I know my spouse cares about me. Why can't I shake the feeling that the opposite is the case?
April 25, 2010 8:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I cope with my spouse's total lack of interest in my work and creative pursuits?

My spouse (who I will refer to as Z here) and I love each other very much. We've been married a little over 2 years, although we met almost 10 years ago. Our relationship works really well on multiple levels, and I'm thrilled that I randomly met Z so many years ago, and feel incredibly lucky that we have built this awesome life together over the past decade.

There's only one thing that really bothers me about our relationship, and that is that Z is totally uninterested in some things that matter to me. I work in a creative, but highly technical, job. Z knows nothing about my field and isn't really interested in learning anything about it. So when I am upset that something I'm working on isn't working out, or thrilled that I have just had a really good and interesting idea at work, Z is just like "Oh, that's too bad sweetie (or Oh, that's nice sweetie), hey did you hear about this concert that's happening next week?"

Similarly, I have a lot of art projects on the side. I don't have formal training in the medium I work in, but I do have a fair degree of natural talent. I'm kind of shy and fear criticism from strangers about things that are personal to me, so I never really make an effort to let other people know about the things I make. Instead, I have a room in our house that I go to, make my art, and the art just kind of piles up and stays there. Z never bothers me when I'm in there or expresses any feelings about wishing I didn't spend so much time in there, but neither does Z really care anything about my art. Occasionally Z will come into the room and I'll show Z something that I have just finished. Z will look at it, not really say anything about it, maybe say a few sentences about something totally unrelated, give me a kiss, and wander back downstairs. I feel like this probably means that Z really hates my art a lot.

It would be OK if Z just said "Honey, I love you a lot, but your art just isn't to my taste," and left it at that. It would be awesome if Z actually liked my art and said so. It would also be awesome if Z liked it that I cared about something enough to close myself into a small room for hours at a time and make it (even if Z didn't like the result), and said that. But it really kind of hurts my feelings that Z doesn't express any feelings about either my work or my art whatsoever. We do a lot of stuff together, we have a great time, Z is absolutely sweet and awesome to me and makes me tea when I'm sick and does the laundry even when it isn't Z's turn. But I spend probably about half my mental energy on (work + art) combined, and when Z doesn't give a crap about how either of those things are going, it's like Z doesn't care about a huge part of me.

I don't see any way to bring this up in a simple, non-drama-queen sort of way. It didn't really bother me until recently; until recently, we had a lot of friends in our city and we got to spend a lot of time with them, so I had people to commiserate with about work. Some of them also were artists, so we would have fun conversations about art, and sometimes I would get good advice from some of them. But gradually, all of our friends moved out of the city but we are stuck behind, and we spend so much time working that we never really made any new friends. (Plus we are both really shy and introverted people.)

But now I've been with Z for almost ten years when you add it up, so it's just ludicrous to bring the issue up at this point. Plus it would probably really hurt Z's feelings, and I don't really know what that would accomplish. It's not like hurting Z's feelings will cause Z to magically care about these things.

I guess I'm just looking for some ways to deal with the fact that my spouse doesn't, and is unlikely to, care about things that are really, really important to me. I don't want to come across as some sort of attention-hungry little vortex of need, but just a little external validation would be nice, maybe.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see any way to bring this up in a simple, non-drama-queen sort of way.

I think that presenting this to Z in the way you have above would be simple and non-dramatic. It is by no means 'ludicrous' to say, "Z, since our art friends moved out of the city I have felt more and more isolated in my creative pursuits, at work and here at home, and since you are my life partner and best friend it would be deeply fulfilling and meaningful to have your feedback and interest in my vocation. You're the bees knees, and this would be even bees-kneesier, even though I know it will require you to dedicate some time and effort to what seems to be uninteresting to you. I promise that, if you put your energy into this, I will be supportive of your efforts and help you learn. I would also be happy to put my time into X, which you really like but I don't know much about. It would be great to share both of these things with you."
posted by farishta at 8:37 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

What you want isn't unreasonable--but it sounds like Z can't give it to you in the way that you need. (Is it possible that by not commenting, she's trying to give you the space to create what you need to create without any external pressure?) It sounds like she gives you validation on a lot of other things.

How do conversations about her work differ from conversations about her work? It's hard for me to tell from what you've written here, but some people just want a hug or 'that's great' and other people need more. It's ok to ask for what you want, especially if you can do it nicely in a non-accusatory manner.

It might be worth, if you can, seeking out a community of artists where you can get feedback and validation from people in the same medium. Maybe online to help deal with the shyness factor.
posted by eleanna at 9:01 AM on April 25, 2010

Z sounds like my husband. And we have been married 25 years. When someone asks him "what does your wife do?" He says..."uh..writing or something like that" because even though I have been self employed for over a decade in a multi fasceted technical/creative field, which does have something to do with writing, when I tell him about the projects that I am working on, his eyes glaze over. He is a really great guy in every other way but just not interested in the technical aspects of my work. I can't force him to be interested in something that he isn't and quite frankly, a couple of jobs he has had would have bored me to tears if I had to listen to much about it (so I would just be his sounding board and say uh huh a lot). So for my professional fulfillment, I have lots of wonderful friends and colleagues that I can talk work with and a great husband that I share everything else about my life with and it works out just fine. Have you considered showing your art and developing a network of supportive people who are enthralled with your creative persuits? It really is more fun to share interests with people who have the same degree of passion as you and by putting yourself out into your field (art shows, artists groups, etc) you will get the kind of meaningful feedback you are looking for.
posted by MsKim at 9:02 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

I want to say first that, in some ways, I empathize. I write and do art stuff, and, while my husband once considered himself a writer, he has pretty much zero interest in the type of writing I do, generally (poetry and YA fiction), and art just confounds him. So I can't really turn to him for creative feedback or validation. Sometimes, on a base level, that's frustrating. There can be this sort of romantic ideal about relationships with artists that the other partner will be some sort of editor or muse, that they'll be the biggest fan of the artist's art. The husband who edits his wife's books for her, or whatnot.

But then I remind myself that some of the things he's interested in--the Pacific front of World War II, fantasy football, and first person shooters--are totally boring to me. I can't really talk to him as an equal--or even, sometimes, as an attentive of an audience that might be considered ideal--about those things. And overall, he's okay with that, just like I'm okay with his not being a writing or an art partner with me. We might tease the other about it--me, about how he still hasn't read my latest manuscript; him, about how my eyes glaze over when he nerds out about military strategy--but we have enough in common otherwise, and our relationship is good enough otherwise, that we're okay with it.

But then again, we also have other people in our lives who fulfill those needs.

If your relationship is really good generally, I think it's important, if not integral, for you to find other artists to share your artistic life with. Just like my husband has people online to shoot zombies with, I know plenty of writers who I can send my latest manuscript to and get thorough, qualified, and enthusiastic feedback. And, as much as I love Mr. WanKenobi, it's so, so much better than the type of feedback he'd give me if he forced himself to be interested.

So in short, I don't think your problem is really a husband problem. And honestly? I don't think you'd be happy if he told you that your art "wasn't to his taste." You don't sound very confident about your art, and you need to defend it better--even if it's just by going out and looking for colleagues, people who can help you grow and mature as an artist. I know that that's scary, but when it comes down to it, it's unfair (and a little unrealistic) to expect your husband to be everything to you. And it's unfair to really on him and only him to validate your talent as an artist. I'll bet my druthers that he knows how insecure you are about your art, which probably has something to do with his flat responses.

So talk to him about it, sure, but also consider that you're not doing your relationship, yourself, or your art any favors by hiding it in a room where no one sees it and avoiding new and meaningful relationships with other artists. Be brave! Put yourself out there! Once you find other artists to share your art with (even if they're not the same person who you share your life with), I promise you that you'll feel much, much better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Whoops, sorry that I assumed that Z was a dude. But, you know, still.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2010

It is highly likely that Z doesn't understand visual art, perhaps he even feels intimidated somehow by it (doesn't "get it") and further he likely feels that "staying out of your way" is a loving gesture. He's in good company..a huge faction of the populace don't give art a thought. As time goes on an artist gets pretty used to being ignored...but the work drives them anyway. There are also legions of people in the world who do care passionately about art--unfortunately you did not marry one.

In order to talk with like minded people about your work I recommend the website WetCanvas. It is a website of zillions of artists, a hodgepodge of good artists and bad, committed professional artists and hobbyists..the entire gamut is represented. You can photograph your work and upload it there and other artists will give you feed back. What is really good is that you don't have to leave your house to have this camaraderie. I know that this solution is not as good as making Z pay attention, but it would be best if you didn't entertain the idea of trying to make him over..after all, he has probably been like this all along and you loved him enough to marry him "as is".

Naturally you could try to engage him in artful things by asking his opinion (about your work and others). He may still shrug, but also if you word it right it MIGHT illicit some response from him. Example: "which one of these paintings do you feel is best"? You are asking HIS opinion and usually people do respond favorably to that. Ask him about work that isn't yours because he is probably afraid to give you any honest answers about your work. Go on a date to a museum..and keep asking his opinion for each piece. He may find he completely enjoys this. He may not have had enough exposure to art to "care".

I feel for you as I know what it is like to be a visual person married to a non-visual person. You need good feedback and to share your art with the world..start somewhere besides with Z...but try to involve him where and when you can. Don't be too discouraged when he doesn't react like you "want" him too. It is not necessarily true that he is marginalizing what you do by not talking about it..it is certainly more likely that he just doesn't understand it at all...shake off the feeling that this translates to not loving you and caring about you. It is VERY common for people in an artist's life to completely ignore the art. Creating art is generally an isolating and solitary thing. We often WISH to be acknowledged --but that is our ego. Hone your skills and move forward...I'm glad Z doesn't complain about the time you spend working. Be grateful for that! :)
posted by naplesyellow at 9:22 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also assumed z is a guy? is z female? Well, all advice still stands.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2010

it really kind of hurts my feelings that Z doesn't express any feelings about either my work or my art whatsoever

I had an art instructor who said that the average person purchases art based on the subject matter alone. They like boats, cute animals or pigs, whatever...it could be that he just doesn't respond emotionally to your subject matter and if he's not all that interested in art to begin with, it's hard to muster honest enthusiasm for the work you're doing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2010

Have you tried explicitly asking for his opinion? My husband has a lot of hobbies that I'm completely ignorant about, but when he shows me something new I try to say something about it, even if it's clear I don't understand the hobby. For example, when he showed me a guitar pedal he built from the ground up, the only thing I could respond with was, "The case is really pretty. I like that it's red. It looks nice." He always seems pleased and thanks me for my input.

Maybe if you explicitly ask his opinion and explicitly thank him for saying something and showing interest he'll do it more.

Oh, and sorry if Z isn't male. Just switch the pronouns around.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:25 AM on April 25, 2010

Do you share more fundamental values? More fundamental than your job, than your art? There are such things, you know. I suspect you do share some, and they’re more important. Your interest in your art is a big part of you and it’s natural to want validation from loved ones for the results. But you might consider whether relying on others for validation at all is wise. Can you find enough inside?

You didn’t marry her because she excited about your job and its widgets, or your art.

People can’t help their tastes. She may be ambivalent about it, but I doubt she hates it. Combine on things you both enjoy, work alone in your cave on others, and be glad you’re in a couple that “loves each other very much.”
posted by LonnieK at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2010

I feel like this probably means that Z really hates my art a lot.

There's a whole lot of more likely possibilities than this. If Z HATED your art (a lot!) Z would probably express some opinions or make a face or something, right? It's much more likely that Z doesn't know what to say, or doesn't want to intrude, or doesn't understand, or even is just utterly indifferent.
posted by desuetude at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2010

As the other half of what LonnieK said above, Z didn't marry you for your work or your art, but because of who you are. As they say "you are not your job" and "you are not what you do". This fits in with that. I can understand where you're coming from feelings-wise, but I disagree that you couldn't bring this up in a simple way. This post should be good practice. Keep it simple. State your feelings in a non-accusatory way and let Z respond. Maybe Z will make an effort to pay more attention and maybe not. But I think that, if anything, expressing these feelings you're having and getting things out in the open will be a healing step for you. Keeping that bottled up inside will just eat at you. What you'll need to make sure you do if you do get things out in the open, however, is to not resent Z if Z doesn't develop an interest even after you've said something. You might think "Well damn, it was bad before when Z didn't care, but at least there was the possible excuse of ignorance. But now that I've said something what excuse does Z have?"

Just a side note here, you sequester yourself away in this room and are upset that Z doesn't give you a hard time for sequestering yourself away in the room. Usually people have the opposite complaint - "Can't I just get some peace and do my own thing sometimes? I need this!" If Z wanted you to spend less time in there, would you? If so, and if you spending time in there means you spend less with Z, and you want to spend more with Z, then spend less time in there. Spend it with Z doing things you both can enjoy.

One other thing to think about is that when we're kids, most of us have no idea what our parents really do when they go off to work, and we get bored when they try to talk about it. But we love them and have a great relationship with them anyway. A parent-child relationship is obviously not the same, and children are by nature much more about themselves, but it just illustrates a point. I don't know or realistically care much about what my friends do at work beyond a basic overview, but they're still the best people in my life. When my parents talk to other people about what I do, they only have that basic overview too, yet they're the super double plus best people in my life. There's no hurt or disregard or lack of care in any of those relationships because of their and my marginal interest in each other's work.
posted by kookoobirdz at 12:06 PM on April 25, 2010

My partner is in to poetry. As in, actually trying to pursue a career in it. I have no interest in poetry. I don't respect it as a career choice. It's not something I would ever choose to invest time listening to, thinking about, talking about, etc.

This is something we haven't entirely worked out, and I have some pretty serious guilt about not being 'supportive.' I mean, I am supportive, in that I support her right to make decisions for herself and to pursue something that's fulfilling to her, but that doesn't change my ability to interact regarding matters of poetry. And I also don't try to interact with her about fantasy baseball, because I know she couldn't possibly care less about it, and she probably has as much respect for it as I do for poetry.

All of this is to say that sometimes the kindest reaction, from my point of view, seems to be glancing past the issue when it comes up. It certainly seems kinder, from my point of view, than screaming "I DON'T CARE! IT'S JUST FUCKING POETRY!" Like I said we haven't totally worked it out, and I don't think this is the healthiest way of approaching it, but I don't think you should assume ill intent on his part. Maybe your partner is taking the same approach -- he/she supports you, but your interests are different. And that's okay. It also has to be okay if he/she doesn't like your art. Maybe it isn't to his/her taste, and he/she just doesn't want to tell you. You can't dictate what kind of art interests people.

Good luck.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:12 PM on April 25, 2010

I think you should take some art lessons. I have a feeling that your spouse does not like your art work, possibly even thinks it is really bad, but also thinks (correctly) that a spouse should never also be your art critic. He probably changes the topic because inside he is screaming "The colors... the penguins... Why, oh, why?"

You might not even suck at all, the art teacher could tell you that you will be the next big thing and should open a gallery because many people love your style of art. I'm sure your spouse would go "wow!" when your first picture sold for $3000. Or the art teacher could give you some pointers that would make your art better (fewer penguins, less green) and your husband might start commenting on it a little.

Either way you win if you take some art lessons, and start to associate with some other arty people.
posted by meepmeow at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2010

Your partner isn't obligated to share every one of your interests or fulfill every one of your needs. Even if something is meaningful to you, it doesn't mean your partner needs to pretend it's meaningful to him. (I'm assuming Z is male...flip flop the pronouns it make it work.)

Your work, or maybe art in general, doesn't resonate with Z. That doesn't mean your art is bad, it just doesn't resonate with this one particular person. It happens. Maybe he doesn't get it or maybe he actively dislikes it. Yet, he's supportive of what you're doing, because he's your partner. Good for him (and you!).

If you need feedback on your work, then find people who share your interest. Don't ask your partner to fake appreciation for something. He's letting you be who you want to be; do the same thing for him.
posted by 26.2 at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2010

Seconding PhoBWan's advice. I empathize in a way too. My spouse and I are both in academy but we're polar opposites in our intellectual tastes-- I do literature and the arts and he does medieval canon law (god! could it get any more boring?!). He reads abstruse tracts in Latin all day, from books that haven't been checked out of the library in 140 years. I've often wished that we could bond over work, but I'm never going to able to like or understand canon law in a million years, and while he heroically talks about my stuff with me, he's not really interested either.

I think what works for me is remembering that one's partner can't be everything, and that we have our own professional communities (mine's much larger, hehe) in which we can talk shop. Clearly you and Z are on the same personal or intellectual wavelength despite a lack of overlap in your creative pursuits. I think it's important that you've noticed that your previous circle of friends fulfilled some of your needs for feedback and creative validation-- it sounds hard, but finding this kind of network again sounds key to me for resolving your dissatisfaction with Z.
posted by ms.codex at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Second 26.2 and ms.codex. I should not have implied that all validation must come from within. Others can too. But not all others. Find those who're interested, whether or not you happen to live with them
posted by LonnieK at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2010

You put the question in a totally reasonable way, so I think you could probably talk about it. You're capable of putting it out in a non-needy, non-drama queeny way, because you just did. So it's possible, and if you wanted to talk to him (my imaginary Z is a him) you can do it. I think it could be a conversation that adds something to the relationship, even if the outcome is just, "Anonymous, I don't really 'get' art, and when you ask me, you make me feel dumb/at sea/annoyed."

If your relationship is really awesome in other areas, I think you might want to try challenging yourself a bit more to share whatever your art is with others, to join a collective, writers' group, take a class, etc. You're kind of painting yourself into a corner because you don't have another outlet so your partner really has to step up to fill that void for you, but if you worked at taking a few more risks with sharing it with people, there would be less pressure on both of you and finding a middle ground might be more attainable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2010

I'm kind of shy and fear criticism from strangers about things that are personal to me, so I never really make an effort to let other people know about the things I make. Instead, I have a room in our house that I go to, make my art, and the art just kind of piles up and stays there.

I just wanted to respond to this specifically: you might consider working on that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2010

I'm a writer and was with somebody for a long time who didn't take too much interest in my writing, and I thought it sucked - yes, there were other aspects of our relationship that worked, but ultimately it's pretty frustrating to be with somebody who doesn't take an active interest in what you're up to, especially when it's something that you are deeply about and something that's on your mind a lot of the time. I hear what people are saying who are in relationships with uninterested spouses, and maybe it works for them, but if it's important to you (it was to me) then I think you just need to talk to Z about it - tell him/her what you said here. Most of my friends (and my S.O.) are involved in some sort of artistic pursuit, and the relationships that *haven't* ended are the ones in which both partners take an active interest in what the other is passionate about. I don't think it has to be this way, but it sounds like it's pretty important to you, so I'd talk it out and see where it goes from there. I think just being with somebody who isn't taking an interest in what you do 40 hours of the week is frustrating enough, let alone somebody who isn't interested in your art - even though "you aren't what you do," if it's something you're passionate about, it is you, so I'd put it pretty bluntly that it'd be nice if Z took an interest.
posted by drobot at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2010

Read some Bukowski and be thankful for his lack of interest?
posted by cmoj at 9:53 AM on April 26, 2010

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