Somebody’s wife…

…. or rather, the wife of someone who’s famous, or rich (or both). Sadly, being known solely as the wife (it happens less often to husbands) of somebody rich and/or famous is not as rare as I’d like, but even when you intend not to do that, it sometimes happens.

As one of my recent Artists Dates (see last week’s post if you want to know more about this), I went to an exhibition at a local gallery – one showcasing the work of two artists. I had no inkling of there being any significance to why they were being exhibited alongside one another. I – perhaps naively – assumed the commonality was that both were abstract artists. Except, it turns out that they’re married.

Now abstract art isn’t an area I know well, but my daughter does. So, naturally I discussed it with her. I name-checked the wife first because they’d attended the same art college and had an overlapping interest in textiles. My daughter didn’t know her or her work but, when I mentioned her husband, him she knew…. because he’s well-known, even, dare I say it, famous – in the world of abstract art. And then she wanted to kick herself for being that person.

Of course, my daughter wasn’t actually doing anything genuinely reprehensible – for the husband is the well-known one. He’s also a fair bit older and quite a character. His pieces are large and striking, while her work is smaller in scale and more gentle. In the world of abstract art – big and bold tends to be better known. Still, none of us want to be that person.

As is often the way, it got me to thinking. How does it work to have two egos in the same relationship, especially you’re both in the same industry? Does one person have to take a back seat? Does the one with the greater fame feel obliged to give a leg-up to their less well-known partner? Is it easier to be in different industries when you’re both striving for success, even fame? Is it true that behind every successful person there is another person in a support role? And are those support roles still more often performed by the wife?

What do you think?

© Debra Carey, 2022

11 thoughts on “Somebody’s wife…

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  1. I’ve known two couples, both with large egos who were professionals with doctorates, and in each case they divorced. Too much ego in the relationship, I suppose. Each person knew for sure how to do things, never giving into the other person’s way of doing things. It was constant disagreement and one-upmanship. Sad really

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  2. There is a story, which I believe to be true, that once at a reception Prince Philip was introduced to a man who said apologetically, “I’m only here because my wife is important”. “I know the feeling” said Prince Philip.

    I think that much the same thing happened to Dennis Thatcher, but he saw it as his duty to be supportive. If Mrs Thatcher had not been Prime Minister he would have been a renowned businessman instead of the butt of ‘Private Eye’ jokes.

    It seems to me that it is important for each partner to be comfortable in who they are, and to realise that ‘equality’ does not erase differences or mean uniformity, but does require respect for the other.

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  3. I dated a few other writers…briefly. Egos do get in the way, but there are other issues. There was one couple from my graduate program and critique group. The woman was a very good writer, and funny, too. Her partner was neither smart nor funny, but eventually wrangled his way into being her official writing partner. Felt like he was riding her coattails all the way. They had a kid, got work as a screenwriting team, and he belittled her constantly. She eventually divorced him…and he gets all the work and offers to speak at conferences.

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  4. I know I saw an exhibit recently that had a work by Lee Krasner and I was thrilled that they did not mention Jackson pollock…..does this count?

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  5. It seems to me that women are delegated to the backseat and supporting person roles by default in our society. And men can be ridiculed if their wives outshine them. There have been (and it’s probably still happening) numerous instances of the man claiming the woman’s ideas/work as their own. Society expects men to succeed and women to recede, still. Special is the man who stands behind his talented wife, and promotes her and even shares the spotlight with her, I think. Even more special is the relationship that can withstand not only the ego challenges, but the constant micro and macro aggressions of societal expectations.


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  6. Spot on Alan. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Men supporting successful women really do get a rough ride, which they so don’t deserve. It’s something that needs to be normalised, much like fathers at the school gates not being ostracised by the mothers.


  7. Exactly Deb. The default position is a constant bugbear. But, as you (and Alan) have pointed out, when you have a scenario where supportive men are ridiculed and excluded, it really doesn’t help matters. What also doesn’t help is the scenario where successful professional women have partners who are content doing their unchallenging (even manual) jobs, but get pressed into climbing the ladder towards some form of acceptable professional role. Madness. The ego is a right bugger.

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