“I don’t really enjoy being a pastor’s wife. Joanie”
Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson (pp. 16)

That “confession” from one of Anne’s readers, early on in her new book really stuck out to me.

There has been lots of research on this topic, and even more anecdotal evidence. And as a former full-time pastor, now part-time pastor, pastor’s kid, (and talking to my wife about this topic a lot) I think I know something of this subject and the expectations upon pastor’s spouses. Though there are plenty of men who are spouses to pastors, the most common scenario is the husband who is pastor.

There are stats such as these (found here).

August 1998, excerpts from James Dobson’s newsletter:
Our surveys indicated that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression.

1991 Survey of Pastors (Fuller Institute of Church Growth)
80% believed pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
33% believed ministry was a hazard to their family

Leadership, Fall 1992 Marriage Problems Pastors Face
81% insufficient time together
71% use of money
70% income level
64% communication difficulties
63% congregational differences
57% differences over leisure activities
53% difficulties in raising children
46% sexual problems
41% Pastor’s anger toward spouse
35% differences over ministry career
25% differences over spouse’s career

And on and on and on….

Joanie’s statement in Anne’s book is done as a confession. I wonder if Joanie is her real name or not.

Because what I have found in my 12 plus years as a pastor, and my current work as a therapist, is that many spouses of pastors live in fear to tell their spouse (often their husband) how unhappy they are with their marriage (often blaming it on the spouse’s vocation), and experience anxiety due to the unrealistic expectations of being married to a pastor — expectations that are often placed on them by the congregation and reinforced by their spouse. This situation sets up a scenario for a lot of marital discord, but discord that often rarely sees the light of day in any constructive manner.

I remember sitting in one of my classes at Fuller Seminary on marriage counseling where the professor talked about a large study they had done on marital satisfaction with clergy couples. Each partner in the marriage rated their satisfaction. When the results came back, the one who was the pastor (usually the husband), significantly rated the marriage more satisfying than their spouse. The results highlighted the disconnect.

So, if you are a pastor, what do you actively do to open up communication in your marriage? Do you seek to better understand your spouse’s feelings about your role? Do you work on actively changing expectations to improve the life of your spouse and the marital satisfaction you both experience? Is your spouse first in your life, or is the church?

And if you are friend to a pastor’s spouse, have you actively sought ways that you can come alongside of them and help them through any difficult things they may be experiencing as a result of many of the unhealthy expectations placed upon them?

What can church communities do to better come alongside pastors and their spouses and help them in their marriages?