What Do You Tell Your Spouse?

I lived in a parsonage next to the church for thirteen years, a situation that is becoming less and less common. But wherever the pastor lives, the question of managing the intersection of family and church life is almost always an issue.

For church leaders who are married, it’s important to be thoughtful about how much to share about the ministry with our spouses. It’s tempting to vent, particularly when challenges arise: when we have a difficult pastoral encounter or come home furious from a board meeting. Clergy are automatically in an emotional triangle with their spouse and their congregation, and we often want to pull the spouse in more intensely when things get difficult. This response is probably inevitable at times, but there are reasons to avoid doing it automatically.

Here are some reasons not to vent to a spouse:
1. He or she often has a relationship with the people we are venting about. Our venting causes the tension that properly belongs in our relationship with the church member can spill over into that other relationship. And it may keep us from directly addressing the issue appropriately with the parishioner.

2. Our spouse will find it hard to be neutral. They are probably going to automatically take our side (which is what we want when we’re upset). But counsel they give us may not be the most helpful. It may be more useful to find someone outside the congregation, a calm and trusted colleague, mentor or coach, to work through the issues.

3. If we’re talking about church all the time with our spouse, we are not working on our relationship. Ministry even at the best of times is not enough to support a marriage. And when anxiety is high, we may lose sight of the other person altogether.

4. Boundaries are critical in ministry. Ministry marriages need boundaries, between the church and the marriage, and between the pastor and spouse. True intimacy requires appropriate boundaries. As a pastor, I found that if I could keep from blowing off steam about church to my husband I could manage myself better when I had to go back to church. Getting outraged just seemed to feed my outrage, and didn’t help me face the challenges at hand.

This week, consider: what do you tell your spouse, and why?

2 Responses to What Do You Tell Your Spouse?

  1. Even apart from the family issue, assessing our ministry setting in challenging times is critical. When things are tough, we need to evaluate what the potential is. Is there enough soil for something healthy to grow? Is this an acutely difficult time, or are these problems chronic? Leadership is never easy, but some settings are healthier than others. How do I want to spend my limited life energy, and is this worth it?

  2. I’ve been pretty good at leaving the work at work and not bringing work “issues” home. Early on I determined that I’d never work at a place that was toxic, knowing that innevitably I’d bring that home to the family. Every place and every job has its challenges, but a challenging job is qualitatively different than a (emotional and psychologically) toxic working environment.

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