During the ten years of personal recovery and ministry to pastors and their spouses, the director of CRN has encountered lots of pain. There is no shortage of pastors who are hurting deeply. What about their spouses? It is our experience the spouses of clergy are hurting at a deeper level of agony. Their voices have often gone unheeded, their pain, their desires, their needs and their longings have been set aside because of the urgency and pressure of ministry. This is also true when a pastor finds it necessary to seek recovery and help.
Too often the spouse and her needs are once again marginalized. Resources are short, the pastoral recovery is necessitated by his career and the availability of quality affordable help for these selfless spouses is scarce. Dear spouse, know you matter and there is hope.
Spouses are hurting for many reasons but at least four surface regularly at the Clergy Recovery Network. First spouses hurt because of their own issues. Their weaknesses, failures, addictions and sin of course hurt them, their husbands and the ministry. The experience of CRN is this pain is the least prevalent and severe among ministry spouses.
Another category of spousal pain is the pain caused intentionally and unintentionally by oppressive pastor husbands. Spouses are often silenced by non biblical male domination and the necessity to submit for the good of their pastor husbands and the churches. Spouses are squashed by the weight of non biblical systems which use the Bible to teach a submission which is really oppression and abuse. When wives up against this begin to take care of themselves and seek empowerment to be all God wants them to be as women, spouses and healers they often meet severe challenges at home and in their churches.
Husbands who think they are following the biblical tradition of Ephesians 5 find it all too easy to explain to themselves and their hurting wives the problems encountered in the marriage are their wives faults. They say things like, “If she would just do better, be more, try harder and be sweeter”. Male pastors whose ministries are fueled by selfish ambition or fear of failure seek to quiet their wives concerns using the guise of assumed biblical authority. When he and others use the Bible this way it becomes the worst kind of spiritual abuse. Pushing a wife to become a doormat for the sake of the ministry is a brutal violation of Ephesians 5.
The third main category of spousal pain is the pain which results from the clergyman’s weakness, failure, sin or addictions. Spouses, for example, are often the first to discover the Internet abuse of their pastor husbands. We have worked with many wives who have repeatedly caught their husbands using porn and been silenced. For the good of the church, the children or the Lord their pastor husbands plead with them or require them to join them in the secret. We are not suggesting or implying every time a wife catches a husband doing something inappropriate the wise thing to do is to disclose the matter to the church Board but when secrets are kept and sins repeated and repeated something must be done.
This creates a powerful dilemma for spouses. A spouse who seeks help for a husband who is harboring secret sin must stare down her own insecurity, must face the fact she could cause her husband to loose his career and must crank up tremendous courage to tell the truth. Some spouse who do all this and take a stand do not tell safe and helpful people and the abuse and secrets then continue. When pastors are hooked on sex, gambling, Internet use, violence or other secret sins a spouse must often choose to expose her husband and create instability for herself and her children in order gain the help necessary. Many pastors who were furious when they discovered their wives told someone at CRN what they were up against have come to appreciate their courageous steps toward family freedom.
A fourth category of spousal pain is the pain of a conflicted marriage. Ministry spouses have suffered miserable marriages for the sake of the ministry for centuries. How do you tell someone your pastor husband is a jerk? Pastors who work all the time, are not willing or able to interact intimately and lovingly with their spouses, or who are emotionally distant are not honoring the Lord or truly effective in ministry. If you are a spouse in such a marriage you feel trapped. There is something you can do. We encourage you to reach for help today. Wives are often the first to seek help. You can be one of them and join others on the recovery journey.
If you struggle as a clergy spouse under the weight of the ministry or the pain of personal or marital problems you need support. One means of support CRN provides is a forum for you and your peers to strengthen and encourage one another. Go to CRN Forums and join today. You may also talk via email with a spouse who has Been There, Done That. You may find a fellow ministry spouse who will share your pain. If your needs are more urgent go to the Finding Help page and assume you matter as much as any pastor who shows up at CRN. You do matter this much.
If you are the spouse of a pastor who is struggling with one of the topics in this section of our web site or with an issue which is not addressed here go to the Finding Help page and find the confidential help you need to know what to do next in your confusing setting. You deserve all the help you can find for your self and your spouse. You will find sound biblical empowerment and you will find hope. You are not stuck. Only your silence and not seeking help will hinder you from more hope and help than you imagined possible. You are not alone. Your voice matters. You can make a difference in your husband’s life and ministry. We trust you here.