The Tragic Story of a Hurting Pastor’s Wife

I receive volumes of blog comments, emails, and social media communications every day. On occasion, one of those comments will stop me in my tracks, like this recent blog post comment.

I am providing it to you almost completely unedited. I made a few edits to protect the identity of the writer.

I respectfully request you not to lecture this lady, but to offer prayer and encouragement. The headings are mine, but the words are hers.

The Lonely Pastor’s Wife

“Please allow me to share my feelings about the last many years of being a pastor’s wife. I tried on many occasions to talk to my husband about it (loneliness, neglect, wanting at least one evening a week together, lack of dating, etc.). We’ve gone to marriage seminars, talked to mentor ministry couples, and, still, things don’t change.”

The Pastor with the Messed Up Priorities

“He never schedules time for investing in our marriage and works all week in the office and then up all night on Saturdays getting his sermon ready. He leaves early Sunday mornings for preparations for the service and, by the time he gets home in the afternoon, he’s exhausted and definitely doesn’t feel like doing anything active or fun with the kids and me. He just wants to veg out on the couch.”

The Pastor Who Does Not Listen

“When I try to talk about my feelings, I’m “complaining” and not “following the call for my life.” I’m so tired of the cycle of neglect, loneliness, rejection, and hurt that, I hate going to church, don’t read my Bible anymore, and have to fight thoughts of divorce every single day. The church definitely feels like his mistress. I’m so hopeless and feel that I’m trapped. The one place I should be able to turn to, the church, is what is killing me on the inside.”

The Plea for Help

“If anyone has a recommendation for a fair and reasonable counselor in the Houston area who is used to working discreetly with people in my and my husband’s position, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m down to my last resort before bailing.”

My Reason for Sharing This Information

Any time I hear about a marriage failing, I feel sick to stomach. It happens too often. And it happens too often with those who are in vocational ministry. Of course, it is not limited to the role of pastor. Such cries of hurt are emanating from the spouses of all kinds of church staff.

So I offered her words to you with the hope that it could be a caution for all of us in vocational ministry. Love your spouses. Love your family. Take care of them. Give them the priority mandated by Scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

And please pray for this pastor’s wife. She is truly hurting.

Posted on August 3, 2016

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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  • Dear Pastor’s Wife,
    Something like this happened near me and the PW blew a fuse! Pastor could not preach the next day and explained to the congregation that he didn’t know what the consequences of the fight might be. It is not in man’s best interest to continually neglect his wife and family. Jesus said ‘Be angry, and do not sin.” Sometimes it is good to let people know what is bothering you in no uncertain terms. You can let off some steam about it for his benefit. The proviso is that you don’t let anger continue over night and turn into grudge, bitterness etc that will only do you harm. There is no harm in convincing the P that this matter requires urgent, immediate attention. Your health cannot withstand this long term abuse and it is in everybody”s interest that the matter be prioritised.

    Perhaps you can cheerfully let him know a consequence of his neglect – like he can do his own washing, ironing and cooking for a week as you won’t be available, You’ll be eating out with the children, or visiting a friend for a few days with them. Tell him you might even be convinced to return home if you know there’s going to be a regular date night for you to talk and listen with each other. He needs to realise how you feel.

    Submit to one another doesn’t mean let him get away with crass neglect and narcissistic pre-occupation with his own interests while you keep covering up for him. It means strong support for developing good communication both ways so the marriage can continue. It will blow, (errupt) so plan to make the blow a good one for two way communication.

    PS This pastor and wife are getting along fine nowadays.

  • Tripped over this while doing another search. I’ve done biblical counseling for 25 years. I see this situation over and over again. Believe me…I get it. Please, if she is up for it, have her contact me at Reclaiming Victory Ministries, info below.

  • Paul Warburg says on

    I am interested to hear what people have to say about 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 as it pertains to this discussion. Keep in mind that this was written to a culture that worked seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, and when Paul was writing, he wasn’t even talking to specifically just pastors, but rather to lay people. And he told them to live as if they were unmarried for the sake of the Gospel? The Bible actually says “let those who have wives live as if they had none?” We need to think about what that means before we jump on the throats of pastors who are simply doing the very best they can.

    Sure, pastors work a lot. But, considering the expediency and the importance of ministry, is this not to be expected? Is the biblical model not one of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom of God? Could part of the problem possibly be that our idea of marriage is formulated from Western idealism that comes from a barrage of love songs and romantic comedies? Is the reason marriages are suffering not because the marriage itself is flawed, but because it is not living up to standards placed on marriage by the world that God never intended marriage to have? Could it be that we have a poor theology of marriage?

    Also of worth to add to the conversation is Matthew 10:37.

    I’m open to correction and balance on this, but I had these thoughts on this topic on my mind this week and am genuinely curious as to what others think.

  • Dan Mullen says on

    That is so sad. The Biblical model for church government is not a sole “pastor” in the sense of a full time job. Actually, a simple look at the New Testament church shows that a group of men ministered in the church. Call them pastors/elders/bishops, all the same office.
    This structure eliminates the pastor “boss” problems inherent in the western church, and spreads the responsibilities, which can be quite enormous. These leaders to not necessarily have to be on “payroll” either. I attended a large church ~400 attending, and only one of the leaders was on “payroll” because of his frequent mission travels, the other 4 elders held full time jobs. They all took turns teaching on Sundays, ministering weddings and funerals, but each had his gift of a certain specific, making the leadership group well rounded. Most of all they loved The Lord, and their lives, and the lives of their families showed it.
    God, through the Scriptures, gave us the model of church government, and it’s as simple as the gospel.

  • CentralTxPreacher says on

    I remember too well the day my daughter, who was in middle school at the time, came into my office and said she needed to make an appointment with me. I asked her what was wrong and of course started looking at my calendar to see when my next open time was. (It was over a week away). She then said, “But I don’t want an appointment with my preacher, I want an appointment with my dad. I just need some time with him in my life.”
    That’s when the “holy 2X4” God hit me upside my head. I cancelled or moved appointments that were not of immediate importance and low and behold, the next evening my daughter and I went out on a father daughter night on the town. It is amazing how others can become more important than the gift of the family God has given a pastor.

    Since that day, I intentionally calendar in time for my family as a whole and individually, and unless it is of an emergency nature, no one changes it. If someone wants the time I have allotted to family, I just let them know I’m booked and look for another time to meet with them.

    May our God overwhelm that pastor’s wife and family with his peace and comfort.

  • Blessed PW says on

    As a pastor’s wife for over 30 years, I understand 100%. My husband became a senior pastor in 1991. We hit that same problem in the early 2000’s. I was ready to leave. I was not only a pastor’s wife, but was home schooling our 4 children. I felt abandoned. When tempted by another man, that woke us both up. We got counseling and it was a hard road back, but it was worth it. We both understand that there is give and take on both parts. Philippians 2 is SO important for couples. We must esteem OTHERS as better than ourselves. The self-esteem heresy that has infiltrated the church is the cause of so much turmoil in marriages today.

    Our son is now married, our daughters are out on their own, and we are happy empty-nesters. My husband travels internationally about 4 times a year. When he gets frequent flyer miles, I get to go along for free :D. I cannot imagine my life without my husband. He is my friend, my lover, my partner, my counselor and so much more. I hope and pray that this PW gets the counseling she needs as well as counseling with her husband. It really helped us because we both had to humble ourselves before the Lord and admit we were both at fault and needed to repent. Once that happened, the road to a good marriage was much easier.

    • Jesus is Enough says on

      What a beautiful testimony. Thank you for sharing your own vulnerabilities.
      Praise God for His faithfulness to you!

  • My wife and I went through very similar circumstances in our marriage about 30 years ago, we have been married 40+ years now. However, I have never forgotten what could have been had I not heeded the voice of the Holy Spirit to do what was right in fulfilling the responsibility in our marriage.
    I found myself making excuses for not being with my family. I let ‘church work’ take precedent over my obligation as a husband, father, and spiritual leader of my home. My wife and I separated for about three months. She took our children, we had two little ones at that time, and went to her folks in Idaho – we lived in North Carolina. God used that time of separation to show me where my real priorities were. He showed me that I was NOT fulfilling the real calling and responsibility in my life…(1) wife, (2) family and, (3) service.
    We had the prayers and love of a great church with us. Our Christian friends and family were very supportive during this time…but I realized that it was me who needed to change my heart and life and look at the blessings He gave me.
    My wife and children came back. During that time of separation her parents were also very supportive. They never took sides but encouraged her to come back and make it work.
    We did and God has blessed us immensely. We now have four grown children, four grandchildren and I give our heavenly Father all the credit for taking care of us. Also, I will NEVER forget that time in our life…it taught me a very valuable lesson about my responsibility to my family and the needs of a loving wife.
    My heart breaks for this lady and I pray that God the Father will help this pastor to reevaluate his priorities and the direction that he needs to take. As his family grows in the Lord, thus will his ministry because of his obedience.

  • T.A. Powell says on

    As a young pastor, I fit that mold to a tee. I began pastoring during the 70’s when building big buildings, big attendances, big offerings and lots of baptisms were key to my acceptance and identity. For over 30 years I was a performance, performance, performance pastor ………7 days, 24 hours a day pastor who loved affirmation and recognition. I was accountable to no one and wore the mask of sin-management (which is an oxymoron). In fact, I was 57 before I had anyone in my life who I could bear my heart to. I was Senior Pastor of one church for 26 years and a controller at church as well as at home. My sweet wife loved me unconditionally, followed me, loved me, prayed for me and was a person of grace but in reality she was always 2nd to ministry (so sad). We have three adult children with 8 grandchildren and our marriage is in its 48th year. I can say today that there has never been a time in my life when I have been more excited about Christ, His Word, His Church and His destiny for my life than I am on this day. HOWEVER, I learned the hard way. It was in 2003 that my spiritual world blew apart ………it’s a long story, but after my sweet wife and I spent 17 months in counseling, love and grace at Pastor Johnny Hunt’s, City of Refuge at 1st Church, Woodstock, Ga……..then experiencing the grace of Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. in Lynchburg, Va. and then being introduced to the life transforming grace ministry of Trueface at we have finally come to realize that grace is God’s greatest gift to us and to be able to live out our identity in Christ in a sweet safe environment of grace is life’s greatest treasure. The church is God’s institution to transform the world and is a gift to us, however, marriage and family is also a gift from God and should be lived out in love, acceptance, forgiveness AND repentance. Today, I am a very grateful man because God in His grace strategically planted people of grace along my journey to help me, encourage me, forgive me and to mentor me. Helping our own pastor friends in authenticity, transparency, vulnerability and being real is a must today. Sadly, the above mentioned family situation is just an indication of the hidden multitudes of pastoral families who are in great need today. What are we going to do about it? We are overwhelmed in requests today in missions, church planting, church revitalization and other worthy programs, however, we are losing pastors and their families along the way. I am a broken-world pastor who sees a great need amongst our brethren. I did my terminal degree thesis on the subject, Forced Terminations Among Pastors: Causes and Recovery. In that writing process I interviewed dozens of pastors and families and the conclusion was mind-boggling and sad.

    T.A. Powell

  • I so completely understand the pain in these women’s hearts. I was a pastor’s wife for 22 years until my husband passed away in 2009. For years I too felt like my husband was having a love affair with the church. When I tried to talk to him about it, he just told me I was adding to his stress. So I suffered in silence. The loneliness I felt resulted in a strong attraction to an attentive male co-worker. For years I fought to keep my heart, words, and interaction with this man pure. Thanks be to God, He finally stepped in and woke my husband up to the seriousness of my despair. I write candidly about those years of hurt and how God ultimately brought about healing in my memoir, “Is it God or am I Crazy?” available at Amazon. It has always been my hope and prayer that God will use my story to help my fellow pastors’ wives understand we are not alone in this struggle, that we don’t have to give in to temptation, and that God is truly big enough to heal our marriages and your deepest wounds.

  • Michelle says on

    I too am a pw who could, at one time, identify with many of this womans feelings. Thankfully my husband and i HAVE sought a wonderful Christian councelor and are both working to do our part in balancing this demanding life of ministry. A large part of this responsibility does fall on our husbands to prioritize their time, but I wish I could share with her what the Lord did in my heart through these circumstances.
    DEAR Sister, my heart hurts for the loneliness you feel. Not long ago I could have said many of the SAME things about my husbands time management and our feelings in our marriage. Hope was not even in my vocabulary. During the last few months God has been dealing with both our hearts in these matters and is healing our marriage. If I could share with you humbly from a place of compassion the things that God has taught me, i pray your heart can hear. Dont give up hope on your marriage. Satan wants to destroy you both and this is his method. Fight…. with all you have , to allow God to restore your relationship. Begin my determining in your heart that you will not allow Satan to destroy your relationship with your Savior!!! Please seek God earnestly in prayer for yourself AND your husband. Revive an intimate relationship with Christ. And Pray TOGETHER with your husband, allowing him to hear your heart as you cry out to God together….be transparent. It always amazes me how God uses my pain and vulnerablities to strengthen my husband and his ministry. It can be painful, but remember how He can revive the literal Dead!! I do pray you can find a great Christain councelor and begin this journey. It has always been my belief that a strong husband and wife team is a POWERFUL force for the kingdom of God!! Praying for you, because God knows who you are and loves you SO MUCH! GOD bless!!

  • I am saddened and also reminded of the year that almost did my marriage in. Of course that was from a church that was abusive to us both. But instead of us being made stronger, it almost broke us apart. We have been healed now through being at a loving church. But this post reminds me to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Thank you for sharing. I pray for both husband and wife in this situation and all those clergy families out there dealing with the added pressures that come upon their lives.

  • Dr. R, thankfully you try hard to offer great advice to Pastors. As a Family Tx this process is quite familiar. When workaholics are in ministry great advice never works for they are as driven as any drug addict. Addictions requires interventions with the family members and boards. The codepend members are as responsible for the workaholic as he is. The overfunctioning person starts his behavior as a child.

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