The Imminent Threat to a Pastor’s Marriage

8638976257_f940d64238About 8 years ago I was sitting in a marriage and family therapy class at Fuller Theological Seminary when the professor made an off the cuff remark about the marital satisfaction of a pastor and their spouse.

The professor’s experience was that pastors (in this case men) often rank their marriages as being more satisfactory than their spouse does.

I have thought about that comment a lot over the last 8 years. And I have to agree with my professor.


The Imminent Threat

My experience in working with pastoral couples is that the pastor (and in my experience — usually men), almost always rank their marriage as in a great place. In fact, they often look at me and make comments such as:

“I’m not really sure why we are here in your counseling office. Our marriage is great!”

“We are only here because our church sent us. It’s required for all pastors and their spouses. But nothing is wrong with our marriage.”

“Our marriage is awesome. We are just hear to learn how to better minister to couples in our church whose marriages aren’t so good.”

Yes, I have heard all these comments and more.

But what usually happens, almost 100% of the time, the pastor’s spouse looks at him (in this case it’s usually a male pastor) and says something like:

“I’m not happy in our marriage.”

“You care more about the people in the church than you care about me.”

“I don’t know if I can live this lie any longer. Showing up on Sunday and pretending like everything is okay, while all week we are disconnected and unhappy.”

Obviously this comes to a huge shock to the pastor who has either ignored the painful reality of his marriage or has completely miscalculated the marriage he has (i.e. this is the imminent threat)

There is lots of research on pastors and their families, but I don’t know if there is a particular study that bears this out in a pastor’s marriage. But I don’t need that study, because I am witness to this experience in the many pastoral couples I have the privilege of working with.

I grew up in the home of a pastor.

I have been in pastoral ministry myself for about 18 years.

So I care about pastors. I care about their marriages.


So What’s the Problem

I think several things are going on, but I’m going to narrow it down to four things:

First, the pastor is often focused on what is happening out there. Out there being the church. With the pastor’s focus so intently on the church, he/she often takes their focus off of what is happening here. Here being the pastor’s family. I see it time and time again. It’s not helpful that many of us pastors are people pleasers (yeah, you probably are at some level) and it often becomes easier to please the congregation than to try to please our own marriage and family. (The Key: becoming a self-differentiated leader?)

Second, many pastors, because of their focus on the church and congregation, have often casted a vision and mission for it. But they have often failed to cast a vision and mission in their own marriage and family. (P.S. Here’s how you can cast one for your marriage and family).

Third, pastors (the majority who are men) often have a hard time emotionally connecting. They can preach and teach and lead and pray, but they often don’t know how to emotionally connect with their spouse at a deep level. Unfortunately they often find out that the tools that make them successful in church work aren’t all that helpful in their marriage and family. And since they want to be successful they focus on what makes them feel that. Church. Not marriage and family.

Fourth, many pastors just don’t do a good job of taking care of themselves. A healthy pastor (really a healthy person) should be focused on taking care of four core areas: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. It’s not unusual to find a pastor functioning in only 1-2 of these areas. And with a lack of self-care comes exhaustion, feeling burnt out, depression, anxiety and more.


Get the Help You Need

I think what spurred this post was the number of pastors who registered for my webinar last week, and whom I had the chance to connect with afterwards. And though the webinar was for men in general, I’m not surprised that pastors were drawn to the content especially.

So if you are a pastor, please join me for my next webinar on November 12, 2013 at 12pm Central. Seventy men registered for the last webinar and I hope to have as many for this one.

And if you aren’t a pastor…but you are a man. Please join me as well.

My message is for men in general — we need to learn how to do a better job of envisioning, connecting and investing in ourselves, our marriages, and our families.

[image by Wighman]

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