I remember when I said it to him. It was a few months after our daughter was born, and I was completely overwhelmed. I was unhappy with our marriage and was feeling unsupported. I told him I wanted us to get marriage counseling.
He didn’t want to. He was a youth pastor. How would it look if the pastor’s marriage was struggling?
I said I was going on my own if we didn’t go together.
But then we didn’t. And I didn’t. And we continued to struggle. Issues that we had been dealing with prior to having our baby were now exacerbated by the lack of sleep and complete upheaval to our normal routine.
About 3 months later, we started to attend the Alpha Marriage program at our church. That was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t until about 2 years later that we actually started some counseling with our pastor and his wife. When we did that, we started to see changes fairly quickly. Meeting with them a few times helped us to pinpoint the core of the issues we were experiencing, and they helped to guide us into a healthier place in our marriage.
I am so thankful that we finally took the step to actually get counseling. It was the push we needed to get things back on track and in our marriage.
But what stopped us from doing so when we initially needed it? And what can other pastor’s wives do if they are experiencing struggles in their marriage?
The Barriers to Getting Help when the Pastor’s Marriage Struggles:
There seems to be a kind of false expectation on pastors and their wives to have it all together. People look up to their pastor, so if they knew that the pastor’s marriage was struggling, what would they think? I’m not sure whether this expectation is real or perceived, but I believe it is a barrier to many pastors seeking help for their marriage.
Despite the expectations that are out there, sometimes the thing that stops a pastor and his wife from seeking help is pride. Pride makes us feel like we DO need to have it altogether, even if we don’t. Pride makes us think that we are super important, and that we could be ruining someone else’s perception of God if we have a fault. How crazy is that?
Finances may be another reason that pastors do not reach out for help in their marriage. If they are a senior pastor, or even an associate pastor, they may not want to bring their marriage issues to another staff member, understandably so.
However, this may mean that they need to go to an outside counselor, which often can be an added financial burden. There may be times that a pastor and his wife feel that they truly cannot afford counseling, even though it may be the most important investment for them.
Of course, pastors and their wives are busy. They are often caring for other people’s needs and pouring out their time and energy to help their congregation. The problem is, this may leave them with little to no time to invest in their own marriage. They may feel they are too busy for marriage counseling, even if the other barriers are not there.
These are just a few of the potential barriers that could prevent pastors and their wives from seeking help when they have a struggling marriage. If you are a pastor’s wife, I am sure you can add other thoughts to this list.
So what if you know you need help? What can you do as a Pastor’s wife if your marriage is not where you’d like it to be?
Tips for Pastor’s Wives:
1. Discuss expectations with your spouse
As hard as it can be to do, I believe strongly that having an open and honest conversation about your marriage is a key to making changes.
Does your husband know you are hurting? Are your expectations too high of your spouse? Or is there are a real issue that needs to be addressed? Is there an issue to which he is simply unaware?
Often we expect our husbands to read our minds and know exact what is bothering us. This is not realistic or fair. We have to be willing to bring up the issues as well as acknowledge how our expectations may be playing a role in the marriage.
2. Be okay with disappointing others
When you are in ministry, it is inevitable that you will disappoint others. You will make choices that someone won’t agree with. Someone will think that you should have had a prayer meeting instead of go on a date night.
But guess what? No matter WHAT you do, you will disappoint someone. And as a family in ministry, your marriage MUST be your first priority after your relationship with Christ.
[bctt tweet= “As a family in ministry, your marriage MUST be your first priority after your relationship with Christ.”]
It is very easy for the responsibilities to the church to take over, and to end up putting your spouse last. This is not healthy nor is it Biblical. If you’ve fallen into the pattern of allowing church life to take over your life, and you are not maintaining your marriage and keeping it a priority, it’s time to reassess.
You must decide to be okay with disappointing others. It’s more important to keep your marriage than keep your church. Don’t get me wrong – I believe God calls people into ministry and that we must take that call seriously. But if your marriage is suffering because of your ministry, then something is off.
If you and your spouse begin setting up boundaries around your marriage and making it a priority, it may upset people in your church or even your family. Be okay with that.
3. Make the decision to invest in your marriage
Again, often pastors and their wives invest their own money in their ministry or other important causes, and this is often necessary or noble. However, I believe we need to decide that investing money into our own relationship as husband and wife is invaluable.
Recently I spoke with Christie, a mom involved in ministry, and she shared that both she and her husband had failed marriages prior to them getting married. What she now recognizes is that they “cannot afford NOT to have a babysitter” and go on date nights. After experiencing the pain and cost of going through a divorce, Christie feels that investing financially in your marriage is absolutely necessary.
4. Take time away as a couple at least annually
Getting away as a couple, especially when you’re in ministry, can be extremely challenging. It requires a lot of planning, making sure church duties are covered, and again, there is a financial cost as well.
If you can’t get away for an entire weekend, then at least take one overnight, or just a full day, to do this. Spending some extended quality time together can give you the chance to have the discussions that you put off on a day-to-day basis.
Every year, my husband and I go away on a marriage retreat. It’s become something we really look forward to, and one aspect that is especially helpful is evaluating our marriage and discussing where we need to make changes.
5. Get counseling
Yes, I’ll say this – even if you think “it’s not that bad”, do it anyway. It is so much easier to make adjustments to your marriage when things are just a little bit off rather than significantly challenging.
It’s kind of like taking a trip across country. If you make a wrong turn, and you’re just 10 miles off course when you realize it, it’s much simpler to get back on track than if you wait until you are 150 miles off course.
Often we underestimate the power and value of prayer. But I’ve heard numerous stories of restored marriages, and prayer is almost always involved! God can change hearts and draw people together more than any human actions can, so if you’re dealing with a challenging situation in your marriage, commit yourself to praying about it consistently.
7. Control what you can control
As a pastor’s wife, there may be times that you and your husband don’t see eye to eye. Perhaps he doesn’t want to get counseling, or do some of the other suggestions above. In that case, it’s time to simply focus on what you CAN control, rather than trying to change him.
What you can control is your own attitude and actions.
For me, this has been the hardest lesson to learn in my marriage. I always heard that it wasn’t possible to change your husband, but I still kept trying. Finally, I gave up trying and instead began focusing on myself.
I realized that I could change certain things that I was saying & doing – not just related to marriage, but also in terms of taking care of myself and my needs as a mom, growing spiritually, and pursuing things that I enjoyed. When I started doing that, I truly started to see changes in my marriage.
This is a fantastic article. Thank you so much for sharing. My husband is not a pastor, but he was just given a new, fairly large calling at church, and I’ve been amazed at the difference. Not only is our family routine completely changed (if existent at all), there is that feeling of isolation, because we have to be that “strong family.” We can’t go to the leader for help; we are supposed to be the ones helping others! At least, that’s how it feels. What a comfort and a blessing to have read this.
Evelyn, I am SO thankful that this was helpful for you. Please know that you don’t have to always be strong. Being vulnerable and transparent with those you are leading is so much more powerful than pretending you have it all together. I wish I would have realized that much earlier! Praying that God guides you on this new journey. <3
What a wonderful post! My husband is a pastor but I’m so thankful that our church doesn’t put the expectation on us that we have to have the perfect marriage. We’re normal people just like everyone else and we’re striving for a great marriage but none of us can have a perfect marriage. 🙂
Thanks Susannah! It’s so great that you don’t have that expectation put on you. You’re right, it’s impossible to be perfect, even when you’re in leadership 🙂 I think for many of us, it’s more of our own perception that other people want us to have it all together, even when that’s not actually their expectation!
This is great Esther!! So many need to know that the pastor and his wife are not perfect. My husband and I went through a time like this. He was willing to make the decision to leave ministry so we could focus on our marriage. We started counseling shortly thereafter and it was the biggest difference maker for us. Now we know how to communicate with each other which is huge. Thanks for sharing this!!
Thanks for these practical ideas, Esther, as well as making the point that all marriages need attention, whether you are in a particular role or not. I’m a pastor’s wife myself and my husband and I often talk with engaged couples preparing to get married. All the basic things we talk through with them – such as effective communication and conflict resolution – have been a regular reminder for us as well, even though we’ve been married for more than 18 years.
Thanks Elissa for your thoughts! You are so right, it’s really a good reminder to keep working on your own marriage when you’re helping other marriages! Congrats on 18 years – that’s awesome 🙂
this is awesome. Esther God bless you for such article. My husband is a pastor and we living with his parent after marriage. Am really facing a lot of challenges which has to do with having control of my marriage. anytime we have issues my mother-inlaw plays the role as a wife to my husband because my husband and i don’t communicate. i always have to go the kitchen as and when she goes to the kitchen even if am tired just to avoid them seeing me as a lazy woman. i have been pretending all is well. trying to be strong and endure until we move to our own apartment. now am really down and cant hold myself anymore hence seeking for counselling from our spiritual father. thanks for sharing with us steps to take if difficult moments like this
I am so sorry you are facing this struggle. I hope you can seek God and perhaps some counseling to help you resolve these challenges in your marriage.
thanks once again, now with the help of the counselor we are able to solve our issues. again your point on opening up and being vulnerable sometimes is really helpful.
You’re welcome! I am glad you are seeking help!
My husband is a evangelist. We move constantly. I’ve never been more lonely. We are together a lot but we haven’t seen eye to eye since the day we said I do. Our days and nights are filled with pain. I’ve learned to be quiet and keep my opinions to myself. We continue to be married out of obedience to Christ. Or I do that is. But I fear that its now failing. I pray and I pray.for healing and unity. My husband has lost Christ but yet he still preaches. I believe it’s become a JOB. I’m ashamed to even hear the messages on Sunday morning or Sunday evenings. It makes me angry to hear him Preach. He has become verbally abusive to me but yet preaches love once a week. I fear I’m no better by allowing it. But what do I do ? Go tell the elders? The church is old school and without a doubt it would be a mob if you know what I mean. I could go on and on. We have been to Counseling more than a few times and with his double doctorate in sociology he can fool anyone. I honestly can’t believe I’m writing this. On social media but …. I have no one to turn to. I have Christ and the walls that surround me. My faith is strong most days. But tonight I could scream to the top of my lungs for someone to hear me. I’ll take any advise. Thanks for allowing me to vent. And sorry if I expressed to much.
Fee, I am sorry you are feeling so much pain and hurt. I would definitely recommend seeking some counseling for yourself, and if possible for you as a couple. You shouldn’t have to bear this alone, and I pray you are able to find the support you need! You should not have to endure any kind of abuse, so please reach out to a professional as soon as possible. Much love!
This is such a blessing.
I am an unmarried pastor who is a pastors son as well.And this is a great blessing to me,at least I see things clearer now from a distance.
I can read through the struggles Ive been seeing in my parents and understand a better way to annilhilate it from my own life.
God bless You Esther.