December 23, 2009

Struggling to Be Supportive

I did it again.

My husband came home from a church meeting. Naturally, I asked how it went. He hesitated to open up about it because I have this bad habit of responding with not just my two cents, but with two big ceramic piggy-banks of opinions on whatever issue was being discussed at the meeting.

I’ve been trying so hard lately just to listen. To nod empathetically and ask active-listening questions like “How did you feel about that?” and “What happened next?” I had actually been doing fairly well at this recently.

The trouble is, my husband can read me like a book. Though I was saying, “Hmm…that’s interesting,” he could tell my eyes were saying “I totally disagree with your perspective.” He called me out on my transparency and of course, I had to spill it all then. (Why couldn’t I have just said “I’m sorry,” and worked harder on my poker face?) Instead, I stopped listening and started talking.

I don’t know if it’s because I also have theological education (my husband and I met at div school) or because I edit the writings of megachurch pastors in my day job, or if I’m just plain too opinionated and think I know the best way to do everything (probably that), but I find it so hard to stay detached from what my husband experiences in his job—to just listen and support him, and not make it about my feelings or what I think he should do.

I don’t go around telling family members who are accountants, lawyers, or scientists how to do their jobs! And dear hubby certainly doesn’t tell me how to do my job! So why do I persist in trying to tell him how to do his job?

The reasons (excuses) I mentioned above may certainly have a lot to do with it. But I also wonder if it is something peculiar to the clergy family. I can imagine few other work environments that have the spiritual significance to the worker’s spouse that a church does. While it might bother a person that her or his spouse’s office does things a certain way, those practices likely do not directly affect people’s relationships with God (including their own), nor is that office chiefly charged with facilitating God’s work in the world. Additionally, the clergy spouse is present and aware of things in the church that perhaps spouses to people in other fields are not. In what other profession do they have “bring your spouse to work day” once or twice a week?

I’m being glib there, but I am curious. Do you have trouble staying detached enough to be a neutral sounding board and empathetic source of support? Do you think it’s a function of the job or just the personality of the spouse?

I’ll admit, I would probably be a snarky loudmouth even if my husband were a dentist. But then again, I only go to the dentist twice a year.

Jessica Miller Kelley tries really hard to be a good wife and mother, despite her snarky streak! Read more from her at The Parsonage Family.


  1. I also have a diffcult time staying neutral and detached from the church business. We are in a really small church and I used to attend the meetings, mainly because I was there anyway and there was nothing else to do. But I have found myself getting too emotionally involved. I think this is partly because I am a member also and it is my church too. I am now trying to pull back and let my husband do his job without me butting in. This is only my second year as a pastors wife and I find it difficult to figure out my role in the church. Church has always been a huge part of my life and now I am having to step back from roles I would have normally been a part of because I am a pastors wife.

  2. First of all, you are not a "pastor's wife". That is a loaded term full of unrealistic expectations. Stop using that phrase because you'll only put pressure on yourself. You are the wife of a man who happens to be a minister. There is a difference. My wife and I rarely discuss what goes on behind the scenes at church. Because I get emotionally involved, I lose perspective. Find the areas of church life you enjoy, and focus your energies there. Do not let yourself get pulled into things just because "that's what the pastor's wife always does". You are not a "pastor's wife", you are just married to a man who is a minister. Politely decline things you don't enjoy or don't have gifts in. I was once asked to teach the 6th grade Sunday School class. I was told that the minister's wife always had done that. I declined. I received a stammering response, "But, there is no one else". I responded that I'm sure if she asked, she could find someone. There was brief chill between us for a couple of weeks, but she did in fact find someone who was great at it. Sorry to ramble, but since you are still new to this, now is the time to establish your boundaries before someone else does it for you.

  3. Anonymous, I completely agree with what you are saying. The best thing that a spouse of a pastor can do is set boundaries early.

    I have a couple comments that relate to the above posts.

    1. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew from the beginning that my husband was going to be a minister. I also felt called to the church. I have a theological education background. In many ways, I feel that I have an important part in this ministry as well. I only want to aid him in being the best pastor he can be.

    No, it isn't my vocation, but in many ways, don't we as a the spouse of a pastor also serve, set an example, etc. I know that not every spouse feels called to the ministry of our spouse, but do we lose sight of the ministry that our spouse is called to if we only see it as a vocation?

    2. The hard part is that ministry is not a 9-5 job, you can't leave your work at the office. I come home and talk about my day. It would be unfair to ask our spouse not to do the same. Yes, there are things that are shared in confidence that need to be left out. But I don't expect my husband to stay silent- even if it means I become frustrated with him about a situation. Church work is messy!

  4. I think you make some valid points as well. I should clarify that we do talk about some things about the church. I understand the need to process the day, meeting, event, etc. The things we tend to avoid are the more in-depth issues regarding individuals, other staff, etc. I may be aware of an issue with that person, but we don't go into detail. I tend to overreact in defense of my spouse in those situations. Thus, my comment about losing perspective.

    I knew what I was getting into as well. My mother once said to me: "You, of all people, knew what you were getting in to". Which was true. And like you, I have a theological education. My wife and I graduated seminary about a year apart and I am in a church related job, though I think it tilts more heavily to vocation than ministry. Perhaps that is an issue for me, as I view the work she does. I leave my job and go home at night, and sometimes expect her to do the same, even though intellectually I know that is not realistic.

    I do not serve as much as I once did in the church. Since I deal with churches all week long, Sunday often feels more like another day of work, rather than an opportunity to worship. Again, in that sense, I probably view the church too much in a vocational perspective.