BENTON HARBOR, Michigan (CNN) – Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that if Laura Bush hadn't been first lady, he isn't sure he could have counted on her vote.
"I can promise you that her life dream when she was growing up was not to be first lady of the United States," he told a Michigan audience in one of his first major domestic speeches since leaving the White House. "Frankly, I am not so sure that if we hadn't married she'd have voted for me."
Bush continued: "There's a lot of pressure in the White House as I'm sure you can imagine. Pressure sometimes can make a marriage stronger or weaker. In my case because of her patience and her enthusiasm, it made our marriage a really good marriage."
The pressure of the presidency, he said, weighs most on family members.
"It's much harder to be the son of the president than to be the president. And it's much harder to be the father of the president than to be the president," he said. "And I used to have to admonish him not pay attention to what they were writing on the editorial pages about his son. I had gone through the same agony myself. And so I am confident that the end of the presidency is a great relief because of our strong love."
Something else Bush called a great relief: having a vice president, Dick Cheney, who had no plans to run for the top spot.
"I was pleased to have someone serve as my vice president who was not running for president, because someone who is running for president, at times, will try to distance themselves," said Bush. "If things got tough, [he] could be one of the first person off the ship, and that would be really unpleasant in the White House."
Bush said he wasn't surprised to lose public support for some of the main elements of his national security agenda. "I was frustrated because the stakes were so high in some of the decisions that I had to make. I wasn't surprised that people would forget the feeling of how they felt after September 11. I was grateful that people were moving beyond September 11. As a president you don't want your nation to be so worried about an attack that people don't go about their lives ... the psychology of the nation concerned me. Which then made it harder to get people to listen to you, to some of the decisions I made."
The fact that Americans eventually tuned out media coverage of the risk of terrorism wasn't surprising to him either, he said - he ignored most news coverage himself.
"The truth of the matter is, I never watched the nightly news, because it was predictable, I thought. Nor did I ever pay attention to the editorial pages, good editorials or bad," he said. "I knew what was in the news. When you're president you can get so obsessed with this stuff that I felt it would cloud your vision. The truth of the matter is there is so much attention paid to you, I thought it was important even in the toughest moments to be upbeat and not to be so worried about myself that I couldn't convey a sense of confidence."
He mused on the transition to a far calmer post-presidential existence. "People ask, what is it like? Well, I have never stopped at a traffic light for eight years," he said.
"The neighborhood we live in is nice. You know Laura bought this house sight unseen. At least she saw. I didn't. It was like a faith-based initiative."
Bush will take the stage with another former president, Bill Clinton, tonight in Toronto.