To the Pastors’ Wives Whose Marriages are Quietly Falling Apart

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I’m a pastor’s wife.* And sister, I know how it is. You smile for the family pictures. You corral your children Sunday after Sunday; just getting out the door in time for church feels like you’ve already run a marathon. Maybe you, like me, can feel resentment for this life bubble up now and again. And so you tell yourself: you’re supposed to be in this together. You’re supposed to be his biggest fan, everyone else loves him. But you? You just want a break, or a date night or a full night of sleep by yourself in a hotel room. So you sit in the front row, supportive, yearning for gospel relief, and yet you might just feel caged by the expectations. The expectations that your marriage has to be perfect. That you’re somehow supposed to embody Ephesians 5.
 
And it is just too much to bear. So let’s let it go, shall we?
 
Marriage to a pastor was never meant to be a higher calling. Yes, your life might look different from other women in your congregation, but you are not called to perfection. You’re called to Jesus—even in the broken parts of our lives, including your marriage to the guy up on stage.
 
Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but my marriage is hard. Maybe your marriage is all roses and trips to Jamaica with umbrella drinks. But mine: It’s work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done (along with parenting). Because marriage is a day-in, day-out, relentless giving of oneself in a “warrior dance” where you both give and submit to the other (thank you Sarah Bessey for that image). It hurts. And honestly, it sometimes feels like death. But like a good sweaty workout, there’s growth that comes through the pain.
 
So ministry wives: let’s put down the act. Sometimes I don’t want to be married; sometimes I think I’d be happier without a spouse. Sometimes I wonder, with bliss and gratitude, how have we made it this far and this long? How have we survived intact in the midst of the chaos and the noise of little children who leave us flat, hands outstretched, always needing more?
 
Because when we keep looking to another to fulfill us, we become an inward, self-absorbed duo and we lose our ability to reach beyond our couplehood. We’ve so elevated a starry-eyed sense of love that we forget the practical love of self-sacrifice, not just in marriage, but for each other, for a family and for the world.
 
Let’s just breathe for a minute. No one’s got it together. No one’s marriage is perfect. And as a ministry spouse, you do not need to prove your worth or the worth of your marriage to your congregation or your ministry. How your marriage looks is not a gold star on a “good Christian woman” chart. Friend, this is not your job.
 
You don’t need to shine up your marriage in its Sunday best, and show your veneered smile, when you know that you’re both hurting inside. It’s inevitable in this dance of marriage, that there is a lack of connection, or growing bitterness and resentment lurking behind your dress and heels. Yet, we’re tempted to keep thinking that by controlling our outward appearance we can change the heart. That if we do better, if our kids behave and succeed, if we start Bible studies or bring snacks or invite people over for dinner, that then we’ll have this pastor’s wife thing figured out.
 
But that is not your job. Your job is to point to Jesus—in and through your brokenness
 
Let me tell you: this provides immense relief to my perfectionist self. Guess what? Perfection was never the goal. Jesus is the goal. Jesus is your hero, not some fictional knight in shining armor meant to carry you to a castle of good ministry reputation.
 
So, pastor’s wives, let’s show our scars. Let’s be real about the hard. The women in your congregation need to see you the real you without your perfectionism makeup on. Let’s tell each other when marriage doesn’t feel like it’s worth it and yet, you know, you know, that it is. Not because of your spouse, but because of Jesus. You know that that’s where Christ meets you, in your broken and hurting places when you still choose to love boldly and to dare greatly to show all of who you are to another person. He takes dead things—even marriages—and brings them back to life.
 
Let’s not empty the cross of its power and the empty tomb of its glory, by patching over our dying relationships with band-aids. Let’s expose our wounds to the light so they can scab and heal and grow stronger.
 
Because friend, it was never him, or his vocation, that was meant to satisfy you. It was and is and always shall be only Jesus.
 
 
* I realize that there are many Christian traditions with differing views on ordination, celibacy, etc. This is simply my experience as a pastor’s wife, writing to women I know. I hope you find it encouraging wherever you land.
Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales

Writer and Editor at aahales.com
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com and loves to make friends on Twitter.
Ashley Hales

Latest posts by Ashley Hales (see all)

  • Kudos for letting your Sunday bun down. Please show me in a marriage in the Bible that wouldn’t be whispered about at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Concubines, multiple wives, an older guy betrothing a young pregnant teen girl. As long as your husband isn’t building an ark in your back yard and collecting animals for a flood, you’re as human as the rest of us!

    • Lindsey Smallwood

      Love that first line, Ginger!

    • Yes, I love this, Ginger — that is entirely true about the biblical marriages being a bit less than perfect. And yet there’s redemption all through them.

  • Lindsey Smallwood

    Thanks for writing Ashley, this is true in my non-ministry marriage. I often feel this pressure to look like I have everything together. It’s hard to let your scars show in the middle of the mess when you’re not sure how it will all work out. But doing it, inviting people in, gives space for grace and help and prayer and hope and that often ends up being the sweetest gift to me, not to mention the example of vulnerabilty. Great reminders you’ve shared for all of us.

    • Yes, I think the perfectionism and marriage definitely applies to all of us. It’s in the mess of the unknowing that makes us either try to control things by pretending perfection or throw our hands up in the air and call it good. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • Ros

    Also, have the date night. Get your church elders to recognise their role in supporting their pastor’s marriage and give him a break.

  • Yes!! As a pastor’s wife and PK, this rings so true to my heart and struggle. Thanks for giving us all, pastor’s wife or not, the freedom to be true to who we really are, and the enCOURAGEment to lean into Jesus and our sisters as we all grow in grace, side. by. side. It is so easy to beat ourselves up for being less than perfect, or to think too highly of ourselves on the good days. #PreachingGospelToMyHeart

    • Yes, it’s easy to pendulum swing from pride to shame. I find myself there a lot. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and preaching the gospel alongside your sisters.

  • Anita

    Hey, Ashley–I’m a principal’s wife at a small missionary boarding school in a small community (with an even smaller-on campus/church community), so I can relate. For me, it’s really hard to be transparent about our daughter (who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder). We asked for prayer in staff meetings, but we didn’t really go into details because we’re just not public sharers (unless it’s commenting on blog posts–because that’s different you know–so much easier to be real! 😉 ). I find it difficult to form ‘real’ friendships an am always way too worried about the Judgy McJudgerton’s. Maybe I shouldn’t be.

    • Yeah, I get it, it’s so easy to be worried about what people will think and how they’ll react, those Judgy McJudgerton’s. For me, I’m realizing (a la Brene Brown) that when I lead with vulnerability that it’s pretty disarming. And when I realize how much I’m usually apt to be one of those judgy people myself, I realize how I’m not understanding or living in grace. I’ve found Scott Sauls really helpful on this. I think there’s a surface level of vulnerability in the church that makes us feel safe, but doesn’t lead to growth and change and transformation. What do you think?

      • Anita

        I think you’re on to something there. It’s easy enough to say, “I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace.” But not to easy to say, “I sin by doing/thinking ______.”

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  • Anita Annette Scott

    Ashley, I just want to share this with everyone. Ha! This is so good. I am single and have no children (although as a 7th grade middle school teacher, I feel as if I have 55 teenagers:-). I thank you for being so vulnerable and being bold enough to let others tear up, tear down, and flesh out the Kingdom thoughts that need to be exposed. Thank you! I am better because I read this post.

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