4 Ways For Youth Pastors to Protect Their Marriages
Loneliness, resentment and depression… these are the words that describe many pastor’s spouses. Journey with me as I share a little of my story and some practical tips to prevent this pain in your youth ministry marriage.
When I became a youth pastor’s wife I bought into the fairy tale that my life was going to be fun, enjoyable and easy. I was so wrong! Sure it can be a lot of fun and enjoyable to be married to a youth pastor, but it is far from easy. I knew from the age of 16 that I was going to marry a youth pastor. What I didn’t know was that I would be joining the 80% of pastor’s wives that feel unappreciated by their churches and the 88% that experience some form of depression (17% of which experience deep depression and self-destructive thoughts). Pastors may feel prepared for the lifestyle of ministry but 84% of their spouses don’t!
My husband and I married in 1999 and within days were moving across the country for my husband’s first church as a full time youth pastor. We did our best to figure out how to relate to each other as a new married couple in our new surroundings. I tried to be the perfect pastor’s wife, following the model of what I expected a normal marriage would be like and how a stereotypical pastor’s wife should behave. He tried to be a successful youth pastor by pouring himself and all his time into the ministry. I expected we would have a marriage like my mother and father’s, where you work all day and are home together for evenings, weekends and holidays.
Resentment grew as the unrealistic expectations I had for my marriage and myself were not met. I resented that I was rarely genuinely appreciated or acknowledged for being myself; I was usually referred to as “the youth pastor’s wife”, as if my name didn’t matter. I resented that my husband focused most of his attention on running a successful ministry and gave me his leftovers. I felt I could not share how I was really feeling with him for fear that I would appear as un-supportive. When he was around I would nag him about petty things attempting to bring my marriage closer to the ‘normal’ I expected it to be, and I was visibly unhappy with him. Not measuring up at home in turn made him want to spend more time trying to be successful at work, all the while he was baffled as to what my problem really was.
With no family or friends close bye I struggled to find a safe person to talk to within the church. I found no one that understood the unique pressures I had as a ministry spouse. Any amount of concern I raise about my marriage made it hard for people to keep respect for my husband. Having no one to talk to lead to loneliness and isolation. Within the first year of ministry and marriage I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and within two years we left the first church.
The statistics are staggeringly shocking. The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is “wives issues”. If you think about it logically, your spouse’s issues are your issues and your ministry’s issues. If you want your ministry and marriage to be successful you need to get your priorities straight – your marriage comes first (1 Timothy 3). After 10 years in ministry this is what we eventually learned and are still learning today:
1. Be aware of Expectations
Expectations are one of the top issues in pastoral families, whether they are real or not. Pastor’s spouses perceive expectations from their spouse, their churches and from themselves of who they are supposed to be, what they are supposed to do, where they are supposed to live, how they are supposed to dress, where they are supposed to be involved in the church, who their friends should be… you get the picture! Do not compare your spouse or your marriage to others’, you’re unique – figure out and agree on what is right for your marriage. Note that expectations will change over time as your family grows and changes.
I believe 99% of my issues would have been prevented had I talked about my expectations and feelings with my husband. Talk about the expectations of your spouse’s role in your ministry and expose and deal with any unrealistic expectations on your part, the churches part and your spouse’s part. Be a safe person for your spouse to talk to so you can deal with any resentful feelings immediately. They will drive a wedge between you and your ministry if swept under the rug. Seek professional help if needed.
3. Spend time together
Loneliness is also a top issue in pastoral families. Your job can be very demanding, requiring you to be on call and away when youth are available: evenings, weekends and holidays. This is neither fair to your spouse, nor healthy for you. Commit to not take on more than your marriage can handle and let your spouse tell you when you are over committed. Be creative in figuring out ways to stay connected physically and spiritually. Check out other articles for ideas and ask other pastors what they do to balance life between church and family. Keep in mind; part of your ministry is modeling to youth a marriage worth waiting for.
4. Have safe outlets
Hanging out with friends as a couple can be therapeutic and bring a sense of normalcy. Other youth pastor’s in the area make great people to connect with. Unfortunately people in your church often are not safe friends. Help your spouse find someone safe to confide in about the challenges of ministry life. There are many online forums for pastor’s spouses to anonymously ask for support from others in similar situations. There are also several ministry spouses who are blogging. Just Google “pastor’s wife” of “pastor’s husband” and numerous resources will pop up. Knowing that others struggle with versions of the same issues is strangely comforting.
Joyful, thriving, genuine… these are the things your spouse longs to be. Take the time to figure out what works for your marriage – your ministry needs it and God requires it!