House

Barack Obama admits to leaving wife Michelle feeling ‘tense, lonely and isolated’ as he worked into the night while economic and foreign policy crises piled up for his administration

  • Former president’s new memoir reveals the strain White House put on marriage 
  • Wife Michelle would go to bed alone while he worked tirelessly into the night 
  • Despite her successes as First Lady, Barack sensed Michelle’s ‘constant tension’
  • Obama admits that in presenting a calm front ‘as crises piled up … I was really just protecting myself – and contributing to her loneliness’

Barack Obama has admitted to leaving wife Michelle feeling ‘tense, lonely and isolated’ as he worked into the night while ‘crises piled up’ for his administration.

The former president has revealed how tender moments became rare with the First Lady as the politically poisonous cocktail of war and financial turmoil gripped his White House.

The Harvard Law graduates would go their separate ways after dinner, Barack to work tirelessly in the Treaty Room – the study in the president’s private apartments – while Michelle would go to bed.

‘I’d undress, brush my teeth, and slip under the covers, careful not to wake her.’ Obama writes.

‘And although I rarely had trouble falling asleep during my time in the White House … there were nights when, lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered, and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.’

First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama caress before a videotaping for the 2015 World Expo, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House

US President Barack Obama makes a statement at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on August 20, 2014, as the US carried out airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq

In the newly released extract of ‘A Promised Land,’ published in The Sunday Times, Obama lauds Michelle’s achievements as First Lady – how she threw open the doors of the White House to make it a ‘People’s House,’ welcoming musicians, military families and children for concerts, movie nights and trick-or-treating.

Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, B. B. King, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney filled the walls of their residence with song.

‘Michelle loved those concerts as much as I did,’ the 44th president of the United States writes. ‘But I suspect she would have preferred to have attended them as a guest rather than a host.’

US President Barack Obama speaks before signing a memorandum on childhood obesity as First Lady Michelle Obama looks on February 9, 2010 in the Oval Office of the White House

There was also Michelle’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative to combat childhood obesity, and Joining Forces, a collaboration with the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, to support military families.

And in her public appearances, whether at a school or on a late-night chat show, the First Lady was able to charm America with her ‘warmth, her smile and quick wit.’

Who can forget how Michelle put her arm around Her Majesty the Queen during the couple’s visit to Buckingham Palace in April, 2009, a breach of protocol so touching as not to matter.

‘And yet, despite Michelle’s success and popularity, I continued to sense an undercurrent of tension in her, subtle but constant, like the faint thrum of a hidden machine.’ Obama writes.

‘It was as if, confined as we were within the walls of the White House, all of her previous sources of frustration became more concentrated, more vivid, whether it was my round-the-clock absorption with work, or the way politics exposed our family to constant scrutiny and attacks, or the tendency of even friends and family members to treat her role as secondary in importance.’

Obama believes much of this could be attributed to a constant looking ahead to ‘calamity’ – no matter one’s past triumphs, the political wheel continues to turn and ‘so, consciously or not, a part of her stayed on alert.’

‘It makes me wonder now, with the benefit of hindsight, whether Michelle’s was the more honest response to all the changes we were going through; whether in my seeming calm as crises piled up, my insistence that everything would work out in the end, I was really just protecting myself – and contributing to her loneliness.’ Obama writes.

But it wasn’t all stress in the White House, and Obama fondly remembers how the pair reaped the benefits provided by having a dedicated staff including a chef, private invitations to museums and being mailed early copies of movies by the Motion Picture Association of America to watch in the White House theatre.

Michelle preferred rom-coms, while Barack enjoyed films where ‘terrible things happening to people, and then they die.’ 

As well as frequent gatherings with their close friends, Barack and Michelle took the chance to invite luminaries for intimate dinners.

Obama recounts ‘wine-fuelled’ evenings with the novelist Toni Morrison, geneticist Dr Eric Lander and a singing Meryl Streep, which left him feeling his hope in humanity had been restored.

He also describes how he and Michelle were overjoyed to watch their daughter Sasha’s fourth-grade basketball team, huddled onto the bleachers with other parents to cheer the girls on.  

He described these moments as those where the ‘world slows down’ for a parent as one witnesses ‘the miracle of your child growing up.’ 

A Promised Land by Barack Obama, published by Viking, is released on Tuesday.

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