In this episode of the Michelle Obama Podcast, Conan O’Brien joins Michelle as they talk about what they did to keep their marriage strong amidst conflicts and changes in the relationship. They suggest that we should pick the right person to marry, to cultivate empathy in the marriage, and to emotionally prepare for the demands of parenthood.
Read this if...
- You’re married
- You’re planning to get married
- You and your partner are about to have a baby
Conan O’Brien is a television host, comedian, writer, podcaster, and producer. He is best known for hosting the late-night talk shows Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.
the distilld lessons (extended)
Marriage isn’t only a new chapter in life, it’s like an entirely new book we write with someone else. After the wedding bells ring, it’s expected that the person we share our vows with is the one we’ll be with for the rest of our lives.
Being married is one of the most significant life transitions we can go through, and there’s no shortage of challenges along the way. Differences in perspectives and expectations can lead to disagreements. These disagreements can intensify and fester which could even cause separation.
But we can address these challenges of marriage by aligning our priorities, managing our expectations, and practicing empathy with our partner.
In this episode of the Michelle Obama Podcast, Conan O’Brien joins Michelle to talk about what they did to keep their respective marriages strong amidst conflicts and changes in the relationship.
Here are the distilld lessons inspired by the “They Do: Talking Marriage with Conan O’Brien” episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast:
1. Building a marriage is like building a team
Michelle says that we’d have longer-lasting marriages if we picked our partners the way we would pick players for a sports team. When we pick players we want on our side, we go for winners. We choose those who can play the game: those with the vision, skills, and drive to succeed.
These also apply to marriage. Before we enter a relationship, we should know if the person we want to marry possesses the qualities we think are fit for married life. This entails asking ourselves questions like, “What are their core values and principles?”, “How do they react to conflict?”, or “Are they willing to sacrifice for the relationship?” The answers to these questions indicate whether we are compatible with our potential partner. A 2016 study from Utah University found that married couples who share common values are more likely to have a stable and satisfying relationship.
Conan says that we can find the answers to these questions by observing our partner throughout difficult times in the relationship. How they handle fights and how they process their emotions show us if they’re someone we can see ourselves marrying.
Their values and responses during hard times are probably how they will react after getting married. If they’re willing to set aside differences and work through conflict, it’s a good sign that they’re someone we can settle down with. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Theory & Review, partners who are willing to acknowledge and manage conflicts are likely to stay longer together than those who don’t.
A marriage built like a team is a marriage built for success. When we take the time to make sure that we’re compatible, we can build a strong foundation for the commitment of a lifetime.
2. Empathy is essential in a marriage
We can resolve conflicts in the marriage when we make a conscious effort to understand our partner’s emotions.
Michelle and Barrack argue like lawyers. They both want to make their case, and they both want to win. But Michelle realized that Barrack was more sensitive than she thought he was. He remembers the exact hurtful words Michelle uses in an argument and the context behind the argument. Michelle has now made it a point that whenever they argue, she’ll use language that communicates her frustrations without being hurtful.
Conan believes that when someone is losing their temper, they’re feeling fear deep down. They might be afraid that we don’t understand them, or we don’t care about what they’re going through. It’s our job as partners to address those fears.
We can do this by making our partner know that despite disagreements, we understand where they’re coming from. They might have personal problems, traumas, and issues that they’re dealing with. These can influence how they react to conflict. In a comparative study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationship, taking our partner’s perspective allows for a more positive approach in solving conflicts. When there’s empathy, we respond constructively even to negative feedback.
When they see that we empathize with what they’re going through and that we see through the hurtful words they say, we can reconcile without anyone feeling unheard. This prevents short bouts of temper from turning into big fights that cause irreparable damage to the marriage.
3. Starting a family can make marriage challenging
Having a baby can change the dynamics in a relationship. It’s helpful to keep this in mind to manage expectations. Michelle insists that as rewarding as parenting can be, it can affect a marriage. She says it’s because the division of labor in child rearing is unequal.
The wife is traditionally expected to sacrifice more of her personal life to attend to the child’s needs. The husband, however, will live a relatively unchanged life. A study from the University of Wisconsin suggests that mothers are more involved in child rearing. This can breed resentment within the wife and that resentment can overpower the romance. In an article published in Sex Roles, researchers found that when the father is not involved in raising and disciplining children, the mother feels that she has the sole burden of parental duties.
Conan addressed his wife’s then-growing resentment by going into marriage counseling. He also says that he’s made it his personal mission to address resentment. When he senses that his wife wants to talk about a gripe or an issue, he doesn’t avoid the conflict. Instead, he allows the fights to happen. After they reconcile, Conan says that they’re better than they were before they had the fight.
Resentment is common in all married couples starting a family. Even if we get along almost perfectly with our partner before the baby, the challenges of child rearing increase the emotional and physical demands in a relationship. The fundamentally different roles we play also create an inequality in terms of sacrifices made.
We can address this resentment by keeping communication open and offering to help whenever we can. If we can’t understand what our significant other is going through, we should take the time to observe and ask. If they’re the ones who can’t understand, we should be patient and be honest about how we feel. According to A Book About Love written by Jonah Lehrer, seeing disagreements as ways to improve the relationship can make the partnership stronger.
When the baby arrives, we will become Mom and Dad. But we will still be husband and wife, too. We should never lose focus on our relationship even if we’re caught up in our responsibilities. It keeps both the marriage and the newly formed family strong and healthy.
Marriage isn’t easy but it is fulfilling when you take the time to choose the right person and put in the work to make it succeed. When we understand the different roles and demands marriage and child rearing have on each partner, and we treat each other with empathy, we can build marriages that last for the rest of our lives.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.