Twelve Reasons Pastors’ Wives Are Lonely

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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  • First Lady says on

    Hello, I was online looking for a blog that consisted of 1st Ladies where they may come together & share experiences… It saddens me that many Pastors Wives experience such loneliness. I’ve been blessed to be married to a Pastor myself. Were both very young. He’s 29 & I’m 26 & that is young when your compared to previous Pastors & 1st Ladies who were much older. I must be honest & say that the best advice I can lend that helps me through just about anything is… my relationship w/t God & My Husband. My husband & I do everything together… & When he’s going to church I’m going with him. (We have service everyday) Yes, People… Everyday.. I sometimes go without him when he’s out of town on business. But we stick together & we communicate. Communication is key. I try not to sweat the small stuff because at the end of the day. My husband is the pastor… And I’m the 1st Lady & our life is beautiful… And even though the members have their issues. He has to pastor the good & the bad. So the best advice I can give is to learn the members; learn their ways & determine how to deal w/t them in advance. You cant treat them all the same because they are different. Please keep me in your prayers. God Bless …

    • Lonely in New Mexico says on

      You are blessed in that your husband communicates to you. May I ask, “Do you ask a lot of questions?” You see, I am no allowed to ask questions. It irritates my husband. And if I just “talk,” I get the eyes rolling, sighs and “You talk too much,” speech. So, what’s this “communication” word you speak of?
      You are blessed.

  • Hello,

    I just turned 21, I have been married for 7 months and my husband has been in his first pastorate for 6 months. A month after we were married we moved to a very small town an hour away from my family and all our friends.
    I am continuing my college education online and work part time an hour away. My husband is doing the best he can, but he’s learning how to be a pastor and a husband at the same time while he too works another part time job. We have no one in our church our age, and only one other man in the church (the former pastor).
    We are both busy, stressed, and exhausted. The town is small so we have not been able to “break in” to the community at all and our church is very very small.
    I do the powerpoint during service because nobody is will do it and after church last sunday, I started putting things away, and then stopped to go do fellowship before everyone left. Everyone knows each other and are so much older and they were chatting in a circle, my husband was talking to a teenager, and a couple ladies were talking about some important issue. I tried to move in to join the larger group, but they just tightened up. Not out of spite or even consciously, but they were talking and just didn’t notice. I went back to putting the projector away and cleaning up communion. I had felt lonely before then, but it doubled that feeling.

    • Dear Amanda,
      I have been a pastor’s wife for 23 years and still have that gut-wrenching feeling of loneliness at times. You try to “fit in” where you can, but are often invisible. Even when you do many jobs in the church, others take it for granted that it is your “duty” to do those things. I do what I do because I first want to honor my Savior, and then to be a help to my husband. I feel that is my calling. But we are human and have a desire for friendship and kindness as well. I understand your feelings.
      I am sorry you are feeling these things at such a young age. I will be praying that you can find friendship. As much as possible try to remind yourself of God’s grace and love for you. He will sustain us even when we seem to be all alone. Also, please don’t neglect to let your husband know your feelings. Tell him you just need him to be understanding. Hopefully he will help to draw you into friendships with others at church.
      In the end, our service is to the Lord and not to men. Only He knows our true hearts, and only He can sustain us. Hope you find some comfort and encouragement.

  • I stumbled across your blog and the results of your survey broke my heart.

    I’ve been a pastor’s wife for more than two decades now. The best advice I ever received came when I was just in my mid-twenties.; and it came from my pastor husband. One evening I was wrestling over whether to attend a church women’s event. Exhausted after a long day with a toddler and newborn, part of me wanted to put my jammies on and call it a day. The other part of me felt like maybe I should rally to attend the event. When I expressed my indecision over what to do, my husband uttered one small sentence that ended up shaping every decision I’ve made in the last twenty + years: “Donna, if you think you should go because the women in our church want you to go, put your PJ’s on and relax, but if you think you should go because Jesus wants you to go, grab your car keys and get going. ”

    The funny thing is, I can’t remember whether or not I ended up going to the church event. But my husband’s wise encouragement serves as the filter for every decision I make–even to this day. It’s been an incredibly freeing way to live within a very expectation-filled role. Hope my story encourages just one!

  • berryparfait says on

    Great article with a lot of good truth.

    For us, I am very grateful my husband (senior and only pastor at small city, mostly elderly church) makes an emphasis on our marriage and time with our daughter. I am grateful we have elders to help out.

    I think I do isolate myself somewhat. Partly from having a toddler that can only sit so long in the service. Or if we’re in the service trying to get her to understand she can’t just go up and talk to dad lol. I get my ‘worship’ time in honestly on my long commute to work listening to music, praying.

    Mostly I isolate because of the superficial. I was used to pre being a pastor’s wife, being able to lead and organize stuff. Now if I suggest something it will either get ignored because I’m the pastor’s wife, or done with way too much focus because I’m the pastor’s wife. And I can’t really seem to help out with anything because of that too. I guess I’ve learned to treat church as my husband’s job, and to do what I can where I can. If I can say an encouraging word I do, or if I can help I will…but more often it is in the background and I’m learning I’m ok with that and how God can use that too.

    We deal with isolation a few different ways. We make time for each other, family lives close enough they can babysit for a weekend. We make time for family time, like pizza night on Fridays or going out for ice cream of things where our toddler can play and we can talk with each other and her easily. Sunday’s since we have an am and pm service, lunch is sandwiches and I put something in the crockpot for dinner. That way no going out to lunch, and we can rest and recoup from the week and day. We also make a point to make a day trip every so often to see our two best friends and their kids to be able to just talk and connect with people who don’t view as as a pastors family.

  • I read this article in a local newspaper and was saddened to learn that other minister’s wives are suffering from loneliness. I see it as a call to action that those of us who are surviving and thriving as Pastor’s wives must minister to those are struggling.

    While on your site, I was even more saddened to find that there are very few resources for pastor’s and their wives when they feel like they have no one else to talk to.

    A day after I saw your article, I just happened to be in the library and stumbled upon your newest book, “I am a Church Member.” I was touched by your encouragement for church members to pray for their pastors that they and their families be protected from the many attacks Satan uses in attempts to destroy the church. If Satan can destroy the man of God and his family in the long run he can destroy the very family unit and ultimately the church.

    We must not only pray for our pastor’s and their wives we must develop avenues where they can find grace and comfort when they need it most. I applaud couples like David and Louis Decker of Deer Ridge Ministries who offer free retreats for Pastor’s and Wives. We attended one of their retreats early in our marriage and it made a big difference for us. I even attended one of their Pastor’s Wives Retreats which they host annually.

    We found our calling ministering to blended families in the church, but more and more we find ourselves working with ministry couples who are not blended families, but who just need someone to talk to about the struggles of ministry and the effects on their marriage and family. Our ministry is evolving to specifically be a resource for pastor’s and wives to coach and counsel them on navigating through the many demands placed on them. We recently updated our website to let ministry couples know we are a resource.

    Reading your article was a “Popeye” moment for me. A “Popeye Moment” is a term coined by Bill Hybels in his book “Holy Discontent.” It’s the point where we watch pain and suffering until we come to a point and say, “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more.” Hearing that so many pastors and wives are struggling confirms and clarifies a calling God has placed on us to do something to help church leadership couples.

    As I write this I am praying that God will reveal to us how He will make this happen. You will hear from me again.

    • We are blessed in seemingly NOT having these problems in our church; Having said that,forgive me for going off topic to talk about my own lay ministry to persecuted Christians. I thank the previous poster for the Popeye quote for I have reached the point of not being able to stand it anymore. I certainly will not stop because,to me,it’s a calling. Like a soldier in combat too long,I am exhausted from all the evil I’ve seen,day in and day out. It feels like the same thing happening,just different people in different places. It has a numbing effect. It takes the fire out of me which I need. Here is the
      answer I have found. I have started focusing on the GOOD news;it does happen even though it’s buried under all that violence. For now,I choose to concentrate on those whose suffering has been relieved until such time as I may be able to return to the tragedies.
      Bottom line-I need a break;everybody does! I pray this is helpful to someone in some way even though it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. I know the Bill Hybels quote certainly lifted my spirits,
      that it’s OK for me to feel the way I do right now.

  • While I understand that Pastor’s and their families hold unique roles and have demands and pressures that I can’t begin to understand, and are under a spotlight in a way that I can’t begin to comprehend- my experience is that there is a very real wall between them and the rest of the church body. Insurmountable unless you are in the inner circle. If you attempt to serve them, a fake sounding obligatory ‘thank you’ is offered along with the assumption you are only serving them to get on the Pastor’s good side. I see throngs of people literally falling all over themselves to do this, often. A wise, if lonely, Pastor’s wife might consider a proactive role in seeking friendships, starting by those who aren’t as won over by the position, but who are busy at work serving those in need and in whom they recognize treat every person equally, inner or not. While a Pastor wife’s situation is unique, so is the military wife’s, the single mom’s, the cancer patient’s, the penniless stranger’s, and everyone elses. I do not mean for this to come off in any harsh manner, but just to give the perspective of the simple layperson. I do see the distanced loneliness in the eyes of church leader’s wives, often, but I’m not convinced it is entirely due to expectations put on by others.

    • James Paul says on

      Anonymous – You wrote, “my experience is that there is a very real wall between [pastors & their wives] and the rest of the church body. Insurmountable unless you are in the inner circle.” This is a wise observation and I don’t think your experience is unusual or rare. I’ve read many comments from this blog post & have compassion for those suffering. My hope is that while we pray and care for the felt needs of these women today, we’ll also be willing to take a hard look at one of the core roots of the problem, an unbiblical clergy/laity distinction. In the words of New Testament scholar, Jon Zens, “It’s just assumed that there are clergy and there are laity. This thing permeates [the church]. And yet, when you look at the New Testament scholars, from all stripes, who have looked at the situation in the N.T., they all admit one after another, that there is no clergy/laity distinction in the N.T. This whole thing, which we just assume, is wrong.”

  • Thanks for your insight. I have found in over 21 years of ministry alongside my husband that as I have been willing to honestly invest in others’ lives, they have been willing to invest in mine. I guess I am just in an extremely blessed church. For younger pastor’s wives, don’t wait for someone to come to you, seek out an older pastor’s wife with whom you can confide in, pray with, and seek accountability with. I am thankful that Dr. Dorothy Patterson taught a class for pastor’s wives at Southeastern when my husband attended there. Of course, we had to choose to make it work by balancing schedules and trading babysitting with other student families! Also, spending 2 years on the mission field helped to understand the calling and helped us see past American Culture Christianity. Fortunately, I also had a mother who modeled finding her worth at Jesus’ feet rather than what the world says. This has helped me to “let go” of so many things that I might want to believe I should have a right to address as a pastor’s wife, though I might add The Lord still has to work daily on my pride! Though I agree many members may be intentionally hurtful towards pastor’s wives, that means somewhere they are hurting, too. My husband and I are both quite transparent and always willing to serve together. Though we didn’t let ministry rule our family, our children also understood mom and dad’s calling and the sacrifices that entails. Now with two adult children (21 and 19) and two younger ones (15 and 12), I am happy to say that one of our sons has followed God’s call to serve as a pastor, even after “living through” it. Debbie Hammond, the wife of our former SBCV executive director Geoff Hammond, once had a panel to discuss this very issue at a pastor’s wives conference. That was one of the most honest, informative, transparent conferences I had been to. Thank you, Debbie!

  • I read many of the comments and maybe I missed it, but I’m noticing the emphasis on pastor’s wife. My husband has been a pastor for 22 years and the one thing I strive to remind our people is that I am not a pastor’s wife, but I am the wife of a pastor. It should be no different than someone being the wife of a plumber, doctor, etc. They also understand that my allegiance is first to God and then to my husband. Everyone receives criticism in life and a pastor and his receive more than their share. Learning to handle the criticism is key. Sometimes that criticism is just and sometimes it is not. Learn to know the difference. Above all, let your people see that you are human. You may have to teach them this. I remind our ladies that if it is not okay for me to do, then what makes it okay for them to do it. Yes, I do point out the double standard but I do it in love not hate. I have also learned to have friends outside the church. Let’s face it, there some things you just cannot talk to a church member about.

    I hope I did not ramble. My bottom line is that we need for people to realize we are simply human.

  • lonely too says on

    I totally resonated with this blog. My husband read it to me the other day and I have pondered it since then. While I am blessed to have a husband who values his time with me and our kids, I felt struck by the other reasons. Especially the numbers 1, 3, and 5. Just like the “New to It” post from Feb 15, I have at times distanced myself from the congregation. But not because of pride. It was because they have been mean or because I have had broken confidences. Also sometimes, I am afraid that people will change their opinion about me, my kids, or my husband because of what I share. I feel a large lack of genuine friendship. Quite often the only person I feel I can be open with other than my husband is my mom who lives over 2000 miles away. Being the wife of the only pastor of the church in a small community also has it’s drawbacks because what you say or do is such an open book to the whole community and there is no support group of other pastor’s wives from which to derive strength. I hope there is an answer to this because it can be very sad to feel “liked” but never “loved”.

  • The pastor’s wife should also not let herself be used as an unpaid church employee. If the church wants her full time, then they should pay. While her husband may get called out some nights, that same thing could occur if he were a fireman or any type of emergency responder or a physician.

    For churches that have women pastors (and yes, some baptist churches do), I can assure you that the female pastor’s husband would not be an unpaid church employee.

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