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Even President Obama Struggles To Speak Well Of His Spouse

President Obama occasionally makes jokes at the expense of his wife. We all should remember the benefits of speaking well of our spouse in public.

New York Times White House Correspondent Peter Baker tweeted out the following yesterday:


Ha ha ha! Wives are the worst, amiright? Always criticizing their husbands and being such nags! So funny.

It’s a common joke for Obama. In September, according to Politico, the president was asked if he had quit smoking. He said he hadn’t smoked in six years and added, “That’s because I’m scared of my wife.

From the same piece we learned that the president’s portrayal of his lovely wife as controlling is something that also happens outside of jokes:

In an interview the First Couple did with Vogue earlier this year, they were asked what they each have learned from each other. Mrs. Obama answered: “I’ve learned to let go and enjoy … not take things too personally.” Mr. Obama’s response? “What Michelle has done is to remind me every day of the virtues of order,” he said. “Being on time. Hanging up your clothes.”

Ouch. And for our final example, here’s another earlier interview:

When the president sat for an interview with Marie Claire during his first term to talk about their “idyllic” marriage, one question seemed to spark a touch of ire in him. “Before your books took off,” the interviewer asked him, “you had a period where [Michelle] was earning more than you were. How did that affect your relationship?” Although the president went on to say that he “always found it great if she was making all kinds of money,” he clearly sounded defensive in his initial response: “The truth is,” he said, “for 11 out of the 13 years we were married, I was making substantially more than her, and during the two years that I wasn’t, I was running for the United States Senate, which had its own gratifications. So it wasn’t as if I felt inadequate.” Let’s put aside the question of who earned more. Dollars and cents aren’t the issue; respect and authentic intimacy are. Even if Marie Claire was wrong, why bother to set the record straight? If you need to tell the world you were a better provider than a woman who sacrificed much of her adult life to support your aspirations, something, I’m sorry to say, is amiss.

OK, so I’m not sure if anything’s seriously amiss. Obviously the Obamas have a far healthier relationship than, say, previous White House occupants Hillary and Bill Clinton. But they seem to have a loving relationship even by normal American standards.

Still, President Obama is doing something unwise that’s very common for married people. He’s forgetting to speak well of his spouse in public. It’s not a male thing. Many women gripe about their husbands to their friends as well. It’s common, but it’s corrosive and hurtful to the target of the jokes and ire.

I’d like to encourage President Obama — and all spouses — to remember the benefits of speaking well of your spouse in public. Michael Hyatt has written that leaders, in particular, should do this for five reasons:

  • You get more of what you affirm. Most folks, when praised, want to repeat the behavior that caused the affirmation. Likewise, when we complain or are negative, we tend to get more of that behavior. This tends to hold true with both spouses and children; we tend to get the behavior that we focus on and speak about.
  • Affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse. Most people have an inner drive to align their actions with their words. If we start speaking well of someone, we tend to start believing what we say and relating to him or her accordingly. This can effect great change in both the affirmer and affirmed.
  • Affirmation helps strengthen your spouse’s best qualities. Encouragement is one of the most powerful tools we have in our bag as leaders for helping other people become what God intended.
  • Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery. Speaking well of our spouse in public “takes us off the market” and discourages those who might want to disrupt our marriage. When others perceive that we are happily married and hear us speaking well of our spouses, they are less likely to proposition us.
  • Affirmation provides a model to those we lead. Others watch closely how we treat and speak of our spouse. If we speak negatively of those closest to us, others might shy away from following our leadership or example. How we speak of our spouse in front of our children can also impacts how they will interact with their own spouses one day.

There you go. Advice that’s good for presidents and peons such as me. Marriage is awesome. But it’s hard work to make it awesome. There should be plenty of opportunities for married people to address their concerns with each other in private. But the less we take to the public square to joke at each other’s expense, the better for everyone.

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