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How Creative Couples Balance Their Relationships and Work

How Creative Couples Balance Their Relationships and Work
Published February 12, 2020 by Tina Essmaker

“In one hand you have to hold the larger vision. In the other, you hold the current situation. It’s important to keep both in sight as a couple,” said Julia Parris, founder of NYC-based creative studio, Analog is Heavy. Julia and her husband Able Parris, a designer and creative director, have learned to navigate the ambiguity of pursuing nontraditional careers over the course of 20 years together. Their paths have evolved in unpredictable ways. Yet they have managed to approach each season of work with support for one another, keeping the larger vision in sight. 

Forging a creative career requires an enormous amount of energy, investment, and belief that the future will bring you closer to your goals. Finding support via your partner can have a positive impact on your confidence as you make decisions about your future. But what happens when both partners are pursuing creative careers, and how do each offer and receive support while moving forward as a team? 

To find out, I interviewed four couples about how they support one another’s ambitions in practical ways, what helps them moving forward together as a team when the future is in flux, and how their partnership has helped them attain individual career goals. 


Mitchell Kuga and Adam J. Kurtz: Take turns literally supporting each other’s dreams

Financial stability may ebb and flow as we build our careers, especially in creative pursuits. Talking about money from the start can help create an environment of understanding and support as journalist and writer Mitchell Kuga and artist and author Adam J. Kurtz noted. Together for seven years and married just over two, the pair opened up about how they’ve taken turns supporting each other’s dreams. 

Adam Kurtz and Mitchell Kuga Adam Kurtz and Mitchell Kuga recognize the ups and downs of a creative life and offer each other emotional and financial support. (Photograph by Daniel Seung Lee.)

Early in their relationship, Adam was paying down debt while building his career. “We try to speak openly about finances and how rare it is to have a creative passion become a full-time career. In 2013, I was between jobs and had $10k in debt between credit cards and taxes so Mitchell paid for most of our dates back then. Now, thanks to a lot of good luck, timing, and support from many others, I'm enjoying an unexpected level of success in my creative career. I know how special and ephemeral that is, so I'm carefully saving for our future while doing what I can to help Mitchell create the space he needs to build his own career.” 

Mitchell noted that Adam, now in a better place financially, has offered support in return: “Aside from the emotional support—listening to me whine, being my first reader, believing in me and pushing me to aim bigger—Adam has supported my pursuits as a writer in the most literal sense: financially. In a lot of ways financial support is a kind of emotional support, because without that cushion I could not pursue life as a full-time freelance journalist without intense precarity and burnout. His financial support has given me the privilege to breathe.” 

James and Naomi White: Embrace a shared enthusiasm for encouraging each other 

“We spend a lot of our spare time chatting giddily about each other’s personal side projects!” said designer Naomi (Atkinson) White, who married digital artist James White of Signalnoise in August 2018. The pair, who both run their own studios, take a genuine interest in one another’s work and find themselves equally matched when it comes to passion, energy, and the ability to work hard toward their vision. 

Although they are now both in the groove when it comes to their work, Naomi credits James for helping her find her creative mojo again after she had to liquidate a physical retail business which she had poured her time, energy, and savings into. Now back at work helming her branding studio, Naomi reflected, “James' ongoing support and encouragement is the sole reason I'm back loving what I do.”

James and Naomi White's partnership is ruled by a no-nonsense approach to their shared obstacles. (Photograph courtesy of the couple.)

James likens the support they give one another to Calvin and Hobbes, “It's said the cartoon doesn't have any wasted brush strokes. Each stroke is meaningful without any of the nonsense. The way Naomi and I walk through life is without nonsense. Each day Naomi helps me focus on what matters. When you're surrounded by that kind of calm, your creative goals become super clear.” 

Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy: Foster a sense of trust and independence    

Designers Che-Wei and Taylor cofounded their studio, CW&T, to make physical products they want to see in the world. The pair first met in 2007 in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU and began working together as friends before graduation in 2009. Shortly after, they began dating, opened their studio, and are now married with two kids. 

Even though their lives are wholly integrated through running a studio and building a family together, they foster a sense of individuality through their own artistic practices, which gives them space to create and simply be. “I think we have an unspoken agreement that we get to do whatever we want in the studio. We don’t have to justify to each other what we’re doing. That’s been extremely freeing,” said Che-Wei. 

Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy give each other the physical and emotional space they need to feel creative freedom. (Photograph courtesy of the couple.)

Taylor shared that she’s someone who likes to work alone, “For a long time we worked side by side, but after our second kid was born it became increasingly difficult to get back into a creative practice. I realized I needed a space that was just mine, so I took over our small studio—Che-Wei will lovingly say I kicked him out.”

Che-Wei responds with humor, “Haha, yeah. Taylor kicked me out of our studio.” But in turn, that has given him the opportunity to fulfill a dream of his own, “The basement workshop is my happy place. I’ve wanted a dream workshop where we have all the tools needed to make anything and we now have it. It took years to slowly buy the tools and set up everything. It’s still in progress and it will keep evolving.” 

Able and Julia Parris: Remain flexible and pick up the slack for each other

Creative director Able Parris noted the ever-changing nature of taking his chosen path, “We have these strange creative careers—Julia is independent and I’m recently independent. The job will be different tomorrow, next week, and next month. Patience with the present and hope for the future is key.” On a practical level, that could look like Able and Julia picking up the slack for one another when needed, like pitching in to help with their dog, running errands, or making dinner when one of them is heads-down in production mode for a deadline.

For Julia and Able Parris, practical support is often the most appreciated gesture. (Photography by Julia Parris.)

While pitching in to pick up the slack might not sound like the most romantic gesture to some, Julia chimed in that, “It’s a beautiful gift to give one another.” She went on to note that it boosts feelings of mutual support, “When it works both ways, there isn’t room for resentment. It shows equal respect, support, and that you value the work the other person is doing.” What a beautiful gift to give your partner, indeed. 

More about Tina Essmaker

Tina Essmaker is a New York City-based coach, writer, and speaker.

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