When your partner doesn’t support your art

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The toughest thing about writing this post will be keeping it from becoming a way to bash my husband. The easiest thing will be to slip into it being a way to bash myself. If you’re reading because you’re looking for solutions or resolutions, this isn’t that kind of post. If I had the solutions, I don’t think I’d need to write this. If you need to know that you’re not the only one facing this situation, read on. You are not alone.

On my refrigerator there’s a little plaque given to me by a friend and fellow writer that reads, “Don’t ever be ashamed of your art.” She gifted it to me not long after we had a conversation about how our spouses dealt with us deciding to enter the world of romance writing. Writing wasn’t anything that took away from familial or occupational responsibilities; we had both reached the stages where we were getting back regular “me time” in our lives after raising small children and starting professional careers. Her husband clapped and cheered as she took on a task that had always been a dream: writing novels, sharing stories.  He beamed with pride, bragged about her to his friends and family, and did what he could to help out at home so she could expand the pursuit of her dream.

And then there are writers who have a partner like mine.

When my husband and I first met in college, I had already penned several books, short stories, and had filled notebooks with poetry and journal entries. Though not intended for publication, my portfolio included two fully written novels at that time: an epic fantasy and a sweet (meaning nothing more serious than heavy kissing) historical romance. Even though they were amateurish and written only for practice and my own amusement, my husband asked if he could read my books. I concurred, preparing myself for the three worst things I could think of him saying: one, that he found them silly (which was true); two, that he didn’t understand them (my prose at that time was occasionally rambling and incoherent); or three, that he just plain didn’t like them (which was fine- fiction wasn’t his thing and he wasn’t exactly my target audience.)

What I never imagined him saying was that my work was morally reprehensible and something of which I should be abhorrently ashamed, and that for my own reputation and his, I should give up writing immediately.

It takes a lot of courage to share your art with someone you don’t know. It takes even more to share it with someone you do. A stranger’s personal criticism is without context of character; it’s easily rationalized. When that criticism comes from someone with whom you share your life, who you expect to support your dreams even if they don’t entirely understand them, you can’t help but connect that with their general opinion of you, your relationship, and everything else in your world. (Maybe that’s a woman thing? It’s possible, but having never been a man I can’t knowingly comment.)

For many years after that, I didn’t write a word outside of academic requirement. In hindsight, it had more to do with the obligations of life. Children were born, cross country moves were made, careers and businesses were launched… But as I finally got to that brilliant time in motherhood where I had time to do something just for me, I found my creative spirit awakening, longing to stretch muscles long left dormant. Past criticisms had left a mark, scarred confidence that doubted it could ever heal. An injured artist’s heart which mistrusted the sound of its own beating. But the stories kept coming to me, to the point where I had to write. It wasn’t a choice; my soul felt an obligation. I needed to try to reach for my dream. I wanted to see if I could really muster the courage to do that which I knew I was always meant to do.

But the cruel words my husband had spoken haunted me. I told myself that we had both been younger and quicker to judge each other back then. We’d grown, we’d come to accept and respect each other much more, I’d thought. I didn’t want to do something that was going to embarrass him or me, however, or something that would bring shame to my children. Especially not if it turned out to be a failure. He’s the type of guy who believes in process. In prototypes, and user testing, and promising results, before pouring himself in to a project. I needed some evidence, I convinced myself, that this wasn’t the horrible, sleazy activity he presumed it to be. That I could write the stories that had come to me, and that people would read them and be entertained, not disgusted. So, hiding behind the secrecy of a pen name and only telling a handful of friends about my efforts, I set out to find evidence.

Fanfiction became my safe zone, my sandbox. The support and positive feedback from the community of readers began to knit my wounds. For the first time in years, I found confidence in my voice, and pride in my work. At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t bring myself to open up to his review again – especially since my plot lines had matured along with my life experience. I never wrote something that could be called erotica, but I definitely did skew towards romantic fiction and some of my stories did include mature scenes with what I like to think were intellectually- and emotionally-charged descriptions of amorous activities.

Eventually, I was invited to speak at a writing conference that would require my traveling out of town for a few days, and I approached my husband about accepting the invitation. How proud he’ll be now, I thought. My writing is so beloved that someone wants me to go clear across the country to speak about it! This will show him that all his worries were for nothing, and it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown woman to write stories about people in love acting on that emotion. Over the next few nights, my husband downloaded all my online stories and read them. My hope was that the hundreds of positive, encouraging comments left online by readers would also bolster my case.

When he was done, he was overwhelmed. He said my stories broke his heart, that he couldn’t stop from crying over the shame he felt when he thought about people reading the horrible, disgusting, immoral things I had written.

I reached that point so many in similar situations do: asking yourself if pursuing your art could lead to the break up of your family. Or, alternatively, is there a middle ground, one where we can still chase our dreams even knowing of our partner’s disapproval? After some negotiation, my husband and I reached a compromise. Basically, it’s this: I have a whole portion of my life which feeds my soul, gives me joy, and entertains thousands, and he pretends it doesn’t exist. Is it a happy compromise? No, of course not. But it’s something that allows me to pursue my creative spirit without breaking up my children’s home. I won’t lie, though. It’s a painful, lonely, and sometimes an overwhelmingly depressing reality. When I was nominated for an award a few years ago, I danced around my room for about two minutes, then went to the kitchen and made dinner like nothing happened. When one of my books shot to the top of Amazon’s Movers & Shakers chart one day, I celebrated by posting the news on Facebook and Twitter, but not making a peep about it at home. When one of my readers recently passed through town and I had lunch with her, I heard for the rest of the day how selfish it was for me to take time away from my family for that.

So, like I said, there are no solutions I’m presenting here. Friends will offer support; take it, even with the grain of salt that some of them chalk the solution up to leaving and don’t understand why it’s not that simple. Sometimes what stands at odds to gain isn’t worth what it would cost in loss. Your partner can behave in this truly horrific and hurtful fashion, and still balance out in the positive when all the aspects of your life together are taken into consideration. I only want to say, if you’re in a similar situation, and like me, you’ve decided to advance your creative pursuits despite the ridicule or indifference of your partner, I want you to know one thing: Despite feeling that the 100% opposite is true, the fact is, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. And maybe if we both know that, we’re not so alone anymore after all.

11 Comments  to  When your partner doesn’t support your art

  1. Chanpreet says:

    I think your stories are beautiful and inspired. Please keep writing.

    As an individual we each have our own talents and gifts, and we should respect them in others as well. I’m sorry your partner doesn’t. It makes things harder.

    Although if your “horrible, disgusting, immoral things” you write contribute to the welfare/upkeep of your children and household he really should reconsider what he says and how he says it. But that’s just my two cents.

  2. Anna N. says:

    This breaks my heart for you. Your writing is wonderful. I can understand those in our lives may have different tastes but it seems so hurtful and disrespectful on how your partner has expressed his feelings to you. I’m sorry for that pain and the pain of not being able to share the joy and the accomplishments you have earned with him. Know that your devoted readers appreciate you and what you do.

  3. Angie D. says:

    Your husband sounds like an insecure guy who doesn’t like to acknowledge the fact that women are capable of thinking erotic thoughts. He could just as easily say to you that he was uncomfortable with your writing for whatever reason, but that if it makes you happy to do this kind of work, more power to you.

    I’m not quite sure how such a marriage works, because if it were me, I wouldn’t be able to be with someone who didn’t respect the choices that brought me satisfaction, even if it wasn’t to their tastes.

    I think his judgement of you is cruel and based on anything but the merit of your work.

  4. Jane says:

    *offers you a paddle* Same boat, indeed. My story isn’t as harsh. But a muse can flit in and out with the wind and no one I know understands that a muse must be chased with said wind….countless interruptions or “Can’t you write later?” plague me on a day to day basis. I’ve had those words from past exes, though, and it feels like drowning. Dream you can breath under water with me. It’s liberating…

    • Hargrove Perth says:

      I live in that same world… he used to say did you dedicate the book to me? after he had been a total jerk about me taking time to write (I also work full time) last time he asked, I said no, books don’t get dedicated to people who are unsupportive and crass about it. Everyone thinks you’re a great a guy, a wonderfully supportive person, so you can explain to them why there are no longer dedications to you. It is sometimes about being a spoiled brat, which my husband is. I get an award, he brushes it off, like it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t come with money. It is about jealousy. It will cause me to leave if it doesn’t stop.

  5. kobain says:

    I’m considering breaking up with my husband with how little he supports my art (writing and music). I won’t pretend to know your situation, but I know in mine, I deserve better.

  6. Monica says:

    I’ve been a singer for most of my life, and I’ve been playing piano for a few years now. I come from a musically inclined family of artists. People had always been very supportive and encouraging, and to this day, people tell me I had a beautiful voice when I was younger, and ask when I’m going to use it again. When I first met my husband, he claimed to have really enjoyed my singing. Then after about a year, he started scoffing whenever I’d sing. He’d tell me “alright, I think that’s enough for one day.” He claims it’s not my voice, it’s the type of music I’m singing. He is so full of it. I feel like I can’t sing in my own home because he’s going to ridicule me. Then he goes “Why sing? You’re not going to be a musician.” “Why write? You’re not going to be an author.” Now it’s the same thing whenever I try to play piano, because it interferes with his watching Netflix. I can’t lie, I feel like the one person who should be supporting me is an absolute prick about it, and it’s enough to make me consider leaving him. He’s the same way with other things too, like when I went back to school, he was like “why go to school, you’re never going to be a _____”. I don’t know where he gets off acting like this. I would support anything HE wants to do, even though he has no ambitions whatsoever.

  7. Brooke Brown says:

    I’m a sing/songwriter and I have been working on making myself a name for years. I was asked to go on a mini tour to sing on a big stage in front of thousands instead of my normal local bar with 40-50 people and my husband told me I was selfish for wanting to leave to go off and sing. I told him that this has been my dream since before I met him and what I’ve been working so hard to accomplish for years… He told me he has dreams to and that was to raise a family with me, not for me to run around singing. ( we don’t have kids yet but we’ve been trying for two years )

    I record all of my songs in the studio and spend hours working on them and he won’t even listen to them. He said me singing is going to lead to a divorce. I love this man with all of my heart, most of my songs are about him but he can not stand the attention I get from them. All I’ve ever wanted to do was make him proud and prove everyone who said I was waisting my time wrong. My parents have even told me I need to get a real job and stop singing my songs in bars. It sucks that complete strangers are more supportive than my husband and family.

  8. Adele says:

    I have been dealing with this type of situation for a long time. He knew I was an artist when he meant me but I have come to the conclusion it is jealousy that he has for what I have achieved.

    I try to feed on his negativity and keep proving that I am the artist that I was meant to be. I have never had his support or given me the credit I deserve. I receive many “congrats” from friends. I also have the same situation with my family. They really don’t give me any credit that I am an artist. It is very hurtful. I have tried to turn the page and move on and feel happy of my own accomplishments.

    That struck a note: ~ When I was nominated for an award a few years ago, I danced around my room for about two minutes, then went to the kitchen and made dinner like nothing happened. ~ I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. It is a very lonely and hurtful feeling. I am a good artist and know that I will achieve the level I want to reach. My art is slowly moving into being fine arts.

    I just finished a piece and his reaction was…that’s nice and kept watching TV. I have poured my heart and soul into the piece. It is more than a nice piece. It is a work of art! I have supported all of his ventures, good or bad. I have to say it is all about him.

    This is the first time I have openly talked about this.

Your two cents appreciated: