The 54-year-old former first lady speaks to Oprah Winfrey for a primetime special on OWN -- which is set to air Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. ET/PT -- ahead of the release of her book, Becoming, on Nov. 13. Excerpts of the conversation, which will also be released in Winfrey's podcast on Nov. 15 and Nov. 19, debut in Elle's December issue.
In the magazine, Obama tells Winfrey that she's decided to be open because "I don’t want young people to look at me here and now and think, 'Well, she never had it rough. She never had challenges, she never had fears.'"
Throughout her book, Obama details her meticulous life plan: good grades, good school and a high paying job. After a while, Obama "hated" her job as a lawyer in Chicago, Illinois, but decided to stick it out on the advice of her mom. That decision to stay led her to meet her now-husband, someone who definitely didn't fit into her plan.
"I met this guy Barack Obama. He was the opposite of a box checker. He was swerving all over the place," she tells Winfrey, 64. "Barack Obama taught me how to swerve. But his swerving sort of, you know, I’m flailing in the wind."
The pair fell in love, got married and eventually had two children -- Malia, 20, and Sasha, 17 -- through in-vitro fertilization. Though their love never waned, her husband's rising political career led to disagreements, largely about quality time together.
"There was work we had to do as a couple. Counseling we had to do to work through this stuff," she says. "... You go because you think the counselor is going to help you make your case against the other person. 'Would you tell him about himself?!' And lo and behold, counseling wasn’t that at all. It was about me exploring my sense of happiness. What clicked in me was that I need support and I need some from him. But I needed to figure out how to build my life in a way that works for me."
As a result of counseling, Obama came to terms with her "vulnerability" and learned "to love differently," something she calls "an important part of my journey of becoming. Understanding how to become us."
Eventually, her husband's political career had risen enough to make running for president a real possibility. While she knew that "Barack was a decent man" and "smart as all get-out," she was initially hesitant about the campaign.
"Politics was ugly and nasty. I didn’t know that my husband’s temperament would mesh with that. And I didn’t want to see him in that environment," she reveals. "But then on the flip side, you see the challenges that the world is facing. The longer you live and read the paper, you know that the problems are big and complicated. I thought, Well, what person do I know who has the gifts that this man has? The gifts of decency, first and foremost, of empathy second, of high intellectual ability. This man reads and remembers everything, you know? Is articulate. Had worked in the community. And really passionately feels like 'This is my responsibility.'"
"How do you say no to that? So I had to take off my wife hat and put on my citizen hat," she says.
After winning the election, Obama did her best to maintain normalcy in their house and in their family.
"That was one of the things I brought into the White House -- that strict code of, 'You gotta catch up with us, dude.' This is when we’re having dinner. Yes, you’re president, but you can bring your butt from the Oval Office and sit down and talk to your children," Obama says. "Because children bring solace. They let you turn your sights off the issues of the day... And hearing about what happened with what school friend. Immersing yourself in the reality and the beauty of your children and your family."
What followed was eight years in the White House, something that Obama only began to come to terms with after moving into their first post-presidential home. During the initial weeks after President Donald Trump's inauguration, Obama found herself for the first time in nearly a decade, and celebrated by doing something totally mundane -- making toast.
"So here I am in my new home, just me and [my dogs] Bo and Sunny, and I do a simple thing. I go downstairs and open the cabinet in my own kitchen -- which you don’t do in the White House because there’s always somebody there going, 'Let me get that. What do you want? What do you need?' -- and I made myself toast. Cheese toast," she recalls. "Then I took my toast and I walked out into my backyard. I sat on the stoop, and there were dogs barking in the distance, and I realized Bo and Sunny had really never heard neighbor dogs. They’re like, What’s that? And I’m like, 'Yep, we’re in the real world now, fellas.'"
She continues, "It’s that quiet moment of me settling into this new life. Having time to think about what had just happened over the last eight years. Because what I came to realize is that there was absolutely no time to reflect in the White House... We were busy. I would forget on Tuesday what had happened on Monday. I forgot whole countries I visited, literally whole countries... So the toast was the moment that I had time to start thinking about those eight years and my journey of becoming."