Twelve Reasons Pastors’ Wives Are Lonely

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Church Answers began as a source of information for pastors, staff, and other Christian leaders. I have been incredibly blessed to discover a subgroup of my readership that has much to offer: pastors’ wives. Many in this group have also shared a common plight: they are very lonely.

Indeed the transparency of these pastors’ wives is amazing. Many have shared with each other on this blog about their battles with depression. My desire to offer help to pastors’ wives has increased greatly. My respect and admiration for them has also grown significantly.

For this article, I assimilated the hundreds of blog comments, Twitter and Facebook messages, and general conversations I’ve had with pastors’ wives. My focus was on the number one challenge they have shared: loneliness.

Here are the twelve most common reasons pastors’ wives have offered to explain their loneliness.

  1. Superficial relationships in the church. “No one ever sees me as my own person. I am the pastor’s wife. No one tries to get close to me.”
  2. A busy pastor/husband. “My husband is on 24/7 call all the time. I just get leftovers.”
  3. Mean church members. “I guess I’ve isolated myself to some extent. I just don’t want to keep hearing those awful things they say about my husband and me.”
  4. A conduit for complaints about her husband. “Last week someone told me their family was leaving the church because my husband is a lousy preacher. Do they have any idea how that makes me feel?”
  5. Broken confidences. “I’ve given up trying to get close to church members. I thought I had a close friend until I found out she was sharing everything I told her. That killed me emotionally.”
  6. Frequent moves. “I’m scared to get close to anybody now. Every time I develop a close relationship, we move again.”
  7. Viewed as a second-class person. “One church member introduced me to a guest visiting the church by saying I’m ‘just the pastor’s wife.’”
  8. Lack of support groups. “I’ve heard that some wives have support groups that really help. I’ve never been able to find one.”
  9. No date nights. “I can’t remember the last time my husband and I had a date night together.”
  10. Complaints about children. “I really don’t try to get close to church members anymore. I’m tired of so many of them telling me how perfect our children should be.”
  11. Husband does not give the wife priority. “Frankly, the church is like a mistress to my husband. He has abandoned me for someone else.”
  12. Financial struggles. “My husband makes so much less money than most of the members. I just can’t afford to do the things they do socially.”

While many pastors’ wives share that there are blessings in their role, many do suffer severe loneliness. I would love to hear from more of these wives. And I would love to hear from others about them. The words I have heard from these women have prompted me to be more intentional about praying for them.


Posted on February 15, 2014


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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175 Comments

  • Peter van Duinen says on

    While I understand that this article is directed at either people in denominations where women cannot be ordained or at people who have chosen that only the husband has been called into full time ministry, it should be noted that there are denominations were women are the pastors. Perhaps a balanced article would be helpful…one geared to the “pastor’s spouse”. Or perhaps an article on shared ministry where both husband and wife are ordained and lead a congregation in a team ministry.

  • Carolyn Woods says on

    I have read this article and all the comments with great interest. I have been a pastor’s wife for 40 years. I have been lonely, known hurt and experienced some of the meanest people in the world in the church. On the other hand I have had some of the greatest experiences in life to move from place to place and meet some of the greatest people in the world in our churches. We have made it a practice to not have a favorite group in the church but at the same time we have had friends. My husband (after hearing some complaints) told our first congregation that if they saw our car at someone’s house more than at their house it was because we had been invited. It is true that you cannot confide in church members or it will come back to haunt you, but you can confide in your heavenly Father. It is hard for Pastor’s wives because as women we just naturally want a friend that we can pour our heart out to. I have found that if I can be that friend to women in our congregation that it helps them to have a friend and I can take my needs to my husband and my heavenly Father. I always have found a place to serve in every church and it was always a different place, sometimes the nursery, sometimes 3rd grade, sometimes in the youth department. Take the job no one else wants and do it as unto the Father. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was upon returning to a church field for a funeral and being meeting a teenager. I said to her, “You probably don’t remember us since you were so young when we left.” Her reply, “Yes, Mrs. Carolyn, I remember you rocking me in the nursery.” It brings tears to my eyes even now. When we busy ourselves in serving Him the lonely hours take care of themselves and yes in time the hurts are healed. I do not mean that you have to take those hurts lightly. Out of a really bad situation we went through we developed a ministry to help wounded pastors and their wives. The Wounded Heart Ministry, Inc. website woundedheart.org. We have know the hurt but we have also know the healing that can only come from Him. I would say to any young pastor’s wife don’t expect the church to minister to you but you can minister to those people God places in your lives.

  • Allen Calkins says on

    I am glad we are on the same page…we both are concerned for our wives in the ministry and wives in general. I really never doubted it. This might be a little bit off topic, but it frustrates me that people in the church are reluctant to make things any better for their pastor and staff than what people experience in the world. If we are a truly redemptive community, shouldn’t it begin with the godly way we treat those God calls to shepherd, encourage, challenge and lead us? But in so many churches their decisions about the pay of pastors, the vacation pastors are allowed to take, the holidays they are given off, how the church reacts to their inevitable mistakes and failures and on and on is determined NOT by what would be the best they could do as God’s grace filled community but what would not be better than what anyone else in the church has to deal with. Churches have the opportunity to treat their employees in a way that sets an example of grace to the world. But few are willing to be that generous or gracious. If the church is to be a truly redemptive community, the first place where that needs to be seen is how it treats the people that work for the church. Why would the Holy Spirit lead any sinner in need of grace to a church that dealt with it s own employees in an ungracious manner? If a church is serious about reaching its community with the compassion of Christ it needs to start with its own employees and staff.

  • Why is it difficult to be a pastor’s wife? I think Adrian Rogers pretty much nailed it: “She has to put with everything the pastor puts up with, and she has to put up with the pastor, too.” As for #10, you might give them the standard retort: “That’s only because they hang around the deacons’ kids.” Being a deacon’s kid myself, I have to admit there is some truth in that!

  • I forwarded this article to my wife, as she is a Pastor’s wife and I do have empathy for her; that being said….I was thinking about this article (very common subject in the ministry) and began to think….I was in the military and military wives are lonely, I know a policeman, policeman’s wives are lonely. I know a business man and business men’s wives are lonely I know men with no titles but they simply come hope and flop themselves in front of the T.V. or computer all night and then go to sleep. From my experience most wives are lonely and longing for meaningful relationships and to be honest, whether their husbands are Pastors or not, this is prevalent. Name me a wife whose husbands just spends all his quality time with his wife, just listening to her and being her BFF. Most women, regardless of their husbands vocation complain their husband does not spend enough time with them and they are lonely. Whether their husband is a busy Pastor or a busy Engineer, or a man who’s into his bowling league, softball league or whatever league, more than his wife, you will have a lonely wife. It reminds me of the commercials that say, ” are you run down, tired, stressed out, then you are suffering from ———— and you need our remedy!” Who isn’t tired, run down and stressed? What woman is not lonely and dissatisfied with the time she spends with her husband. Truth be known, men, will always find a reason, a purpose, to be on the move, to be conquering and doing something. The problem is not nessesarily that he’s a Pastor, it’s that he’s a man. And to the women who thinks her problem is that she’s married to a Pastor, the real issue is that she is married to a man and whether he is a Pastor or not is really not the issue ( though we would like to think it was) the issue is he’s a man and if he wasn’t Pastoring he would be off on some other project, some other enterprise and not much would change. This is the new era that we are growing up in that women want their husbands to be their lover, their husband and their best friend. The picture a man that just wants to sit around and drink coffee and chat, go shopping, browse through stores and then sit and talk more. This would have never been the expectation of a wife in the 1950’s. I know I’m gonna upset some women here, but I do have empathy for you and my wife, but my point is we must stop blaming our woes on the issue that we are Pastor’s and Pastor’s wives because we are not the only ones that have to deal with this. Yes they are some distinct issues involved that come with the ministry, no doubt….but I’m telling you, if your husband wasn ‘t busy Pastoring he would be busy doing something else (writing books, touring and doing conferences) and never would he be there to fill that loneliness, depression and discontentment from the lack of time you get to spend with him. I was single Christian in the Marine Corps for five years and it was in those five years that I learned loneliness and depression would never be conquered by another human being but through seeking God. I know that sounds “super spiritual” and that’s the last thing I want to sound like, but it is true, issues of loneliness and depression ( at least for a Christian) stem from deeper issues than the fact that we are married to a Pastor and are a Pastor’s wife. It almost sounds like we are making ourselves sound like victims of a poor and bad situation. Find me a successful man and I will find you a woman that is often lonely and feels she doesn’t get enough of her husband’s time and affection. Whether that be a Doctors’s, Engineer, Famous writer, Lawyer, CEO, and the list goes on…..it’s part of life, but we can have victory, not in having more time with our husband and more friends but in having more time with Christ, because in him and through him we have our being. We have to stop quoting this new mantra, “my husband is a Minister and his mistress is the church”. All this is doing is adding fuel to the fire. Making women angrier at the ministry and bitter at the church, what good is spreading that quaint quote around? We never heard such comments come out of Ruth Graham’s mouth, who quietly and gently allowed her husband to be the Man of God that God called him to be. She dealt with her loneliness and depression the same way I did, pursuing God all the more. Ruth lived and raised her children practically as a single mom. Many men have left the ministry because of discontented wives and you know what, nothing has changed in their marriage and now they sit in a church somewhere and the husband is just a shell of who he used to be and his wife is still lonely, still want ps more time with him and he is dieing inside for the decision he made. Women and men, you don’t want this!

    • Allen Calkins says on

      Richard, I understand your point. And I agree that many if not most married women are lonely to some degree and want more from their husbands. But I do not come to the same conclusion you seem to. This reality should not mean we tell our ministry wives to ‘suck it up’ and go on with business as usual. What is should mean is we men who are pastors tell our church to stick their unreasonable demands in their ears, ask our church leaders (deacons or elders) to back us up, and give us the grace, freedom and encouragement to MODEL the support a wife needs in our home as a major part of our ministry. That will do more to bless a congregation than any exhausting schedule of unreasonable demands we can come up with….Activity is not ministry. The number of Committee meeting we conduct or attend in a week has nothing to do with our level of commitment to Christ. And if we are overcommitted to a crowded schedule at church it means our leading lay people, those who are trying to follow our lead, are overcommitted and exhausted too.

      • I agree and as I went to bed last night, the last thought that came to my mind was..someone is going to read my long comment and summarize it as, “suck it up women” and sure enough this morning, what do I read? I agree with everything you said and I could write another long comment in defense of wives. I am on my 2nd church now and I learned my lesson the hard way, ie: neglecting my wife for the church. So I am very aware of how important it is we don’t just say, “suck it up honey” but I just wanted to bring a different outlook, perhaps some balance, on all that I was reading. I do appreciate your input though, again, I do agree with all you wrote.

      • It’s not “suck it up” but “look up from whence commeth my help”. We have the same Holy Spirit available to us as Saints of old. When Jesus was in garden praying and no one stayed up with him. Knowing that one would deny him, one would betray him, and all would desert him when He needed them most. Even Jesus was in agony because of the sin of others. Yet what kept Him focused was KNOWING HE WAS DOING THE FATHER’S WILL. All of us, will be left alone at one time or another, yet we are NEVER ALONE. Yes, lonely , but never alone. Remember He said, “you will suffer too, yet for a little while.” Paul saw it as a PRIVILEGED to suffer for Christ. Pastor’s share some of these thoughts with your congregation or prayer group listing “Pastor’s wives across the country” on your prayer list. As others pray….some will eventually get the message of our wives needs. Pastor’s that met with other pastors have them include “Pastor wives” in their prayers too. Eventually some of the pastors will get the message too,

  • I totally see these actions in church. I also see members treating more than the pastor’s wife this way. When you start going to a new church, it is never easy fitting in. I see a lot of superficial relationships in the church. Everyone is on display and do not want to show anyone else that their life is not ideal, their kids are not perfect, or anything else negative in their life. Maybe it is time to start relationship classes in the church. I think it is a lot like schools–you have those “in” cliques and if you are not a part, you are very lonely. Shouldn’t the church be the most comfortable place we go?

  • Response to each point:
    1. Make a friend with another pastor’s wife. She needs a friend too. Don’t wait.
    2. Make your husband a priority. Your love, your touch, your making time for him invigorates him like no other. Discover what you can do that energizes him. He will eventually see that you ARE what he needs most.
    3. Show grace and mercy like Jesus does. Pray for them. Guide your husband but let him lead you.
    4. Your encouraging to your husband can do more than 10,000 complaints. Praise him when you can.
    5. Your confidant is Christ alone. Remember your pastor wife friend across town not across the pew.
    6. You don’t realize how much your husband NEEDS YOU to get close to him. God called you to be HIS helpmate. Teach him by gentle guidance how HE can meet those needs in you. Don’t wait for him to make the move. Move close to him.
    7. Stay at home mothers get the same reaction. Women without college degrees are treated the same way. Jesus himself was without honor in His own homeland. At some point we must realize those without the Spirit’s love will always look down upon others. Stand strong. It is your calling …Not theirs.
    8. Look for online support and blogs by pastors wives for pastors wives such as: http://careforpastors.org/category/pastors-wives/
    9. Offer to come home with a special “desert” that is only for your husband. (if you know what I mean) Must husbands will do all in their power for such an offer. But remember. Desert is AFTER dinner and a night out.
    10. Remind them you are reading one of the best books on parenting but you haven’t finished it yet. It not only gives instructions for the children but for their parents too. It’s called the Bible. But really, sarcasm doesnt work any better than advice not sought for. Pray for them. Listen to what they have to say. Look for any truth in their advice. Throw out the rest and raise your children by God’s word.
    11. Become a team player WITH your husband. Look for areas you can serve with him. Even if its something as small as to bring him a glass of water right before he preaches. Be his Timothy. Ask him if YOU can pray for him every Saturday night before Sunday services. BECOME a part of his team. He just might notice how special you really are. God knows he NEEDS you. Sometimes we men forget how much we need our wives in ministry.
    12. Let others know that you would love to go …but you don’t have the resources. Enjoy what you do have. Be grateful for what you do have never resentful. Be faithful to God and He will be faithful to you. The fruit of your labor will come. Remember it’s fruit not fast growing vegetables. Fruit trees take time before they produce a harvest.

    • great points, Jas. We are not victims, and we need to remember that! It’s so important to approach the problem with solutions like that instead of dwelling on the problem and developing a victim mindset.

    • I’ve been a pastor’s wife for 5 years now, I will have to say I have been very happy in that position. I am included in many church activities, and ministry projects, but if I’m not I dont fret. I work full time as a nurse, there have been a few comments about me not being at church on Sunday nights if I am on duty. I comment that my job is my calling from a very young age. I work with Alzheimer patients and their families, and I feel I am serving the Lord every shift that I work. I am very active in church, and my husband never pushes me to do more than i can handle. I have made a couple of very close friends in our church- we encourage each other in our God-walk. I am very blessed to have a wonderful marriage, my husband takes time out for “us” and our church family respects and appreciates that.

  • As a pastor’s wife I am concerned about your recent article on Twelve Reasons Pastors’ Wives are Lonely. My concern is not that your points are untrue, as many pastor’s wives (myself included) have experienced several if not all of the twelve on the list. There is no doubt that a pastor’s wife might at times feel lonely, criticized, and misunderstood. My concern rests in the fact that dwelling on the difficulties of ministry without offering biblical hope can lead to self-pity and despair.
    The positive use of your article might be following: church member reads article, gains compassion and empathy for her pastor’s wife, reaches out to her pastor’s wife in thankfulness and encourages her to continue in the ministry. The result is that God’s work continues and is more effective because a sister in Christ is encouraged to continue in her service to Him.
    The negative use of your article might be the following: pastor’s wife (who is having a difficult time in the ministry for any number of reasons) reads article; article encourages her to self-pity. Pastor’s wife is confirmed in her thinking, being relieved that others feel the same way she does. “Nobody has it as bad as I do. Life’s not fair. Why do I even try to serve God in the ministry? People should be nicer to me. My husband doesn’t pay enough attention to me. I deserve better than this.” The result is that the pastor’s wife feels justified in her growing bitterness towards her church members and the ministry in general; the church members sense her bitterness, and relationships are strained even more than before.
    I already know one woman who, upon reading the article, posted it on her facebook page with a comment like, “This article is so true! I have experienced this in every church I have been in.” Her son even commented on #10, confirming that he was tired of church members expecting him to be perfect. Now the whole world (or at least all of her “friends”) knows that she resents her husband, her church, and specifically, them. How can this be helpful?
    It is ok and even compassionate and right to pity others, but it is destructive to pity self. Self-pity is never helpful; its focus is on God’s neglect (or inability) to deliver to me what I deserve (i.e., my rights are being violated and God is not good and sovereign). I am reminded of Asaph in Psalm 73. Although the reason for his bitterness was different (he was envious of those who seemed to prosper), was the mental process not the same? Can’t you just imagine what he was thinking: “Nobody has it as bad as I do. Life’s not fair. Here I am struggling, and those wicked people out there have it easy (v. 2-12)! Why do I even try to serve God (v. 13-16)?” Asaph’s problem was that He had forgotten God’s goodness (v.1). Asaph needed to see his life from God’s perspective. He did not and even could not understand his situation until he went into the sanctuary of God (v. 17ff).
    I believe it is destructive for people to dwell on the difficulties God has allowed in their lives and to see them as anything other than God’s personal training to form them into the image of His Son. The peace that only God can give will come by obeying Paul’s admonition to dwell on things that are true, honorable, right, pure lovely and of good repute (Phil 4:8.9). As an example of thinking God’s truth, you might ask yourself: “Why am I surprised when I do what’s right—exactly what God has called me to do—and I suffer for it?” The truth is that you have been called for this purpose, for Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). The mental process might go something like this: “I really don’t like my circumstances (or this person), but God is good and He has allowed this in my life. What is God trying to show me? How can I grow through this trial? How have I myself contributed to the difficulty I am in? What bad attitudes are coming out of my heart, and how can I address my own unbiblical attitudes about God, about myself, and others? I will refuse to use this situation as an excuse to sin. This seems really ‘unfair,’ but I am going to be like Jesus, and entrust myself to God (1 Peter 2:23) since HE, not I knows best.”
    To the pastors’ wives who are weary and heavy laden: will you allow yourself to get bogged down in self-pity and bitterness, or will you walk in the Spirit and follow the example of our Lord? Rather than learning from the world that would tell you, “That’s not fair! I deserve better!,” will you learn from Jesus? Will you see your difficulties as random and unwelcomed attacks that are unfair, or hardships from a sovereign God, who has given you exactly the people and circumstances you need to help you to grow to become like Him? Jesus Himself said, Come to ME . . . learn from ME . . . for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt 11:28-30).
    Yes, as a pastor’s wife I sometimes feel lonely, criticized, and misunderstood. I am tempted to be drawn into self-pity and despair. But what a privilege to be called to serve in His church! Since I have a very strong tendency to wrong thinking, I need to commit to dwelling on God’s truth. When difficult times come, I will strive to not slip into worldly thought patterns that will destroy me as well as my ministry. Then, instead of self-pity and despair, I will find God’s peace and rest for my soul.

  • Charity Payne says on

    I’m SO grateful that someone is willing to write about this to make people aware of this issue. I have personally watched the cruel attitudes, tearing down of the pastor’s wife, gossip, etc. It wasn’t because it happened to me, it’s because it happened to my Mother. The expectations put on us as Pastor’s Kids to be perfect or “be the example,” was very difficult, not only for my siblings and I, but also for my Mother to deal with. My husband is active duty Navy, so we move a lot, and that has caused us to attend several different churches across the country. After seeing what I call, “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the church growing up, my husband and I made a commitment that even when we have to move from a community, we continue to pray for each Pastor, Pastor’s Wife and their children, that we have had the wonderful opportunity of having as our Shepherds. Pastor’s families have a big target on their back. The enemy would love nothing better than to distract them from what God has called them to do, and try to stir up trouble in their marriages, their families, and their ministry. As a believer, (and a PK) I truly feel that part of my responsibility is to pray for my pastors, extend hospitality to them (it can get lonely at the top), encourage them, offer to babysit so the Pastor & his wife can have a “date night,” and let them know how much we appreciate them! I know it would have really encouraged my parents as pastors! 🙂

  • I have been blessed enough that early on in ministry I had a doting Pastor’s Wife that ministered to me in such a special way (I was the youth pastor’s wife). She wasn’t at the church long, but while things were still good and I was still young she nurtured a love of ministry in me. Around the same time our church had a special speaker and during the alter time I went forward. As he prayed over me, he asked me to look at him in the eye as he had a word from God for me. He told me that there would be times when I felt as if my only job was picking up trash. That the unpleasant jobs, the thankless jobs, the undesired jobs would all fall on me. That I would go home and feel like a trash man after a busy trash day. But that God valued me for doing it while still praising God. That someone had to do the cleaning. That a church needed someone to be strong enough to handle the mounds of trash that can be left behind. And although the job did not seem glorious, God called me to do it graciously. And although It’d be nice to be told that God had called me to sit in the front row with a crown on my head receiving praise day in and day out… it is just a pure honor to have a calling God put on my life. It has helped in those situations where I feel there is no one on my side. And yes, I’ve picked up lots of “trash” along the way. I’ve dealt with complaints about my husband, my kids, my husband has heard complaints about me. I’ve been lied about, talked bad about, and utterly ignored, but I’ve also held a crying woman in my arms in the bathroom. I’ve missed adult conversations so that moms could worship uninterrupted while their kids were cared for. I’ve parented alone while my husband made a spiritual difference in our community. The trash isn’t always glorious, but it glorifies God. And THAT make it worth it. Carnally lonely? Many times! Spiritually alone? NEVER!

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