(WASHINGTON) — After a historic ascent to the White House and four years in the Washington limelight, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama say their marriage and relationship with daughters Sasha and Malia are stronger than ever before.
The first couple reflected on their family life, the 2012 campaign, and the perks and perils of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters.
“Like every marriage, I think you have your ups and you have your downs, but one of the things that has happened is that if you’ve worked through the tough times, the respect and love that you feel deepens,” the president told Walters of his marriage.
The first couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in October.
“We end up feeling, after 20 years, just the sense of you can’t imagine your life without the other person,” he said. “And you can’t imagine sort of another partner that would give you more lasting satisfaction.”
The Obamas’ affection has been a focal point of discussion since their election night victory when the Obama campaign tweeted a photo of the couple in full embrace. The image and caption — “Four more years” — became the most shared message in Twitter history.
“When I look at that picture, I see the man that I married,” Mrs. Obama told Walters. “I see Barack, I see Malia and Sasha’s dad, and I think that realness resonates with people.”
The imagery contrasts sharply with the bruising and competitive tenor of the campaign against GOP nominee Mitt Romney and a race that was hotly-contested down to the wire.
The Obamas said that, in spite of a draft concession speech they had prepared on Nov. 7, neither doubted a second term in the White House nor considered contingency plans for the possible relocation of their family outside Washington.
“The girls definitely asked the question, ‘Well, what happens if dad loses?’ And the thing that we just tried to instill in them was that, you know what, we were fine before we were here, and we’re going to be fine no matter what happens,” Mrs. Obama said.
“The truth is that for us, the campaign remained fairly steady,” she added. “You never know what’s going to happen, but in terms of what our team was telling us…we trusted the American people.”
With the victory comes four more years of having to navigate the demanding conditions of raising a family inside the Washington bubble.
Mrs. Obama said the experience has already taught her a lesson in patience and the importance of remaining politic in public.
“I have learned from my husband, watching him, that [elected office] does require a great deal of patience to really feel the full impact of the work that you do on the ground,” she said. “I’ve had to learn about what real change means, and how much it takes to really get things done.”
President Obama said his wife has also had to learn about “biting her tongue” and avoiding the “impolitic.”
“Privately, you know, there — she has opinions,” he said with a grin. “She’s got a few views.”
As for their daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, they are thriving outside of the public eye, the Obamas said, praising the girls as “solid,” “kind,” and full of “self-respect.”
“They are who they appear to be,” Mrs. Obama told Walters. “They’re really sweet girls, very poised, intelligent, opinionated, outspoken, outgoing, funny. But they’re respectful.”
Malia Obama, now in her first year of high school, recently got her first cellphone.
“You never know when I’m going to walk in your room, and I’m going to definitely ask you, ‘oh, are you, who are you talking to, and are you talking about school work?'” Mrs. Obama said.
“And, and they’re not very good at lying,” interjected President Obama with a grin.
Both said fostering independence and responsible behavior, grounded in mutual trust, is a hallmark of their parenting.
“I’m trusting her to do what’s right,” the first lady said of her eldest daughter. “She knows the rules, she knows what she’s supposed to do, and you know, and I’m not going to be able to monitor when she goes to college, so we’re practicing for college and beyond.” Malia will be college-bound just as the Obamas leave the White House in 2016.
Does that practice include dating? The Obamas won’t say.
“I’m not going to disclose all her business on national television,” the president said. “But, she’s a teenager, and she’s going to start at some point, you know, being interested in it.”
More of Walters’ exclusive post-election joint interview with the Obamas airs Friday night on 20/20 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Dylan Byers, CNN
Ariane de Vogue and Laura Jarrett, CNN
Lee Montana Newspapers
Seth Fiegerman, CNN