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Image: US President Barack Obama dances with First Lady Michelle Obama
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
The Obamas are openly affectionate, even when the cameras are rolling.
By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 3/5/2009 5:53:54 PM ET 2009-03-05T22:53:54

It doesn’t take an expert in body language to see that the first couple is totally into each other. And while I don’t claim to know a single thing about their sex life, I do believe they have one, and a healthy one at that. Actually, we don’t have to speculate too much about the Obamas’ love life because they’ve already told us a lot about it in a 1996 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde entitled “An Intimate Conversation With Michelle and Barack Obama.”

Why should we care about our president’s love life? Because with all the talk of rebuilding our country, our relationships could use some rebuilding too: Divorces are rampant, infidelity is out of control and sex ruts are epidemic. So perhaps our first couple can teach us a thing or two (or actually five) about how to have a successful marriage:

1. Regardless of how long you’ve been together, you still need to maintain a sense of surprise. Says Barack Obama, “Sometimes, when we’re lying together, I look at her and I feel dizzy with the realization that here is another distinct person from me, who has memories, origins, thoughts, feelings that are different from my own. That tension between familiarity and mystery meshes something strong between us. Even if one builds a life together based on trust, attentiveness and mutual support, I think that’s it’s important that a partner continues to surprise.”

The president couldn’t have said it better. Marriages are built on a foundation of responsibility, dependability and predictability. But sexual attraction is based on spontaneity, unpredictability and, to Obama’s point, a little mystery. Reconciling those two opposite poles — familiarity and mystery — is one of the biggest challenges a couple faces, and it starts with cultivating a sense of newness and surprise.

2.Show a little tenderness. Says the president of the first lady, “If you look deep into her eyes, there's a certain vulnerability.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely observed during their interviews together that they do make a lot of eye contact with each other, and I have no doubt he has spent much time looking deep into her eyes. Non-physical intimacy outside the bedroom is key to a loving, intimate sex life, and it’s refreshing to have a first couple who are so comfortable kissing, dancing, cuddling and holding hands.

3. Opposites attract. Says Obama: “Michelle’s family life was different, very stable, with two parents, a stay-at-home mom, a brother, a dog, that kind of thing. They’ve lived in the same house all their lives … a part of me was wondering what a strong, reassuring family life would look like while Michelle, in a way, wanted to break from that model.”

Opposites often do attract, and very often couples are drawn to each other when they indeed come from opposite backgrounds. In many ways becoming a couple is about our individual search for growth and balance.

4. Stay friends. Says Michelle Obama, “Our relationship was first a friendship. It took off from there.” In a long-term relationship it’s often a challenge to stay friends with your partner and to keep your friendship expanding. And in today’s world of social networking and Facebook, we’re often so busy “friending” others that we lose precious opportunities to strengthen our friendship with our spouse.

5. Be a relationship role model. Says the president: “What concerns me the most are children and the way they are treated.” Of course he’s talking about social issues facing families — poverty, education, absent parents — but it’s also important to remember that one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to be happy adults. And that comes down to your relationship to each other. It’s no surprise that the Obama children beam with life. They have happy parents who aren’t afraid to show their love to each other. And that love is contagious.

Hopefully the rest of us will catch on.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and the soon-to-be-published "Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents' Guide to Getting It On Again." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.IanKerner.com

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