How can I move forward without holding him back?
March 15, 2012 6:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I talk to my fiance about the imbalances in our relationship?

My boyfriend and I (straight female, mid twenties) got engaged over Christmas. We have been together for over 5 years. Our finances are completely combined. I work full time at a media job which is enjoyable at times, and highly stressful at others. My boyfriend works half time, and spends the other half of the week making art. His dream is to become a successful artist who can live off his work.

I earn more than twice as much as my boyfriend does. If I didn't work full time, he couldn't afford to rent a studio and still work part time. This has been the situation for the last four years.

I entered into this arrangement happily. I think my boyfriend is really talented, and could be a great success. It makes me happy to watch him doing something that makes him happy. For three years, all was fine. But lately, I have been feeling... bothered. I guess I'm getting tired of being the one who's always tired, who's always stressed. I am a creative person - I love to write and make things, but I just don't have the energy after working all week. I hate to admit it, but it makes me bristle when he describes an afternoon of painting, or a morning of research. I wish that could be me! But I don't have any specific project or big dream like he does that would justify dropping some work hours, and therefore impacting my boyfriend's ability to make art and afford materials.

Another thing that bothers me is that my boyfriend's progress has been painfully slow (to me). In the first year, he was in a few group shows, but since then, he has not been exhibiting. He has been building a new body of work. It took him a couple of years to decide on a new method/concept that he could really get behind. Then he had to find a new studio. Now he is finally getting some pieces together that he likes. But he hasn't started approaching galleries and I don't know when he will. I know that trying to go out and sell himself is the part of being an artist that he really hates. I'm afraid that while he has this sweet arrangement, there's no fire under him to get out there and start selling himself.

Another thing that bothers me is that we split housework 50/50. This was always fine, but lately I have been working late very often, and I'm just too tired to do dishes when I get home. He insists that he is working two jobs, and has no more time than me to do dishes and things. But without fail he is home earlier than I am, and I know he has hours here and there each week while I am at work that he just spends on Facebook or playing on Ableton. I don't want him to do it all, but it would be nice if he could pick up the slack now and again without me oweing him some kind of favour for it.

We never put a time limit on this arrangement, but it was understood that things would change when we left our city. We planned to stay here for only a year. Now, we're not sure when we will leave. I feel like I need an 'exit strategy'. I want to know how long this will continue on for. But I hate the thought of giving my boyfriend a deadline, making him feel pressured. I know he's already sensitive about this topic. Every time I've even hinted that I'm not happy with it, he becomes defensive and we get into a huge argument with me backtracking and insisting that I want to support him... which I do! I feel so guilty for feeling the way I do, I really wish I could just relax and not worry about it.

I should add that he has repeatedly reassured me that if I wanted to take a break for a creative project or course of study, he would happily become the breadwinner for a while. But I haven't thought of anything in particular that would justify taking time off. I just need a break. Or at least a break from feeling resentful.

He is a reasonable guy. We communicate well about most things. But with this particular issue, I just don't know how to start. My thoughts feel so jumbled in my head, and the guilt is not helping. Do I even have a right to bring this up with him? How can I prevent him from feeling under attack? Or is it me who needs an attitude adjustment? If so, can you suggest ways in which I can stop feeling resentful and anxious?

Thanks so much for all your thoughts.
posted by guessthis to Human Relations (71 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I should add that he has repeatedly reassured me that if I wanted to take a break for a creative project or course of study, he would happily become the breadwinner for a while.

Then tell him this? To me, reading this, it does sound like you do want to take some time off, which would probably help with the feeling stressed and resentful.

But I haven't thought of anything in particular that would justify taking time off

Again, to me, the whole asking says otherwise.
posted by Trexsock at 6:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I could write a dissertation on this, but I'm going to keep it short. I was married to a talented artist, and was the breadwinner for around five years. It didn't work out for many reasons, but if I could get a re-do, I would insist that he finance his own dream. LOTS of people work to create art after their day job, and the prospect of selling enough work to justify quitting your job is a powerful incentive to be focused and to market your work. In my experience it seemed like too much help and support from me resulted in a type of paralysis from my ex, so I may have had the opposite effect than what I was intending. YMMV.
posted by shrabster at 6:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [52 favorites]

You don't need an attitude adjustment. He's using you. The fact that he can't even pick up the slack around the household makes me irate. You would have to owe him a favor if he did some extra work? Why isn't he doing a favor for you (the favor being cleaning up the damn house) without any expectations? I also hate that he gets defensive and attacks you. He's not even willing to discuss this and guilts you for not giving him a full ride without any comments or suggestions at all? Total manipulation.

I'm sorry to say that you need to talk to him about this and tell him you can no longer continue with this arrangement. Suggest it's his turn to pay for his own studio time since you've gone well beyond your initial one-year agreement to do so. Then maybe you can work fewer hours and be less resentful of the fact that he's the only one who benefits from this arrangement. If he starts a tantrum, maybe he's not someone you want to be with forever.
posted by pineappleheart at 6:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [31 favorites]

Because he's defensive, start out by saying how happy you've been to do it this way.

I feel like I need an 'exit strategy'. I want to know how long this will continue on for. I just need a break.

Then talk about what you need, and ask him to work as a Team together to figure out how to meet your needs (just less housework? more money from him? that exit strategy timeline?).

You don't need to have a project in mind to need a break. Your needs are just as valid as his, even if you're not creating amazing art - hey, and maybe you Would Start if you weren't always exhausted - but you don't Have to.
posted by ldthomps at 6:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

He is a reasonable guy. We communicate well about most things. But with this particular issue, I just don't know how to start.

As is often the case with these kind of AskMe questions, you've already done it - sit him down and tell him again, calmly, exactly what you've told us here.

Let him know that you're very tired and that you're beginning to feel resentful. Tell him that you want to talk this through without his becoming so defensive that you can't make headway towards resolving the problem.

If he really is reasonable, this should be more than enough of an opening. Otherwise, I suspect pineappleheart is correct.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The easiest thing to deal with is the housework. Just have a frank conversation with him. If he really is at home, and not working on ideas in the studio he really has no excuse for not doing a disproportionate share of the housework.

The other issues are much bigger and trickier. It sounds like he's not as appreciative of what you are doing for him. But he just might not realize that.

I don't want him to do it all, but it would be nice if he could pick up the slack now and again without me oweing him some kind of favour for it.

whoa - relationships aren't about "Favours" - especially household chores.
posted by JPD at 6:57 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: This:

I should add that he has repeatedly reassured me that if I wanted to take a break for a creative project or course of study, he would happily become the breadwinner for a while.

and this:

Every time I've even hinted that I'm not happy with it, he becomes defensive and we get into a huge argument with me backtracking and insisting that I want to support him... which I do! I feel so guilty for feeling the way I do, I really wish I could just relax and not worry about it.

don't go together. There's some cognitive dissonance here, and it's not clear whether it's on your end or on his. You say you're dropping hints that you're not happy. I'm sure you're a lovely person, but sometimes when even lovely people feel trapped and resentful the hints they drop come out wrong. It's possible that you don't feel like you can be open about your resentment, so when you drop hints, they might be coming out with some passive-aggression or some nastiness. And that's perfectly natural: when you're in distress, your distress will find its way out using whatever openings it can get.

In the alternative, if the hints that you're dropping are things like, "Fred (or whatever), I'd like to talk about how we're dividing up responsibilities in this relationship. This arrangement isnt' working for me and I need to talk with you about how to tweak it a bit." If he's becoming defensive and starting a huge argument with you when you address it like that, then he's not living up to his own stated principles, viz., that he would "happily become the primary breadwinner." You're not, it sounds like, asking him to become the primary breadwinner. It sounds like you need him to pull more of his own weight.

I don't, personally, like the idea that you have to find something creative that you want to do before he will contemplate getting a square job. He's a grown-up, and you have every right to draw the line wherever you like. If the line is, he needs to get a job and support his own art because you feel like watching cartoons after work, or going on vacation instead of paying for his studio, that's where the line is. He needs to man the fuck up and take care of himself.

And if you commit to having an open, calm, non-blaming conversation with him about it, where you draw the line in a different place, and he gets defensive and starts an argument again, then he's not respecting your boundaries and your needs.
posted by gauche at 7:00 AM on March 15, 2012 [22 favorites]

He's defensive because he has a sweet deal here, he knows it, and he wants it to continue.

I'm sure he's a basically good guy, but he's not being fair to you. More than that, he's manipulating you when you bring up the situation so that you end up feeling guilty, not him.

If you've been together five years, I assume you're at least in your mid- to late-twenties. That's old enough to have a serious conversation about this, and about your future in general. He doesn't expect you to support him indefinitely, surely? Or maybe he does, in which case, you need to know so you can decide if that's what you want to do. There's nothing wrong with this kind of support if both parties are in agreement, but it seems you've ended up in a situation you didn't explicitly agree to, and your boyfriend should be open to finding ways that both of you can be happy.

And yes, he should damn well be doing more than 50% of the housework. A lot of the time spent making art is thinking, not doing. He can load the dishwasher at the same time.
posted by Georgina at 7:08 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

There are 2 totally separate issues:

One very very big issue, and the other, very very small. Forget the small one - you can pages of good advice on how to take care of that.

It's the big one that's your challenge: this is a case of "arrangement remorse." An artist makes the imbalance seem greater (we do not always look highly upon struggling artists).

Now, imagine he was a medical student studying for years to pass his exam? Many partners wait it out, because the pursuit is more 'noble' and, the $ payout is considerably larger.

"Arrangement remorse" with loved ones (that you want to keep around) require direct readjustment, because they often have a way of readjusting themeselves.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's a saying/situation in retail that goes something like this... You're the owner of a store and a customer wants to purchase a big ticket item. They inquire if you would take payments and allow them to take the merchandise even though you don't offer layaway or financing. So the saying here is "Don't make me play Bank, pal."

This situation popped into my head when I read this post for some reason. It feels like he is one of those perpetual students who flip-flops majors, farts around in school and lives off of financial aid because it's easier than facing real life and getting a job, etc. The difference here is that people who do that actually wind up in debt with nothing to show for it.

Don't play financial aid for him. Put it to him this way and see how he responds.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're justified in wanting to reduce your work hours without having a big creative purpose.

As an underemployed artist-type person, I'm kind of on the other side of your situation. I feel I should point out that just because your boyfriend is at home more and gets paid less, that doesn't mean he isn't working just as hard as you are. It's really hard to pursue an artistic ambition. It's quite stressful because the initial return is so low and the odds for never really reaching career security are pretty high. People in general tend to undervalue the effort that goes into this kind of work. And it requires that my family be willing to accept that, at least for now, I'm not making much of a financial contribution. Consequently I have a lot of times when I feel guilty and depressed about not having a "real" job; I feel like it's incredibly important that I prove that I can make a career out of my ambitions, to justify the cost on myself and my family.

That said, you can't always be the one to sacrifice your time and energy for his ambitions. Maybe the two of you need to negotiate a stricter schedule for household work? You can make it so that he puts in more time with housework than you, that seems fair enough.

To those who would say that he is "using" you, I don't agree. He sounds like he's genuinely working hard to pursue his artistic work (although you must judge for yourself whether or not that's true). You're an adult in a relationship you went into with your eyes open. But if the imbalance is making you stressed and unhappy, then you have every right to change your work schedule and renegotiate household obligations.

It's not super clear what differences you want in your lives in the long-term; is there a reason you need an "exit strategy" from the city you're in now? Or do you just want some reassurance that you won't always the the only significant contributing income? If that's the case, then I agree with Georgina - you're both adults, you can have a discussion about long-term expectations. I would be very surprised if you DIDN'T have a conversation about where your collective finances are headed before getting married.
posted by daisystomper at 7:14 AM on March 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Context first: I currently work from home, and although I take on paid freelance occasionally right now I'm in a big push to finish a graphic novel. My husband works full time, and a third adult family member contributes rent, which combined cover our expenses.

I think one of the big problems here is that your fiance isn't matching the scope and expense of his work to fit his circumstances. Materials and tools are one thing, but he's also paying a lot of money for studio space on top of that. He also doesn't seem to be using his increased flexibility to make home life a little easier.

He should be trying to move his projects ahead as quickly as possible, and in the meantime he should be working toward having as little impact as he can on you and on your joint finances. He should be doing a little extra housework, taking care of daytime errands, cooking meals, SOMETHING. And if it's physically possible for him to work at home instead of renting a studio, he should. I would LOVE to join one of the various coop offices here in NYC, but until my book is finished and I start pulling in more money, I can't justify adding a second rent to our budget.

Lots of couples support each others creative endeavors, but the "artist" in the arrangement needs to actively and consciously work toward NOT taking advantage of the arrangement. It's easy to get complacent, but as this askme demonstrates, that's when resentment starts to settle in.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:16 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think you should also have a separate conversation about how he reacts when you bring up your dissatisfaction. It sounds like his getting defensive is a way of shutting down what you have to say, and not because he's getting attacked but because the logical conclusion of what you're saying is that his lifestyle needs to be adjusted. He doesn't want to hear that, so he chooses to block you out. Not cool or healthy.

Being unable to communicate with your partner about issues that are deeply affecting you is going to harm your relationship, even if you resolve this particular problem.
posted by sundaydriver at 7:16 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my youth, I once subsidized my then-partner's dream of an artistic career. Ten years later, I'm still paying off the debt (almost done--yay!), and it took me a while to shake off the resentment. It's great that you've been able to do this without compromising your finances; don't overlook the importance of your feelings, though. It took years for me to let go of my resentment at feeling a bit used by a guy who was also genuinely nice.

We were both young and it taught me an important lesson about myself: that I need a partner who is approximately an equal earner.
posted by smirkette at 7:17 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am sorry, but he does not have two jobs right now...he has a part time job and a part time hobby. He wants to continue this arrangement and likes the status quo. You do not and it is totally okay that you do not. You have been supporting him and his dreams for 4 years. Now it is his time to support your dream of being in a relationship where the burden (financial and chores) is shared equally.

You are equally deserving of his support as he is yours. If that makes him defensive and he makes you feel guilty for having needs too, you do not want to marry this guy (I speak from hard earned experience on this one).

Having dealt with a very similar experience (with a complete user in a now-failed marriage), my only advice is to be VERY honest. You do not want to financially support his art anymore and need more support from him because this arrangement is making you resentful. If he gets angry at you for this (as opposed to understanding and appreciative of everything you have already done), he just isn't a keeper.
posted by murrey at 7:18 AM on March 15, 2012 [26 favorites]

Best answer: Also, I want to add that your discussion should also include more examination of the fact that he doesn't want to "sell" himself. What, does he have too much artistic integrity or something? I mean, I get it; I hate selling myself too. That's how I knew I'd never make it as a writer. Artists of any sort need to sell themselves. If you're going to keep supporting him, maybe your discussion can center around the idea that he needs to start making some progress in that area. "Contact X amount of galleries next month," etc. He needs to prove that he's trying to make it.
posted by pineappleheart at 7:22 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

After four years of being the main breadwinner/responsible one, I think you're perfectly entitled to a freaking break... whether you have an actual creative or intellectual pursuit or not. And he should support that. It's reasonable for you to feel over-extended and to wonder when this situation is going to change, and it's unreasonable to prioritize one person's happiness/pursuits over another's.

I don't necessarily think he's using you, at least any more than you've allowed him to grow comfortable in the arrangement. That doesn't mean that it's not up for re-arranging/re-adjusting.
posted by sm1tten at 7:23 AM on March 15, 2012

I'm your fiance.

I'm going to talk a little bit about what it feels like to be on the other side of this. For years, I've worked a job from home that's ranged from part time to full time hours, depending on the season, while also pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. I spend time during the day generating "art." And it often feels like I have more than a regular full time job. Doing creative work can sap you in ways that are different from working a normal job. It can be emotionally exhausting; it can be very tiring intellectual work. If you add shyness or social anxiety to the mix--he's had trouble making gallery connections, right?--it can be downright exhausting. You inevitably have to face rejection, and it's a deeper personal rejection than one has to face working at a job one doesn't care about. This--art--is often a deeper extension of the worker as a person. Where you're allowed to have clearly delineated personal and work time, it gets all muddled when you're an artist.

My husband's supported me, but when things weren't going well, I know I felt insecure and nervous about the arrangement. Would he suddenly pull away financial support? Would he resent me for being able to pursue my dreams? His mother once made a crack about me getting a real job and it was pretty psychologically debilitating. I was taking my writing seriously--treating it like a job--and it have it dismissed like that really, really hurt.

I'm not sure that it's self-evident that he needs to do more than fifty percent of the housework. You say he comes home and checks out facebook. But it sounds like you have a job with occasional downtime. You never do those things at work? That's not to say that it's not unreasonable to discuss chores and how you arrange them. Hell, maybe it would lighten up much of the pressure if you guys just got a dishwasher. But I'm not entirely convinced that he's not stressed out by working part time and creating art. Kruger5 is absolutely right that our society isn't supportive of artists and their needs (like a "perpetual student who flip-flops majors"? He's an artist with a studio and gallery shows under his belt. C'mon.) Our society also isn't very supportive of men who want to do work from home like this. Because, you know, a dude should be out earning the bucks for his lady. I don't think it's really fair to project these values on someone who, from the sound of it, is working hard to get ahead with his art. And I don't think dismissing the work he does (yes, it's work) is going to do anything but brew resentment between you.

So all that said, I think the more pressing problem is that you feel you're a creative person but you haven't been pursuing your own creative dreams. Maybe it's time for you to decide on a project to work toward--writing a book or doing a few paintings or even taking some sort of art class. It sounds like he'll be supportive about this, so I'd pick something (it doesn't have to be the right or perfect thing--just a Thing) and take the plunge. I think that will go a long way to making things feel more equitable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:24 AM on March 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

Art is a privilege- not a responsibility. As you've stated about yourself, nearly everyone has some capacity and desire to create; his focus on that does not make his activity more noble than anything you'd want to do.
posted by MangyCarface at 7:25 AM on March 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

murrey: "Having dealt with a very similar experience (with a complete user in a now-failed marriage), my only advice is to be VERY honest. You do not want to financially support his art anymore and need more support from him because this arrangement is making you resentful. If he gets angry at you for this (as opposed to understanding and appreciative of everything you have already done), he just isn't a keeper."

Fuck yeah. Here are two ways this conversation can go. You tell me which response indicates someone who really loves you and someone who is using you:

Version 1:
You: "Honey, I am beginning to feel resentful about our financial situation. I feel like I am working very hard to support your art, but that you are not working very hard at earning a living from it."
Him: "Oh my God, I had no idea you felt that way. What can we do to make this better?"

Version 2:
You: "Honey, I am beginning to feel resentful about our financial situation. I feel like I am working very hard to support your art, but that you are not working very hard at earning a living from it."
Him: "What? How dare you? I am working two jobs here, and you know I can't approach galleries until I find the exact right ironic t-shirt, and my Internet research is very important, and my plaster supplier went out of business, and...."

I've said it before on AskMe -- we are always going to have problems and disagreements with our significant others. The sign of a good relationship is that once the problem has arisen, it is addressed constructively and supportively by both.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:30 AM on March 15, 2012 [24 favorites]

You're in a relationship with him -- you aren't his parents, expected to pay for everything he does.

To give a comparison of financial arrangements, my boyfriend and I are both in school (he's in grad school and will be going on to med school [hopefully]. Right now, I'm working more than he is. We pretty much split things 50/50. I don't expect this to change. In the future, I want to be a writer (difficult to support oneself off of) and he wants to be a doctor (whooo big bucks). I expect us to help each other when needed -- but not for one of us to support the other.

Your problem here is that you got out of an equal arrangement in the first place. If you are making more money, he has to step up and provide equal return -- even if that's getting out there and dealing with agents and galleries and such that he doesn't WANT to deal with. He's a big boy, and he needs to figure out how he can contribute *now* and not just at some vague hypothetical point in the future.

And it's a bit of a stretch your fiance to expect to make this a career without doing all the work needed. It doesn't just "happen" -- it takes hard work and business skills.

My cousin is an artist (painter, mainly still lifes). He is fantastic, and guess what? He has shows twice a year (usually), he paints maybe a dozen of pieces a year, and he teaches. And with all that, he lives in a 5 BR apartment because he has to do that to support his art. So yeah, he has 2 jobs -- painting and teaching -- and with that, he makes his own money to pay for his supplies and his studio.

Being a professional artist and supporting yourself on that income is not easy -- so I think one thing you need to realize is that your fiance's dream of doing this is going to take more from his than what he's putting into it. If he feels he has time to even LOOK at facebook right now, he's wrong. And perhaps that is what you need to address with him.

I think you would feel better about this if he was actually reaching out and trying to sell his work. Get him to stop wasting time on the internet and gaming, and put that time into reaching out to sell his work. He's probably just scared to do this, but he needs to -- for both your sakes.

And I want to make it clear here, that I am an artistic person. My dream is to be a professional author. I absolutely understand your fiance's wish to not have to work a day job and be able to support you guys off his art, and how draining a job can be on top of art and how daunting it can be to make professional contacts and how crushing it can be to get rejected. Although I actually take rejection a bit different: "I got a rejection letter? Sweet! That means somebody read my work and I got the balls to send it out because that's the only way I'll eventually get published."
posted by DoubleLune at 7:34 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that this is one of those questions where it's easy for us to all come rushing to your defense. Of course, you've been supporting this guy for ages! Of course he needs to step up! But like a lot of these questions, there are a lot of complexities that need to be broken down fully.

First, the idea of supporting him while he works on his art: I think that a lot of the feelings around this come from differing social expectations around the nature of what work is, and around what work should be. You're seeing that a bit in this thread-creative types arguing that working from home or working on art or writing is absolutely work, while more "typical job" types argue that he's essentially being a lazybones.

What is the purpose of work? Is it to finance life, is it a part of life that is enjoyable? Is it to Produce Great Things? These questions may seem abstract, but I think they're really deeply affecting how this situation is coming up. You are working at a job that is stressful, that sometimes you enjoy and sometimes you don't. You are the primary breadwinner for your family. Though you have creative aims and ambitions, you often or mainly put them aside for the good of the family. This is a particular model of work, that essentially argues you work to live. Your partner, meanwhile, has a part time job that partially helps finance his art supplies, and a studio that without you, he could never pay for. He is focusing on doing work that is very enjoyable, but that has little likelihood of financial reward in the current way he is pursuing it. (His art). He is working more on creative breakthroughs than on "Selling himself"-ie, working more on the production of art than on the transformation of art into financial recompense. He is living to work, regardless of its ultimate end.

I would also inquire about your respective family backgrounds? How did he expect to be living his life? Before you came into it, did he expect that it would be comfortable and that he would have the freedom to pursue his dreams without having to work to support himself? How did you grow up? Did you believe that you would be comfortable and supported? Cultural expectations may be playing a role-and as another commentator noted, gender expectations around who traditionally plays the role of the self-sacrificing breadwinner and who plays the role of the artist.

The first thing I would do is sit him down and have a talk about some of your expectations. Not, "Honey, I'm frustrated" immediately, but more, "Honey, where do you see yourself going with your art? Do you see yourself in galleries? Do you see this as something that will ultimately support us, or do you see this as something that satisfies a creative part of yourself?" His answers to this will help you figure out where he's coming from-and then you can start a conversation on where you're coming from. I.e, you had expectations that he would be aggressively selling himself and turn this ultimately into a paying career, perhaps.
posted by corb at 7:37 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh, and as a note, I think it's fine for there to be a deadline or something in place for an artist to get ahead. However, it takes longer than you probably think--for most people, I'd guess that it takes about as long as, say, it would for your guy to go to graduate school. It took me three years to finally be making "a living" from my art, and I'm ridiculously lucky in that regard. A year probably is not long enough.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:41 AM on March 15, 2012

I feel like you do sometimes, although my husband is currently a student, not an artist. I happily support him when he's happy, but when I feel resentful the most is when he seems unhappy. Like, hey dude, I'm totally supporting your dreams here, what do YOU have to be unhappy about?

Also, if you guys are planning on having children, this is going to become even more of an issue one day. Because, dude, kids are work, and who's going to do it?

I think setting a hard deadline for success is difficult. Instead, maybe try "I am happy when you are happy, and I really think you can be a success. But in the meantime, I am starting to feel panicky and frustrated with the financial side of things - it's a lot of pressure for me. It would help if you made $X more each month so we could [insert something here - hire a cleaning lady to handle that part of things; put more in savings so that I can feel more secure; save for a house; save for kids; take a trip; so I could work parttime]."

Is it possible, though, that he just isn't hugely ambitious? Sometimes, it seems to me that people in these situations are just .... content. There is nothing wrong with being content. It's possible he's content, and he may never want to do anything different, and he doesn't understand why you want anything different. Maybe he thinks you guys don't need anymore money. Maybe he would rather eat ramen than get a job and thinks you should too. Maybe he doesn't understand that you find this situation stressful; or sees the stress as something you bring on yourself because your ambitious/desirous of something new/more/different.

I usually find that when I get in these time, having a plan helps - even if the plan is just "hey, we'll let this go three more months and then talk again." But please, try and talk it out before you get married. You're so young, and have been together since you were even've both changed a lot, in five years, I'm sure. Sometimes that rate of change is difficult on love.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, one final suggestion: your fiance could look for grants and residencies to help subsidize his art (residencies might be good because they'd get him networking in a natural way and get him out of your hair a little bit. Space is good!). I think that would help release the pressure a bit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't know, I sort of disagree with everyone here. I think this is your problem. You're unhappy, and it's not really his fault- you accepted this arrangement. There's nothing wrong with this kind of arrangement. Many, many couples enter into arrangements like this and it works fine for them. He's not really doing anything wrong- he doesn't really owe you anything, actually, and I think it's poisonous to let yourself start thinking of you making the money as you being the boss, you being the important one, or whatever. I even wonder, if he actually did start working full time, would you really be happier?

To me, you simply sound disappointed and frustrated that you didn't move, that your life plans aren't what you thought they'd be, and you may not like your job on top of that. None of that has anything to do with him, but he's an easy target to take out frustration on. If this plucks a nerve, at least consider that it may be the sting of truth.

It's also possible that your relationship with each other, personality or sex-wise, has just deteriorated over time and this is what you're choosing to blame it on, or test it with.
posted by quincunx at 7:58 AM on March 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

Hints are a lousy way to communicate. You should tell him what you tell us here about what you want and need.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:08 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

But I haven't thought of anything in particular that would justify taking time off. I just need a break. Or at least a break from feeling resentful.

Quit your job and take another one with less stress. He shouldn't even play into it. I doubt he'll do anything but support you in your decision and take a more remunerative job.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is true that you chose to enter this arrangement but you can also choose to renegotiate the terms including negotiating an exit strategy, if you are sure that's the root of the problem that's your only way forward.

But before you do that you really you need to talk to him about the fact that things are not working for you at the moment and about what you want and need instead. This may or may not end up with a full renegotiation of the arrangement. And as he likes the status quo chances are he won't like to change it even if the change is a lot less drastic. But he can't have a reasonable expectation of the status quo continuing indefinitely because lif is not like that and there will always be things coming up causing change.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're repeatedly finding that you can't have this conversation in a productive way, I'd consider going to a session or two with a couple's counselor. People often think that the time to see a counselor is when the relationship has totally fallen apart. Actually, the best time to go is when you have a problem that you're not dealing with well, but everything else is still good. A good counselor can referee this discussion, and make sure you both feel heard.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been on both sides of this.

On your side: Through two different boyfriends, I was the breadwinner and they were the out of work artist/just needing to find the right "bliss" guy.

Guy 1 (the artist) did almost all the housework and took care of the pets while I was at work. He was never really good at selling himself or tending to the day to day aspects of being an artist. He struggled a lot with social anxiety and never really was able to do the basic adult things like taking care of bills and getting a drivers license. Any part time work that he took to help out usually fizzled out after a few months because it was "too hard." After 8 years, I became bitter and frustrated but unwilling to force a change. He left me so he could learn how to take care of himself.

Guy 2 (the finding his bliss guy) quit his successful teaching job shortly after we started dating, and after one failed attempt to get the "perfect job" stopped trying. He attempted to return to school, and start three business, none of which got off the ground because he wouldn't actually do anything. On top of that, he rarely cleaned and only cooked when I asked. After 5 years I dumped him and I'm still a little bitter about the whole existence of the relationship.

On His Side: In order to finish my phd, and move to be with my then fiance, now husband, I quit my tenured faculty librarian job and became a full time student. I got a really awesome buyout from my old job and was also able to get assistanceships and grants for the remainder of my degree. For the last year and half, I've been working on a residency, writing a dissertation and generally being a full time grad student. I also took on almost every bit of the housework. Because I was home. Honestly, sometimes cleaning and doing laundry was a delightful break from my intellectual work and gave me something to accomplish that was visible. My husband has supported me at every turn, but this January a job fell into my lap. Even though my dissertation isn't finished, I took the job. For a number of reasons, but one of them was that I didn't want my husband to have to shoulder that burden of breadwinner alone.

This is a really hard situation and it's easy to let the resentments build. You have to talk and then actually be able to take action. He needs to understand that this is an opportunity that most people don't have. And you need to remember that his work is really work, even when it doesn't seem like it.
posted by teleri025 at 8:17 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think this is your problem. You're unhappy, and it's not really his fault- you accepted this arrangement. There's nothing wrong with this kind of arrangement. Many, many couples enter into arrangements like this and it works fine for them. He's not really doing anything wrong- he doesn't really owe you anything, actually...quincunx

I think this is only partially correct--yes, he is not wrong, per se, because the OP did agree to this arrangement and her fiancé is not wrong for having accepted it. However, arrangements that are made between couples are not set in stone in perpetuity and it is completely legitimate for one of the parties to become disenchanted over time with the arrangement, which has happened here.

I think what most people are picking up on are the fiancé's defensiveness to changing the arrangement despite the OP's reasonable frustrations. And I completely disagree that the fiancé does not owe the OP anything...he owes her appreciation for her generosity and support to date, respect for her growing feelings of disenchantment, and the willingness to compromise to support both parties' needs.
posted by murrey at 8:17 AM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

I know that trying to go out and sell himself is the part of being an artist that he really hates.

Writing papers all the time and constantly scrounging for grant money is the part of being a professor that I really hate. My solution to that was to not become a professor. Strangely, it turns out that I make more money with less stress that way.

Your fiancé wants to do art, but doesn't really want to make an income off of his art. Like he might want to in the abstract, but it's not a priority for him. That's fine, but he has to come to terms with that reality and figure out what to do about it. You either go out and sell yourself all the time, or you art is a hobby/secondary job you pursue with the knowledge that your career is a normal full-time job with a salary.

This isn't all about him. In part, I think you had different expectations about how this arrangement would play out and had different expectations about who he was and didn't plan for the possibility that things would turn out this way, and it's leaving you frustrated. We all have to deal with the fact that our lives don't play out in a way that's aligned with our expectations, and you have to grapple with that.
posted by deanc at 8:18 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Don't feel guilty, but also don't make him feel guilty. There is no need to pin down whose right and wrong in these things, you just need to get to a place where you both feel satisfied. He has said that he would trade off with you, take him at his word.

You don't need to have a grand project in mind. He has taken a while to come up with his new material and approach, correct? I used to be super creative, ha, but when you work all the time its hard to have the mental space to really flesh out what you might want to do, so its ok not to know exactly what you want. I assume that mostly, you both want each other to be happy and fulfilled. I would maybe ask for a timeline, and since sometimes creative people don't operate on timelines, perhaps a milestone, that he is comfortable with as the time to transisiton. Maybe he wants to finish up enough to show? That would be a good time to switch off. Having worked with galleries and such, they often operate outside normal office hours, when he is in that part of the process he should have more available time to work a more predictable standard job.

It is really only fair, what is your problem is his problem, what is his problem is your problem. If you are upset or beginning to be resentful, you HAVE to make a way to make this work for you both. Or you break up. Its really pretty simple.

As I said earlier, I work way too much, my art is languishing, my spark withered. Its depressing! My husband has been out of work. He bikes to the gym! Bikes to the Zoo! Makes Collages! I get a little jealous now and then, but I know that kind of thing is essential to keeping your sanity when job hunting. He recently decided to join the Navy, after the job search in his field went no where. At 31. For Us. Its kind of amazing and humbling. After working such long hours, he wants me to do exactly what I want. I asked for a year to do nothing but make art and see if I could make a living out of it or if I wanted to pursue something else, and that's what's going to happen.

Give your fiancee a chance to do this for you. He may be scared, part of the defensiveness, but lean on each other and find the path that works.
posted by stormygrey at 8:20 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: In some ways I think "art" is a red herring here -- there are many kinds of meaningful, unpaid (or vastly underpaid) work that people may choose to do because it brings them personal fulfillment. Perhaps they work with a charity making a tiny stipend, as a friend of mine does, and is supported by her wealthy husband. Perhaps they stay home and raise children. Perhaps they are starting a business. Some of these undertakings will end -- medical school, graduate school, campaigning for a particular candidate -- some of them are indefinite (art, charity work, etc.). Some of them have the possibility of a monetary payout, with varying degrees of likelihood (med school, art, starting a business); others do not. Many of these things are good and righteous ways to spend one's time, but landlords and mortgage companies and grocery stores do not take payment in "I'm helping humanity." No matter how important our unpaid work is, someone has to pay for us to live.

The question I'd have you ask yourself is, Is he contributing enough to our family? You are working at a job that you enjoy, but is stressful and has long hours, and you support both of you. So you get some personal fulfillment, but would like to drop some hours -- but don't, because you are the one paying for you to live. He works at a part-time job that doesn't even cover the expenses of his art, then self-fulfills with art. And then quibbles about his share of the housework.

What is rubbing people the wrong way about this question -- and why they are jumping to your defense -- is that it seems like you're working hard to support your family, and putting self-fulfillment on the back burner to support your family, while he's just searching for personal fulfillment with his art, while his part-time job doesn't even support his art!, and he seems resentful that you want him to contribute to the family at all (through chores)! Your contributions are almost exclusively to the family, at the expense of yourself; his are almost exclusively to himself, at the expensive of your family. THAT is what isn't fair here.

You can work out this balance in a lot of ways. I'm a stay-at-home parent (with a part-time job), and my husband works a demanding job so we can do this. But my contributions are to our family -- in addition to daily childcare, I do 90% of the housework, 19 of 21 meals a week, 100% of the shopping, 100% of the ferrying children around, 100% of the getting up in the night, 100% of the taking the car to the dealer, 100% of the taking the cats to the vet, 100% of calling plumbers and doctors and insurance companies and frankly if I could go to my husband's dentist appointment FOR him I'd end up doing that too. Lots of this stuff I dislike or get tired of, but his contribution to the household is paying for it; my contribution is just about every other distasteful or annoying or strenuous task there is in a household. And, key point: We each make a conscious effort to ensure the other has some self-fulfillment time every single week. (That time is limited for us because of the ages of our children, and we make sure to have quality time with the children and as a family, but it's still important we each have some solo time.)

I think the conversation you need to have is, how much does he need to contribute to the family? And he needs to recognize your monetary support as crucially important. It's one thing to say, "We're both working 40 hours a week and I happen to make $100,000 and you happen to make $20,000; we're both making equal contributions because we've got the best jobs we each can get, blah blah blah." That's fair. (It'd also be fair to expect to follow the $100,000 job if you moved.) But it's a totally different thing to say, "You're earning basically all the money to support us and are tired, but I am making ART and cannot be expected to clean the house or pay for my art supplies or let you reduce your hours because my ART demands it." You are his partner, not his patron. And he needs to act like a contributing partner to the household, in some fashion, not like your charity project.

Some of the suggestions you set a time limit, etc., are probably good practical ideas. But I think the key question you need to focus on is how much you are each contributing to the well being of your family, and how much you each (get to) focus on the well being of your self.

(Also, I don't believe for a second that he would become the breadwinner. That's just rhetorical. I mean, he doesn't even want you to cut your hours so you're not so stressed. Personally I'd call that out as bullshit, but it sort-of makes me angry on your behalf that he's pulling that game.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 AM on March 15, 2012 [137 favorites]

Hey - just wanted to mention that you DEFINITELY don't need a "thing" that you want to persue in order to meet the goals which you've specified here, ie. less stress, shorter working hours. You don't need to justify those goals with a focused creative outlet.

Why not explain to your fiance that your life goals have matured into wanting to work less and enjoy more time to do things which relax and fulfil you. This is a totally natural thing to desire, and not selfish as some people might respond. Many people I know actively choose to work fewer hours, or a lower-responsibility job, because they have decided that their own time is more important to them, or that they prefer both earning and spending less.

That's your choice, and you're free to make it for yourself. That it affects your fiance is a position which he has got himself into, and he needs to take responsibility for that himself. But don't feel like you need a reason to want what you want, and need what you need.
posted by greenish at 8:21 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I hate the thought of giving my boyfriend a deadline, making him feel pressured

Those are two different things. It's completely fair to give him a deadline, and make sure there is an obvious, clear course of action that you will take (or require him to take) at the deadline. But it's not fair to continue to pressure him as the deadline approaches as though he's not an adult able to comprehend responsibilities and consequences when they're spelled out to him. Once it's clear, let it drop until the date itself.
posted by ead at 8:22 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your relationship is on unequal ground. I hear a lot in your question about what you do to take care of your fiancé. What does he do to take care of you and your new family? It sounds like you make "we" decisions, and he makes "me" decisions. This is shaky ground for a happy, mutually-caring and satisfying marriage to be founded on.

You don't need a Creative Dream to justify more time off. If you want to spend all day painting your toenails a particular shade of red and watching movies, browsing a new bookstore, or having a personal Star Trek marathon (or whatever), those are valid reasons to have more time off.

I am married to a wonderful man who also happens to make less money than me right now. While we don't always split expenses down the middle, we do make sure to take good care of each other, because we love each other and like to see each other relaxed and happy. Sometimes he does more dishes when I'm zonked or will take care of errands so I don't have to worry about it. And he always tries to do his fair share.

I think you need to work out what will make YOU feel like our relationship is equitable. What do you need him to contribute that you aren't getting now? You deserve to be a partner who has a partner watching your back. He needs to hold up his end to give you that--or, quite frankly, this sounds like your relationship is edging more into "artist and patron" territory than equal, supportive marriage.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:23 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

P.S. I'm sorry if I missed this in the question, but do you guys want/plan to have kids at this point? If so, hat would the plan be for child care and work responsibilities? Good things to think about together.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:24 AM on March 15, 2012

He insists that he is working two jobs,

He's not.

Decide for yourself what "partnership" means and what your dealbreakers are. Do this before you get married.

Talk to him and reach an honest agreement that you are on the same page about making both of your big dreams possible, as well as about equitable day-to-day efforts. Do this before you get married.
posted by headnsouth at 8:26 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

(Sorry, I meant YOUR relationship, not OUR--awkward typo!)
posted by anonnymoose at 8:27 AM on March 15, 2012

Also, sorry, but last post: Think about a pre-nup before you get married. This might be a good thing to discuss with a lawyer.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2012

"This is not working for me. Can we figure out an alternate arrangement?" is a perfectly acceptable thing to say to a partner. Some arrangements work until they stop working, or seem like a good idea but aren't, and just because you agreed to one thing doesn't mean it needs to be forever. Your situation is hard because the current arrangement seems perfect from your fiance's perspective, and, further, you don't seem to fully believe you deserve to have your concerns addressed. Frankly, even if you were just feeling burned out at work and wanted more time to go to the gym, or more time to relax and watch TV, or more time to do any other seemingly unproductive act of self-care--that would be legitimate. You can support his dreams without suppressing your own needs.

He might be more receptive if you got to a place where you really believe that you deserve to reduce the stress in your life, that your interests and creativity deserve to be nurtured just as much as his. Dropping hints won't cut it. It has to be clear: "I am really struggling with my work situation. I don't like it. I don't want to keep up the current pace. I am not happy. I want to reduce my hours. I want to spend time on my creative interests. I make some changes on behalf of my sanity, creativity, and emotional well-being. I need for us to work together to make that happen." (He might be receptive, or he might show you that your needs don't matter to him as much as he's said they do. Others are coming down pretty hard on him in this thread, so I won't belabor this--I just don't want to be a Pollyanna about it, either. My point is, I hope you can believe that you deserve to have your needs met and your well-being protected.)

I agree with Ragged Richard that a neutral third party (therapist) could be a good resource for getting yourselves out of the argument rut.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

For four of your five years together you have been subsidizing his artistic career and he doesn't seem to have much to show for four years of work. Even if you agree with his, "I have 2 jobs" calculation, it's 2 years of full time work with a separate studio space. If he wants to be a professional artist, he needs to overhaul the professional part. Art is a commodity in our current society. Although this is problematic, it's unlikely to change. If he can't train himself to be better at the commodity part (regular gallery shows with sales or another business plan), he should reconsider whether he's a hobbyist. Ask him to make a clear plan with achievement benchmarks and a timeline. There are millions of very talented people who create work that could be commercially successful, but they don't make the final moves to get there for various reasons. If your partner is serious about being a professional artist, he needs too make it happen, not wait for it to happen to him. Asking you to forever subsidize a life that most artists would envy is not sustainable for you. His reaction to these difficult conversations will tell you volumes about whether you should marry him.
posted by quince at 8:49 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I completely disagree that the fiancé does not owe the OP anything...he owes her appreciation for her generosity and support to date, respect for her growing feelings of disenchantment, and the willingness to compromise to support both parties' needs.

You're right. I guess what I was getting at, was that I don't think this should be framed in "I've already paid for this, so you owe me results now" or in terms of guilt or blame at all. From the way the OP lays out the situation, I was getting a sense of "here's why I'm right and you should change, or why you should acknowledge your fault" which is natural and doesn't mean they're a bad person, just understandably frustrated. But I don't think it's productive. I also get the sense that she's a little mad that he hasn't read her mind or preemptively offered to get a job on his own initiative (I picture her smiling and saying "No, everything's fine!" while seething) I may be completely misreading and apologize if I am. If that's how OP approached the dishes situation (IE: "I do all this work, why don't you?) I can also understand how that could easily go sour.

Here's what I would suggest: Sitting down with him and saying, "I'm not happy anymore." Hopefully he asks why. She then opens up, no defenses, sighs, and says, "It's a combination of things. I may not even really know. But work is stressing me out, and I pictured myself somewhere else by now." If he cares about her, he may then do what she's been hoping for and offer solutions on his own. I think that's much more likely to be a successful strategy for negotiating this: owning her unhappiness.

And it may be that it isn't worth it to him, which is an outcome she'll have to accept...not a pleasant one, but you can't always make someone agree with you. In that case, it's time to move on.
posted by quincunx at 8:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: And it often feels like I have more than a regular full time job. Doing creative work can sap you in ways that are different from working a normal job. It can be emotionally exhausting; it can be very tiring intellectual work. If you add shyness or social anxiety to the mix--he's had trouble making gallery connections, right?--it can be downright exhausting.

This wasn't the only comment in this thread that made me go WTF?, but your fiance, this poster, and others in this thread are coming from a position of privilege that is so huge that I can't understand it. Seriously.

Your fiance is so, so lucky to have you. Most artists are genuinely poor, work multiple jobs, live with a zillion roommates, etc., or they are supported by family wealth. He is so lucky to have you. You are awesome. Most people who do creative work have another job - which is exhausting - and then they come home, and they do their creative work, and maybe they do their laundry and go to bed. I work in a field that's related to what I ultimately want to do, and I also write (which is what I really want to do). I work ten to twelve hour days, and then I come home and write. (I also go to the gym four times a week and my house is clean, but I am super Type A and maybe a little crazy).

If I could stay home and write, I'm sure I'd still be working hard, but - holy shit! - life wouldn't be so goddamn difficult. If someone else were able to support me financially, I might have fewer stress dreams and migraines. I'd definitely try to pull my weight around the house.

I'm single. My family can't help me. I have to make my dreams happen for myself, and I want to find your fiance and any other poster who doesn't think that he should have to pick up the slack around the house and yell at them. And then make you a sandwich and let you take a nap.

It's hard to make it as an artist. Your fiance may never have much of a career, and it wouldn't be for lack of trying. I don't think imposing a deadline on him is a good idea, but I think you need to figure out how you can be happy in this relationship. If you're more or less okay with the idea of supporting him financially, I think you need to communicate that you feel under-appreciated and that he isn't pulling his weight around the house, and see if things improve from there.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:58 AM on March 15, 2012 [46 favorites]

I'm having a hard time with this because I consider myself an artist (I'm a writer), and I have always worked a full time job to pay the bills, and did my best to squeeze my creative time in where I could. And did/helped with the housework. Throughout history, artists who didn't have a patron did this, or they starved. Art isn't really a job, it's a passion - if it's in you, you can't not do it. You find a way. Yes, of course it's amazing that now it can be a job for people. But those are the exceptions. If you don't mind being his patron (which before now you didn't, but now it sounds like you do), the arrangement can work.

I don't think I can top Eyebrows McGee's insights, but I will say that if you let this situation continue and you get married, you will officially be seen as his patron, and should you later divorce, this will absolutely be brought into account. You could potentially be funding his art long after the relationship dies. So it's really important that you get on the same page about this sooner rather than later.

I think that "I assumed it would only be a year, as that had been when we planned to move from (X City)" is a valid way in. That you had no problem supporting him on a temporary basis, but it wasn't ever supposed to be a permanent arrangement. Are you saving for retirement? Children / maternity leave? Rainy day money? Because if everything is going toward him, you aren't using your own earnings effectively, either - for both of your future.
posted by Mchelly at 9:06 AM on March 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

This wasn't the only comment in this thread that made me go WTF?, but your fiance, this poster, and others in this thread are coming from a position of privilege that is so huge that I can't understand it. Seriously.

I don't disagree that it's a huge position of privilege--there's no day I don't thank my lucky stars that I'm in this position. In fact, I don't doubt that OP's fiance also feels that way.

But the truth is, the creative work that I'm doing now is the most challenging in terms of work load and effort that I've ever done. My life was loads less stressful when I had a boss to make decisions for me about things I didn't really care about. Talking about the stress--yes, there's stress--of genuine creative work doesn't mean you don't realize the luck or privilege involved that got you there.

The assumption that artists don't know they're lucky to be where they are is weird. The assumption that work isn't hard if it's rewarding is also weird. It sounds to me like OP's finance is in a similar place. The fights I've had with my husband along these lines--"You're living your dream so you shouldn't ever feel tired or exhausted or run-down" (always coinciding with periods of economic stress) have been really unproductive. I don't think that any good comes of assuming your partner wants to be a lazy ne're do well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:07 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

(fiance, rather.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:07 AM on March 15, 2012

PhoBWanKenobi, I don't want to derail, but Mchelly, several other posters, and I are artists and we have full time jobs. At the same time.

The OP shouldn't be obligated to support her fiancee financially and clean up after him. And I'm stepping away from the keyboard.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

I vote for a compromise. You cut your hours so you're less stressed; if he needs to boost his hours at his day job a bit to make up the slack, he's still way ahead of where most artists are, and you're still being generous in supporting his currently-unpaid work.

As for the housework, maybe you guys need to talk about what each of your expectations and commitments and "assignments" are in that respect. One of the biggest sources of resentment in relationships is when people expect their partners to read their minds; housework is one of the arenas in which people seem to do that the most.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Adults don't require other adults to support them. "I'm an artist" doesn't absolve one of the responsibility to feed, clothe, and house oneself.

Our finances are completely combined.

There's your problem.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:16 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
I totally understand where you are coming from. I make a lot more than my husband does and my salary isn't particularly impressive, so you can understand how precarious our financial situation is. I work a full time job that I don't enjoy and he works sporadically on a temp basis while leisurely finishing a degree. When I know that's he's essentially chilling at home all week chatting with his friends on the internet while I am working my ass off, it fills me with so much anger. Attempts to point out that our financial situation could be much less tenuous if he worked regularly are met with defensiveness. I get the whole art = work thing other folks are talking about, but for me it's not work unless it puts food in my mouth. Everything else is a hobby.

The only advice I can give you is don't marry him until this issue is resolved because it will continue to anger you and the resentment will eat you alive.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on March 15, 2012 [23 favorites]

My ex and I lived for about 5 years in a fiscally unequal relationship kind of situation - each of us only worked half the year: I had April-October and he had October-April. To further the financial inequity, on our off-months, we weren't pursuing anything arty, we were just fucking off and going to the beach and getting drunk and falling over and blowing things up in the garden and dressing up the dogs like fairy princesses. And yet we still managed to be equal partners in spending and housework and errands and doing nice things for one another, because we knew 100% that when our situations were reversed, we'd have the same love and support and helpy-outyness returned to us.

So I guess I think you should take him up on his offer to be the sole breadwinner for a set period of time, and let him have a chance to see what it's all about.
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 AM on March 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Granted that creative work is real work, hard work, and tiring work. It is also fulfilling work, in a way that many more standard jobs aren't. It's also freely scheduled work.

So your fiance is working on his art and at a temp job, full time. He is fulfilled by his art (presumably not his temp job). You are working at your non-fulfilling job, full time plus overtime, at times you have no choice in. Even when you have to work late, he refuses to help you out by doing extra chores.

It isn't clear to me whether your fulltime job pays for part of his studio and supplies, or whether it pays for all your other expenses -- food, rent, utilities -- and he uses his income to pay for his studio and supplies.

There are a lot of ways to bring this up, but doing it in front of a counsellor is a really good idea.
posted by jeather at 9:47 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Since he has said that he would be willing to be the bread-winner if you wanted to take on an artistic goal of your own, I don't see why that should apply to him taking on more housework so you can have some extra down-time. That seems, to me, like even less to ask of him.

Can you make a specific request of him, and negotiate it from there? I'm envisioning a request such as, "I would like it if you would make dinner on M-W-F nights, so I can go to the gym/sit and read a book/collapse into a pile on the bed when I get home." That seems like it would resolve a lot of near-term angst for you, and give you some breathing room to address the larger issue of having an end-in-sight.

Before you get married, I think you both really need to figure out your long-term plans anyway. If this conversation about his artistic endeavors is specifically hard to have, at least start with "where do we want to be in 1/5/10/50 years?" and then see what you BOTH need to do to get you there.
posted by juliplease at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2012

*I don't see what that shouldn't apply to him taking on more housework
posted by juliplease at 9:56 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: I personally think every relationship - friends, lovers, spouses, whatever - could be improved 1000 fold if all parties would agree to recognize that a person's feelings are important whether or not they can be explained, defended, understood, suppressed, or whatever. You feel a certain way and that impacts your quality of life.

That doesn't mean that any feeling, any time, trumps everything else. But even if you're completely wrong about something - let's say you feel jealous because of what you erroneously think is going on with your partner - it still impacts you and your relationship and it means there's a problem somewhere. Maybe it's an insecurity or an inequity or... anything.

By which I mean: never feel like you have no right to raise an issue with your partner. If trying to be as happy as possible together isn't the point then I don't know what is.

In my relationship we're both very successful in our careers and good earners, but my wife out-earns me by a lot and her job has many more peak demands. When those times come I step up more and our normally equitable arrangement becomes one where I shoulder more of the domestic load. When there's not that load and I feel like she's shrugging things off on me, I say so. And vice versa. Sometimes the other agrees, sometimes we say baloney. But we respect the other's perception and how it impacts them, so we talk about it.

Other people have suggestions for exactly how to handle this, but I think the only really critical thing is putting an end to this circumstance where you feel like you can't raise the issue. When he tries to shut you down or gets defensive you should calmly say that you're unhappy and that should be enough reason for him to be willing to talk about this more.

Everything else is negotiable and it's nobody's business but the two of yours what that arrangement is, provided you're both happy with it. Right now you're not, and if he's not willing to address that fact then you have a problem that has nothing to do with money or housework - it would be a problem if it was about what color the paint the walls.
posted by phearlez at 9:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Eyebrows McGee has it.

So, look, I'm in a similar position to your fiancé. I work in a freelance creative job, my income is erratic and not as high as my partner's, and when I'm completely honest with myself, I don't pick up as much of the slack from cooking, cleaning and childcare as I probably should.

My partner is the true hero of my career, and without his support, I would not be where I am now. He does everything for the kids when I travel to conferences; he goes out to pick up dinner on the (many!) nights that I'm too tired to cook; he does a fair turn with the dishwasher and the laundry; he's mostly the one that showers the kids. We share bedtime and get-the-kids-to-school responsibilities. I do take care of getting the kids to extracurriculars after school, do most of the heavy-duty toilet-scrubbing and sheet-changing kinds of cleaning (when it gets done at all), etc., so it's not like I do nothing at all, but he definitely doesn't get many of the perks of having a spouse who stays at home, considering the part where I'm home all day. And yes, sometimes I'm home all day playing Dragon Age, and it's not really fair to him.

On the other hand, I do work crazy hard the vast majority of the time. (She says, as she wastes time on AskMe.) I juggle clients and blogging and contracts and conferences. And as much as the creative work is hard... all of the necessary administrative work that goes around it, all of the promotion and networking and logistics, that's way, way, harder. But it's also necessary, because without all of that stuff, I'm just entertaining myself by being creative, and I might as well be playing Dragon Age all day, every day. This is the reality of being a working artist. Hustling is a necessity, not an option. Is your fiancé hustling?

Anyway, there are two key things we have going that are very different from your situation. The first is that we've entered the payoff part of my career. I don't make shedloads of money, but by god there's money flowing into the household thanks to my efforts, and more good months than bad ones. Even so, money is incredibly stressful for both of us a lot of the time.

So the second thing is that if my income ever went very far south, we have discussed the fact that I could get a nice, steady job with benefits in the city. Neither of us has wanted that, so far, because it would likely mean I'd be gone from 8 to 7 every day (and maybe more). I wouldn't see him or the kids much. Our quality of life together as a family would be diminished. But I know that not doing that is a choice we've made together, and if he came to me and said "look, this just isn't working for me anymore," I'd make a few phone calls and make it right for him. And if he ever decided there was something else he'd rather do than his nice, steady job, I would move heaven and earth to find a way to make it happen. After all he's done, all of the liberty to take risks that he's given me, it would be the very least I could do.

The upshot is: Hells yeah, your fiancé owes you for giving him the freedom to pursue his dream. He can't expect you to do it forever, especially with no payoff in sight. If you're not happy with the situation, you need to lay it out, and you need to find a way to fix it so that you're getting what you want out of life, not just out of your relationship. Time is too short to waste it being unhappy.
posted by Andrhia at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [13 favorites]

I'm a freelance/work from home/creative person, so I lean to the side of "he might actually be busting his ass in ways you can't imagine." But I also think it's entirely possible that he's using you, or at least unintentionally taking advantage of the fact that you work a more traditional and well-paying job. It's not really possible for internet strangers to determine which it is, or to what extent.

This is what I want to know though, and what I think you should question, though I admit it might be difficult to ask him directly: how would he live if he wasn't with you? I'm single, and support myself (except sometimes when my parents take pity on me and buy me some groceries or medicine or something) and I live way below the standards of what a lot of people would accept because writing is more important to me than having stuff, or savings, or general respect from American society. If I became engaged to a guy with a steadier job and more income, and if he had no problem supporting me so that I could write and also have a nicer lifestyle and greater security than I have now, I certainly wouldn't turn it down. But I don't need it. So I'm wondering, if your fiance had never met you or if you left, would he live in poverty and give up his studio and some of the extra stuff you presumably provide and be OK with that? Would he immediately go out and find another girlfriend to support him? Or would he work harder at earning more himself, either through art or another job?

I think if it's the first one, then you're basically doing him a favor that's nice but not necessary. There's nothing stopping you from cutting your hours or changing jobs and both of you living with less. If that's what makes you happy, that should make him happy too. If it's the second, then you know your answer right there. If it's the third, maybe he's just let himself get used to the situation but would be willing to make some changes, and you should be able to compromise so that you don't feel as resentful.

I also think, about the deadline question, that putting a deadline on artistic success is a terrible idea. But putting a deadline on when you want to move, or quit your job, or make some other change in your lifestyle, is just fine.

Oh, and about housework. If I had that mythical husband mentioned above, I would happily do almost all the housework. Both because that would only be fair and because I do it anyway, as a single person, because I need things to be clean. I can completely see why the housework issue is tied into the money and work issue in your question, but it could be that even if everything else was equal, he's just not as good at chores as you are, or doesn't care about them, and wouldn't do them anyway. That might be a separate (and really common, judging from lots of old AskMe's!) problem. Still, I think if he's at home it's easier for him to pick up the slack and he should. But a lot of people, even when they live alone, just don't.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:42 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So much great advice in this thread (especially from Eyebrows McGee)! I have been in your shoes, at the same age, and I wish I could have read this thread seven years ago. It would have given me a much-needed different perspective and potentially saved me a lot of heartache.

Like others said above, the biggest problem here is not necessarily that he's some slacker artist or that there's a disparity in income. The problem is that is that it doesn't seem like much of a partnership right now.

You have every right to feel the way you do, and not only do you have the right to bring this up with him, I feel that you have an obligation to do so. You can't just let this stuff fester and hope it gets better.

My advice:
1. Don't wait for other people to make your well-being a priority. It sounds to me that because you are tired, stressed, and resentful, it's hard for you to figure out what you would do with yourself, artistically or otherwise, if things were different somehow. Start actively putting yourself first. You can start by simply taking time for yourself to do things that you feel like doing.
2. Don't impose a deadline on his artistic achievement. First off, it's unrealistic since a lot of artists need to toil for many years to achieve success (by whatever measure), so it's actually pretty unfair to him. More importantly, I'd bet $100 that neither of you would be able to stick to it and you'd keep stretching out the timeline. As the artist, he'd have a hard time doing it since it would feel like giving up on his dreams, and as a loving partner, you'd have a hard time imposing the deadline because you don't want to be the bitch that pees on his dreams. The psychology of sunk costs comes into play, and people have a habit of doubling-down on this sort of thing. You need to find a way together to change things now.
3. Speaking of sunk costs, don't get married!!! See what I said above about doubling-down? (Goodness, if you need a tax deduction that badly, look into claiming him as a dependent on your taxes. Memail me if you want a pointer on where to look on the IRS website.) Look - you're going to the internet for advice about how to talk to your fiance about a big issue. You're resentful, he's defensive - that's not a good place to enter marriage from.

Hope this helps. I understand that you posted this because you're frustrated.

Like Eyebrows McGee, I kinda doubt he would be become the breadwinner. I don't mean that to disparage him, but it's a really easy thing for him to say since it's not feasible. It sounds like he does not have the earning potential you do right now - so of course it's impossible for him to go out and get a job that pays for your collective lifestyle. The tit-for-tat on chores is telling - chores are something he could do now to take some of the burden off of you and help you, but he's not making that good faith effort. I don't think you guys know what a mutually supportive relationship looks like from the inside. This is why you have to start putting yourself, your needs, and your dreams back on the front burner. You can't wait for someone else to do it for you. Doing so doesn't mean that his dreams fall by the wayside. In the right relationship, both person's dreams are important.
posted by stowaway at 11:04 AM on March 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for weighing in on this. It has been really valuable to gain the perspectives of the creative freelancers as well as those who have supported them.

I will be marking best answers later, when I have the time to read through everything again. Those of you who have mentioned that dropping hints is not an effective way to communicate about this - you are right. I realised that I was letting little comments slip out at moments of anger and frustration, which explains why my boyfriend has thus far reacted defensively, and why my guilt has been amplified. I realise it's time for an honest, open heart to heart. If he continues to be defensive at that point, as many of you have pointed out, that will reveal a lot.

I think when it comes to the "is working on art as tough as other professions?" debate, it really all depends on the people involved. My boyfriend works hard, I know he does. It's not that I want him to do different things to fulfill himself, it's that I want him to do things to make our relationship more fulfilling in addition. That's why the division of chores is such a big issue.

To use Eyebrows McGee's words, I think I need him to make more contributions to our family. And I think I need to make more contributions to my own fulfillment. Like dropping down my hours. I now feel validated in doing so just as a way to have time to figure out what it is I want to do, so thanks for that guys.

I think getting engaged brought my concerns to a head and made me realise that I need a clearer picture of how our life together will look. I will definitely be making sure I'm happy with that picture before any knot gets tied.
posted by guessthis at 11:18 AM on March 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

One or two people noted the hates-to-sell-himself aspect of it--which is essential, barring some one-in-a-million miracle. If he can't make himself do it, he's not serious.

The world is littered with people like this who don't really go anywhere with what they're trying to do: creative people who can't make themselves sell themselves, musicians who practice appreciably less than they know they should, athletes who are at the pub 'til 1 rather than in the gym 'til 10 and asleep by 11
posted by ambient2 at 1:14 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The worst part is when the woman supports the man through law school, medical school, the works and he then leaves for another woman who wouldnt make the sacrifices she just did.

So when he was learning his "Craft" did he expect that one day he would have woman who would foot the bills and he could happily work on his creative side? What if you were not in the picture, i bet he would be working to pay the bills. I dont think it is fair for you to be supporting his creative inroads, he has to do that himself.
posted by pakora1 at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just want to chime in - you say that you have your own creative side. What have you been doing to nurture it? What would you like to do? Can you take a class or start spending time with other people who do what you're interested in? I think that would be give you more of an idea of what he's experiencing while making you feel like you're taking care of yourself more, which it sounds like you need to do. Plus, it would be an easier entry into this conversation - "Honey, I really want to start going to this weekly basket-weaving group but I need you to help out a little more around the house so I can do it." Just an idea. And as someone who has supported SO's in the past, I feel your pain.
posted by kat518 at 2:11 PM on March 15, 2012

I have some thoughts for you, but they're a bit heavy on personal detail. Memail me if you're interested in hearing them.
posted by vivid postcard at 2:13 PM on March 15, 2012

I love to write and make things, but I just don't have the energy after working all week. I hate to admit it, but it makes me bristle when he describes an afternoon of painting, or a morning of research. I wish that could be me!

First priority is to make yourself happier. You need a creative outlet. Just something small - anything.

Another thing that bothers me is that we split housework 50/50. This was always fine, but lately I have been working late very often, and I'm just too tired to do dishes when I get home. He insists that he is working two jobs, and has no more time than me to do dishes and things.

He is at home more than you, thus he is more able to be more responsible for the housework. He just needs to do more. It should be more in the 75/25 ballpark.

I just need a break.

If you're in a position to do so, take a weekend away on your own.

I personally think that if you make these changes, then you will find things working better for both of you.
posted by mleigh at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2012

Doing creative work can sap you in ways that are different from working a normal job. It can be emotionally exhausting; it can be very tiring intellectual work. If you add shyness or social anxiety to the mix--he's had trouble making gallery connections, right?--it can be downright exhausting

Plenty of people go down one professional path and realize they don't have it in them to continue down that path successfully. There are lots of former investment bankers and corporate lawyers who left the field to do something else. If pursuing art as a career is so much more exhausting than one can handle, particularly when there's little at the end to show for it, perhaps it's time to try something else.

I feel like there would be far fewer AskMe questions if more people would realize this. It's possible that he's not using you so much as not cut out for what he wants to do. The longer the daily necessities of everyday life are not looming for him, the longer he can put off realizing this fact, because he never faces a choice of "overcome shyness to hustle for art opportunities vs. get a full time job vs. don't eat."

I think getting engaged brought my concerns to a head and made me realise that I need a clearer picture of how our life together will look.

I just want to say that starting to put together a clearer picture of my future life (this had nothing to do with a relationship, BTW, just the practicalities of, 'I want these things and this life. How do I get there?') resulted in one of the most jarring realignments of my expectations and choices that ever happened to me since I was in high school. Starting to think about these things is going to raise a lot of issues that didn't come up in your mind before.
posted by deanc at 2:30 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a dear family member and a dear friend who are artists, and both know how to make their arty jobs pay the bills by doing commercial things they can sell some of the time, then doing what they want to the rest of the time.

This: "It took him a couple of years to decide on a new method/concept that he could really get behind." just blows my mind.

Took YEARS to decide on a concept?? Years of not helping out around the house or working a job that pays the bills? Woman, no wonder you're resentful. This guy needs the kind of reality check that heirs get when their trust fund runs out.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:47 AM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I empathize with him. I'm also a creative type and I know how important it is to have the time and place to work on your art. But me taking a part-time job and sitting in a studio paid for by my spouse wouldn't buy diapers or mop floors. In household arrangements, providing for necessities needs to be an equally shared burden. He needs to pay in cash or housework.

When he's done washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom and sweeping the floors and so on -- all the things you shouldn't be expected to do because you're instead working to bring home piles of cash for him to spend on a studio and art supplies -- when he's done with his chores, he can head off to the studio and ponder his next great move.

I would have a different attitude if he were studying to become, for example, a doctor who would eventually bring home piles of cash to let you get your own studio and art supplies, but the odds are that he is never going to make any money with his art, so it's going to be impossible for him to ever make things up to you for these years of looking after him.

Tell him you aren't getting married until he's working full time and doing his fair share at home.
posted by pracowity at 6:53 AM on March 16, 2012

"I realised that I was letting little comments slip out at moments of anger and frustration, which explains why my boyfriend has thus far reacted defensively, and why my guilt has been amplified."

No. Stop blaming yourself.
posted by macinchik at 12:20 AM on March 17, 2012

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