Tag Archives: artists in love

Artists In Love, Parenting, and Divorce



Since an early age I have been able to express my love for others in a very open and direct way. And in my second marriage I learned, as things were falling apart, just how much of “that loving feeling” I was generating on my own. I thought I understood what it meant to be loved by someone, but I hadn’t really experienced it since the death of my older sister. I was manufacturing most of the warmth and connectivity in my family. Sure, I could tell my then-wife loved our kids and loved me, but it was a strained expression of love, not an open and on-going expression.

We loved our kids, that was obvious. Everything we did hinged around their wellbeing. But in that process of giving ourselves over to parenting, we pulled back from each other.

Of course, I hadn’t gotten the frame of the Love Languages yet. As I went down the dark rabbit hole of depression after the divorce I was lucky enough to join a recovery group. Over the course of ten weeks I met on Thursday nights with 15 other men and women going through the same process of letting go, rediscovering, and rebuilding. And in that class I learned a new language of communication as well. I learned about how to be in a relationship in the present moment, and let go of the expectations of what was to come. As I excavated the relationship in this group to examine what had gone wrong, a distinct picture emerged of our different creative responses and reactions to the stress of becoming parents.

Becoming Parents

See, when you have kids everything changes. Our young relationship was transformed by the mysterious and sacred event. And there was an urgent and searing love that burned away all of our doubt and differences as we came together as parents. But somehow it still wasn’t a loving relationship between us. We loved each other, but only one of us really knew how to express it.

Over the course of the next 9 years or so we drifted into more of a partnership than a loving relationship. It was not a dramatic shift, it was a gradual wearing down of our mutual adoration. I kept punching through with outpourings of love and affection, but over time the glow that was created was overwhelmed by the stress and weight of the routine of being parents. Parents who were both working hard to keep their own emotional lives together while still maintaining a warm and supportive home for our two growing children.

We loved our kids, that was obvious. Everything we did hinged around their wellbeing. But in that process of giving ourselves over to parenting, we pulled back from each other. And I’d be deluded if I tried to put the blame squarely on her shoulders. We had both wanted children. We both wanted to continue on our paths as creative adults. But we were also struggling with unmet expectations about how things would be once we achieved the goal: Two kids, a nice house, a few pets, and …

We dealt with the reality of life not quite working out the way we envisioned in different ways. She went jogging around the neighborhood. I went into my music studio. And together we negotiated our chores and kid duties. All the while we were good at celebrating our children. The milestones flew by as they moved from pre-k to “big kid school.” But while they were thriving, somehow our relationship to one another was not.

Parenting Demands a New Approach

The kids had become our relationship. And our own journeys turned inward rather than towards one another.

Little by little I began working in my studio more at night after the kids went to bed. Somewhere deep inside I believed that my craft would eventually provide for some relief from the hard times. But I was also moving away from her in ways that would only become clear much later. Our creative lives either find new outlets once we have children or we become frustrated artists. I dove into my music as a way to connect to my own inner passion and creative drive. And even as I became more energetic and hopeful, my then-wife became less so. I’m not sure if it was the lack of creative joy in her life, but I do know that’s how we met each other, full of joy and art. Our weekend routine before kids had become a series of check-ins around our studio time.

In the transformation of becoming parents we both changed. While the joy and fascination around the kids was the center of our lives all was well. The kids fulfilled some part of our creative souls in a deep way. And for a while, the children became our joint art project. But over time, they became a bit more autonomous, and the reality of the mundane set in again. Chores and bills and shuttling little friends everywhere causes additional strain that can wear on the most solid of relationships. In our transition from uber-connected-new-parents to parents-who-are-once-again-looking-for-their-own-path-in-life we lost the fascination and adoration between us. The kids had become our relationship. And our own journeys turned inward rather than towards one another.

Perhaps, I could’ve fought more for the marriage and demanded, in a masculine way, for her love and passion to return. I could’ve stood in more with the chores and tried to meet more of her demands for help. I’m sure there are things I could’ve done differently and better, but I’m not clear that my efforts to become a better husband would’ve healed the imbalance that seemed more fundamental. I’m not sure I could’ve woken up her inner artist again.

While the creative kernel continued to burn inside of me, I spent more and more time in the music studio after the kids went to sleep. There was even a good bit of my output that I fashioned into love songs and poems meant to rekindle, or at least affirm my love for this wonderful woman. Something between us had broken. She would point at my “lack of responsibility” for the reason she was angry a lot of the time. She would say the house was too dirty, or the money in the bank account was insufficient for her to relax. But somewhere in there, she had dropped her own creative song, and had begun to resent mine.

The Artist’s Journey is a Solo Path

My music became a symbol of the disconnect between us. What drew her in during our courtship, became something she fought against. My songs fell on deaf ears. My music seemed to represent for her why we didn’t have the money that would’ve allowed us to be more comfortable. But I think the real struggle was more internal for her. Her own art had transformed and thrived for a while around the birth of the kids, for a while her own internal song had not been silent. Somewhere along the path towards becoming a mom she reoriented her life exclusively around parenting.

When this played out in my marriage, my survival as an artist appeared to come (at least to my then-wife) at the expense of being a responsible father.

When the kids began to gain more momentum out and away from the two of us our closeness began to separate as well. As they grew and developed passions and interests of their own, perhaps she failed to rekindle the creative love inside herself. That was also the part of her that I fell in love with. As I was sputtering and struggling as a parent AND and as an artist, she was alone without her craft, and in some ways without me. She was focused on all the practical things. She began to see my creative endeavors as threatening rather than supportive. She wasn’t interested in the love poems I was writing. My childish creative spirit that had enraptured her early on became a symbol of my immaturity.

As artists we experience life as part of our creative path. Our outputs enhance and celebrate our ups and downs. Our creative voices can begin to get trapped under the rough business of bills, health insurance, and mortgage payments. The process of becoming parents turns up the intensity. Part of the artist’s struggle is how to continue finding time, and more importantly energy, to stay with it. Many parents drop their artistic ambitions in favor of their children’s wants and needs. When this played out in my marriage, my survival as an artist appeared to come (at least to my then-wife) at the expense of being a responsible father. The struggle became both internal (my energy and vision) and external (a threat to my marriage).

The fracture and collapse of my marriage ultimately became the emotional firestorm that uncorked my artistic voice. In my own individual struggle to survive, I found my release through writing. After the divorce, as I thrashed and fell apart during the months following my separation, I wrote to make sense of what was happening. And now, over six years later, even as the writing matures, the music and songs are beginning to come back as well.

An artist struggles through all of life’s conditions and requirements just like everyone else, but they tend to leave behind a story, or song, or image. This is my magnum opus.

My hope is that my song is not about divorce and trouble, but love and creative passion. As both of us struggled under the amazingly complex and overwhelming changes in our lives, I turned towards my craft as a way to cope, to organize my feelings and thoughts, and explore both the happy and sad parts of the journey. As the journey continues, my voice grows stronger here on the blog and in other areas of my life. As an artist, the crushing blow of the divorce stripped the band-aid off the pain I had been trying to express.

Today, my creative discipline and output has become an integrated expression of who I am. This song I sing becomes more of how I present myself in the world. My music and writing sets a creative example for my children as they pursue their dreams. I’ve shown them how it looks to recover from setbacks and disappointments.

This artistic me is the foundation of my new relationship as well. This time I am more confident and self-assured. I believe it was this confidence that allowed me to attract a mutually compassionate person to express and receive love and adoration with a similar playful and creative flair. In finding my deeper creative voice, I’ve also called in a partner who glows, and pings, and hums with her own distinct yet familiar buzz. Together we resonate and reflect back even more energy.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: on stage, kristy duff wallace, used by permission

How Do You Radiate? Becoming the Lover You Are Looking For


So we are starting on the same page, here are my quick notes of this amazing video on creating and sustaining long-term desire within a relationship. The secret to desire in a long-term relationship | Ester Perel

+++ notes +++

“Sex isn’t something to do, sex is place you go, together and in yourself.”

In her studies she asked what made a long-term partner attractive again. Here are the typical responses.

  • when they are away (when we can gain some distance from our mate we can re-see them)
  • when they are being radiant – holding court, in their element
  • when they make us laugh, or surprise us (seeing our mate decked out for a party)

There is a big difference between needing someone and desiring them.

“There is no neediness in desire, no care taking.”

+++ end notes +++

On another blog I examined how these concepts played out in my marriage and subsequent divorce. I’d like to dig into the attractiveness section for a moment and see if there are things I can learn and put into practice in the coming year, as I  open up to the idea of seeking a relationship again. (I’ve put “dating” on hold in Nov – Dec in order to gain some perspective and insights, if possible, into my own patterns and what was not working. Because it’s not working.)

She had lost her own radiance and was no longer willing to be rewarmed by mine.

Radiate. That was the word that hit me when watching this video. When someone is really in the element the radiate. What is more critical for me in 2015 is to radiate with my joy and creativity. When I shine I show up with as much of my potency and intention showing as possible.

When I’m doing more of my thing, I’m more attractive. I often show up with a lot of joy. But when I’m glowing with my creative talents as well, my concept is that I will become irresistible for someone. What I’m looking for is a resonance.

Resonance in a relationship: When the warm and vibrations put out by one partner enlivens and sparks the other partner.

When this resonance is lost, or nonexistant, a creative soul begins to doubt the connection between himself and the beloved. In my life, I’ve had one experience where I believed I was enjoying full-resonance. I married this woman and had two wonderful children with her. Long before the kids were added to the equation we basked in our mutual illumination and creative energies. The weekends were a sort of scared time.

Our typical Saturday and Sunday revolved around some kind of shared breakfast with plenty of coffee and a conversation that often went like this, “So, let’s touch base later in the afternoon, and see if we’ve got anything going on.” And with that we’d go to our separate artist studios to do our thing.

“And if  something’s really burning tonight, just go with it, I’ll bring you food,” I would add. This mutual support and appreciation for alone time, creative time, was one of the resonances we enjoyed as our relationship deepened.

There was zero resonance between us. That became a fracture and a loss that we were unable to recover from.

Somewhere along the shared path, several years and two kids later, we began suffering from a lack of resonance. While we were both reforming our identities as parents with creative ambitions we began to reframe our lives and priorities. It’s hard to dissect exactly how or when things changed, but at some point my creative projects and requests for creative time in my studio became threats rather than celebrations. As I worked to maintain my dad role in addition to my musician role, I began to  capture my alone-creative-time from 10:30 (when the kids were finally asleep) to early morning. Consequently I would look for nap opportunities during the weekend. But somehow naps were bad, in our relationship. What?

Call it whatever you like, but the weekend conversations changed in tone and went something like this.

“So what are your goals for the weekend?” she would ask.

“Um, some rest, some creative time, and a little love making.” I answered as playfully as I could.

“Oh.” she would say. And then nothing. So we’d go along for a few minutes and I’d invariably ask if I didn’t want to get into a big fight. “And what are your plans, dear?”

“I want to clean out the garage and get some new drapes for the bedroom.”

“Okay. Um, and I’m guessing you need my help on the first one. So… When would you like to work on the garage together?”

“Now.” And that would reorient my ideas for the weekend.

Somewhere along parenting process she lost the resonance with our shared artistic visions. Or she sublimated that vision for something around her role as a parent. And while the friction was minor in the beginning, it began to wear on us both. She seemed to always be asking me to help with a weekend project, complaining about my naps and requests for evenings to play music. The conversation would often end up with  her expressing a frustration at my lack of “responsibility.”

If I am genuinely looking for a relationship and not just a date, then my concept of holding out for resonance becomes more critical.

But it’s the lack of resonance that began to really hurt emotionally too. I began to find my stride again, in my 11 to 2am sessions and I would often bring a new composition in to share. She stopped listening. The love songs I was singing fell on stone ears. And it wasn’t as if she was chained to the stove or scrubbing the floors. We had house keeping support. We had our bills paid. We were entering the next phase of parenting: settling in after the mind warp of early parenting. But some how she never returned to her creative space. And she resented mine. As things devolved, it seemed like my musical endeavors were threatening, in some way.

She had lost her own radiance and was no longer willing to be rewarmed by mine. There was zero resonance between us. That became a fracture and a loss that we were unable to recover from. Only after the divorce was I able to refind my musical voice. And in the last few years I’ve begun to radiate again with my musical joy.

I’m looking for another creative person. Someone who stands in her own power. Someone who resonates with her own mojo and is not threatened by mine. I want to start a symphony here on my own, and find a co-author for the second movement.

One last note from the video about what causes people to fall in love.

Factors that determine why you fall in love with one person:

  • timing
  • proximity
  • mystery
  • fits your love map (list of traits you build as you grow up)
  • complementary brain systems

So with this new information, I am formulating a revised plan for 2015. Rather than seeking so much, I’m going to work on my own radiance. I’m going to sing and perform with more gusto and more frequency. I’m going to continue to improve my fitness and energy. And I’m going to be listening for another strong voice, that I can join with.

The last item, “complementary brain systems,” seems deeply revealing. The idea is we tend to gravitate towards others who have a similar education and intellectual focus.

I have been thinking about a term I read recently about a “free soul.” You recognize a free soul when you see one. They are the people who are noticed when they enter a room full of people. An energy that speaks of sensuality and joy. I’ve recently run into a woman in my work out group who’s obviously a free soul. She’s married, but even so, there’s a chemistry and confidence between us that is different in tone from any of the other people I’ve come across in the last 5 years. I can see her clearly. And in her, I can recognize another free soul and understand more clearly what I am seeking.

Finally, this brings up the concept of dating vs. relationship again. If I am genuinely looking for a relationship and not just a date, then my concept of holding out for resonance becomes more critical. I’ve had a resonant partner once before. I know how that feels and how transformative that can be for both people. Anything less than that is a distraction.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: ember dance, Jake “Forester” Barbour, creative commons usage