4 ways being an artist can endanger your relationship
You’re in a risky profession as a creative person. And that will put a number of pressures on your relationship that the average employee doesn’t have to worry about. Not paying attention to how these play out, can seriously damage your relationship. Quite apart from all the usual reasons why that’s a shame, it can also leave you feeling alone and unsupported while building a career. Here are some of the main pitfalls and tips on how to deal with them.
1st way being an artist can endanger your relationship – ‘Time’
So, the competition is tough. Chances are, you’ll need to work during bank holidays and weekends to keep up, especially when you’re establishing yourself. It often feels as if your career is hanging on by a thread or lurching from crisis to crisis – and that to save it, you have to put in unreasonable hours. Sometimes you do. But if this becomes a chronic situation, it’s because you’re not managing yourself and your career correctly.
Over the longer term, both for your own sanity and the preservation of your relationship, you need to put aside uninterrupted time away to relax together. It should be sacrosanct – and that begins with you putting it in your diary well ahead of time, and protecting it like a tigress protects her cubs. It’s going to get overridden otherwise.
If you don’t have the money to do this, you need to find and implement a career strategy that will allow you to in the longer term. Consulting a manager, mentor or life coach may help. You can also become more efficient in the way you work in your studio, so that you’re confidently able to reach deadlines and to book time off. It doesn’t have to be when everyone else is on holiday by the way. For you, a midweek or January break might be easier to find time for – and maybe easier for your partner to get time off work for (if they’re employed – especially in the retail sector). But make sure that time away (or ‘down time’) happens regularly.
2nd way being an artist can endanger your relationship – ‘Money’
Money is a contentious subject even for ordinary couples, if they don’t share the same values and discipline around it. If you have a girl/boyfriend, you will need to discuss money with them, and make them understand that you won’t necessarily have the funds to show your love with flowers, fancy dinners, jewellery or holidays. You can, and definitely should, compensate for this by being thoughtful in other ways. Hopefully they’ll have your best interests at heart, and will understand.
If you’re married, it may be that your partner supports you financially for a while as you reinvest what you earn into your career. PR, websites, advertising, printing, graphic design services, physical therapy, lessons for technique, materials, running a studio and an office etc. all add up. A creative career needs business investment just like any company.
Put a reasonable limit on this – both in terms of time and the amount of money you spend. You shouldn’t be getting in debt (that you can’t easily repay) or compromising your partner’s credit rating. And if you haven’t made progress in 5 years – is it time for a drastic change? Either way, discussing these limits with your partner and sticking to them takes away the feeling in them that they’re married to an obsessive ‘gambler’ who always wants to take one more spin of the creative career roulette wheel – while losing the shirt off their back.
3rd way being an artist can endanger your career – ‘Attention’
Now, it cannot be denied that artists have narcissistic tendencies. I’m afraid it comes with the terrain. Artists like attention – if not for themselves, then for their work, which is a kind of ‘symbol of themselves’; certainly a representation of their inner selves for all the world to see. This focus on the self can, and usually does, lead to a blindness towards their partners and even their family.
Think about it. Artist’s careers are dramatic, glamorous and action filled. Far more so than their stay-at-home or employed partner’s can ever be. An artist career is widely regarded as ‘more important’ by the world too. As a result not only do artists commonly forget to value what’s going on their partner or children’s lives, and forget to give them the attention and support they need and have a right to expect, some even to rope them into doing unpaid creative work!
I’m going to make no bones about it. This is a covert way of using slave labour. Unless members of your family are properly paid (and decently treated) while they do work for you (such as copying out sheet music parts, roadie-ing, or administration) then you’re behaving much like a colonial power. Only the chains you’re using − to get them to give up their labour for you − are made of emotional blackmail.
Even if you don’t rope your partner or children into the work – being obsessively focused on yourself and your own career is suicide for your home life. Only a saint would stand it, and there are few saints to go round. I do get it – you’re the star of the ‘movie’ in your head, and it’s an absolutely gripping reality show. But if you don’t develop some sensitivity to others in your life, you’re going to treat them callously, while you excuse yourself because you’re always in some kind of whirlpool of strong emotions.
How do you do this? You need to develop a ‘multi-camera’ shoot on your ‘internal reality show’. A mental camera outside yourself which records your words and actions – devoid of the emotions, thoughts and intentions behind them, however pressing or however good – so that you can see how what you actually do and say affects others. No one wants to believe they’re acting like a bastard – even while they’re in the midst of acting like a bastard! That’s why your ‘objective’ checking is important.
Make it a habit and start noting how all the attention on you and your career affects your partner and kids. Do you make them follow you around to all your gigs instead of doing something they’d rather do, for instance? Do you regularly sacrifice family activities and events so that you can work? Make it a habit to notice how they’re feeling (not what you feel about what they’re doing). This is a skill that you need to develop. Check whether they get the time, love, attention and action based support that they need (such as you volunteering half or more than half of the housework, initiating discussions about their career and life goals and emotional concerns, financial support, hugs and kisses, caretaking when they’re ill or overwhelmed − especially when they don’t know what they need, cheerleading at work events, verbal appreciation and justly deserved public acknowledgement) without their having to prompt you. Don’t allow your obsession with your work to lead you to neglect them.
Contrary to what romantic movies tell you, love as a mere feeling isn’t much use. I might love a child so much I squeeze it to death. Your actions and how the other person experiences your love are what counts. Real love is acting as if another person’s needs and wishes are fully equal, and at times, more important than your own. That means making painful and concrete sacrifices sometimes. This is the thing that dysfunctional narcissists refuse to do, because it’s ‘all about them’. All of us need regular ‘love meals’ several times a day – and that’s extra to any crises that we might go through. So make sure your partner and children get them.
4th way being an artist can endanger your relationship – ‘Absence’
Of course there will be times when you have to be physically absent from your household and/or your partner. You may be touring or on a PR campaign. These can sometimes last for months. It’s not the physical distance that kills a relationship though. When you’re thoughtless, it’s the mental absence that does it. Of course, it’s oh-so-easy to get caught up in the dramas and even temptations of your trip – and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of concerns, if not nightmares. There always are. But this is no excuse for taking your eye off the ball.
Your partner holds your home life together while you’re gone. They’re the one who makes it a safe and warm place to return to. And if you have the right attitude and regard yourselves as a team, then you’ll want to make sure you find some way of checking in with them regularly and paying attention to home matters. Doing so can also be a blessed relief and distance you from the emotional hothouse of touring too.
When you’re away, it’s particularly important that you demonstrate your loyalty to your partner – whatever that means for the two of you. If you’re going to miss their birthday, maybe you send flowers, or hide a present for them to find, before you set off. Tell them how much you’ve missed seeing them. Reassure them of your sexual or emotional fidelity to them and that you’ve abided by the rules and values you’ve both set down in the relationship, as required. Arrange for them to fly out to be with you for a night or two on a long tour so that you can both reconnect. All this goes a long way to mitigating the effects of physical distance and will inoculate your relationship against wear and tear.
Are you endangering your relationship?
So are you a neglectful, frequently absent, serially philandering narcissist who regularly gambles all your joint money on your career? What a ‘catch’ you are (NOT!)… Seriously though. Be careful with these traps. They’re so easy to slip into. Your relationship – if it’s a good one − will help steady you as an artist and will keep you going through the hard bits of your career. You need it. Take care of it for that selfish reason if for no other…
If you want to know more about the kind of support team you’ll need around you to thrive in your creative career, and how you should treat them, consult chapter 8 of ‘Organizing for Creative People’ It’ll tell you exactly what you need to know.