Michelle Obama talks frankly of the strains Barack's career put on their marriage

"Marriage is hard. But going into it, no one ever tells you that," says the first lady - pictured helping her husband prepare for a speech in the modest Chicago apartment they shared with their children until his victorious Senate race
 Photo: © Getty Images

No one who saw them gaze lovingly into each other's eyes as they shared that first dance on election night could doubt the strength of their union.

But Barack Obama and wife Michelle, who wed in 1992, have endured some tough times on the road to the White House and beyond.

The first lady spoke frankly this week about the stresses put on their marriage by her husband's absences and the problems of trying to juggle home and work.

"This was sort of the eye-opener to me, that marriage is hard," the 45-year-old told The New York Times.

"But going into it, no one ever tells you that. They just tell you, 'Do you love him?' 'What's the dress look like?'."

But rocky patches are a normal part of any relationship, adds Michelle.

"The bumps happen to everybody all the time, and they are continuous," she said.

And while theirs is known to be one of the strongest and most loving unions in the political world, the mum-of-two says the image of a flawless relationship "is the last thing that we want to project".

She continues: "It's unfair to the institution of marriage, and it's unfair for young people who are trying to build something, to project this perfection that doesn't exist."

The mum of two said that she would be pleased "if my ups and downs, our ups and downs in our marriage can help young couples sort of realise that good marriages take work".

There been already been claims by one author that career-related pressures put intense strain on the couple's marriage, at one point causing Michelle to think about walking out.

And according to her chief of staff, Michelle was at one point "in a lot of ways a single mom, and that was not her plan".

But Barack says reports that their union almost came to an end are "over reading it".

Though he says he "wouldn't gloss over the fact that it was a tough time for us", he states: "There was no point where I was fearful for our marriage."

However, he does add: "There were points in time where I was fearful that Michelle… would be unhappy."