Over the past twenty years, I have seen an increase in the number of ministers who are looking to get married. This is for a variety of reasons, including the church push to take the plunge, divorced ministers who desire to remarry (sometimes on the third, fourth, and fifth tries), and a general consensus against single clergy. With this rise in ministers seeking to take the plunge, we find the reverse: many single individuals who, for whatever reason, desire to marry a minister. Whether they are doing it because they genuinely want to help someone who is in ministry out or for more sinister reasons, such as wanting power without having to work for the status or who have the idea that being married to a minister will help them get into heaven easier (and yes, there are these people out there), there seems to be no end to ministers marrying, remarrying, and connecting up with the hopes of marriage.
The one thing I don’t see a lot of teaching on is what it is like to be married to a minister of the Gospel. When a couple is going to get married, pre-marital counseling doesn’t typically address the issues present in relationships between ministers and those they marry. While the world of marriage to a minister may sound amazing and spiritual to many people, there are certain aspects of marriage to a minister that many don’t consider, and are often troublesome once the marriage begins.
Note: These points apply to both men AND women who marry ministers, not just one or the other, even though I might give specific examples that relate to one or the other.
The very thing that attracts you to that person is the very thing that will become a source of contention later on – Whether it’s their intense spirituality, their position of authority, or something else, the very thing that attracts someone to a minister is the very thing later on that will become the most decisive point in that relationship. The fact that they are spiritual and that means they don’t attend to natural things like you do, or the amount of time they spend in prayer or Scripture study, or the amount of time that they have to spend working on things related to ministry – those are going to be things that will have to be worked out over time, that will not only not seem so deep and spiritual at times – they will also seem like they swallow up and demand too much time away from you, the relationship, and the family
Ministers are not always who they seem to be in the pulpit – People tend to assume that the larger-than-life personalities they see in the pulpit are exactly who those people are when they go home. I can vouch for myself: as a person, it is God’s grace that puts me up in that pulpit and enables me to do what He has called me to do. In my day-to-day life, I am not larger than life. I am rather quiet, introspective, and, at times, even borderline introverted. I like to think, I like to sew, I like to write, I don’t necessarily like to talk or be real social. When I do want to do those things I make it known, I have a great time, and then I go back to being quiet again. I am not the only one. Pulpit preaching is very intense, it makes us tired, and we often really enjoy the quiet of life rather than having to be front-and-center all the time.
Ministry doesn’t mean you automatically have a great relationship – If the third, fourth, and fifth marriages of many ministers don’t testify to this fact, I am not sure what does. Even if a minister has only one marriage under their belt and has never divorced, never assume that this means they have a great marriage (even if they say that they do). Ministry is hard, especially these days, on marriages. There is a wide gap for misunderstanding and miscommunication, because the minister’s focus is on the things of God and their mate may not always see things the same way. The majority of ministers I have met have difficult marriages, many marital problems under the surface, and many relationship misunderstandings. This also means never assume that people who have been married for years automatically have a great relationship. They have probably spent years working through issues, only to replace those with new issues, and many things that they have learned to live with that will remain unresolved.
Don’t compete with God – I have often said that husbands and wives of ministers become the proverbial other “man or woman” in the relationship because the first priority and love a minister has is in their relationship with God. This means if God asks a minister to do something, they are not just going to do it, they HAVE to do it. It’s good to keep in mind that just because they know God has told them to do it doesn’t mean they want to do it, either, and that it may very well be hard for them, too. Standing in the way of a minister who has heard from God and knows they need to do something for Him is a really bad idea. It won’t make the minister scorn God, it will just make them scorn you.
Ministers have different priorities than other people – For years, people told me that I would change my mind about wanting to have children. Now that I am well over 30, I desire to have children even less now than I did when I was younger. My priority isn’t a perfectly orderly house. It’s not to be a biological parent. My priority is to finish this next book, to have what we need for our homeless outreach next month, to fill up our church for the glory of God, and to work on missions preparations. I don’t care if I ever own my own home, I am happy as a renter in an apartment where all the maintenance is done for me. It would be unfair for a mate to try and change who I am because they have different priorities. If you want to be with a minister, you need to accept the differences in priorities, not try and change that person to be someone they aren’t. There is no verse that says “marriage is your first ministry” in the Bible. While priorities are fine, trying to mold or push a minister into a type of marital role that is just not for them is unfair.
Ministers work nights, weekends, and holidays – Most services, conferences, and special events are held on nights, weekends, and over holidays. This means that the very time a minister has to work may be a time that you are off from work. Coordinating schedules is a must when you are married to a minister.
Ministers can’t always talk about their day – Most of what people say to us is confidential, in one form or another. This means that even to a spouse, we can’t talk about what is being said to us. We can’t tell a spouse about the problems someone has confided to us about, about what we see in counseling, about the things that people are struggling with, or about the struggles that these sometimes awaken within ourselves. In addition, some of what we deal with is truly heartbreaking, to the point where we can’t always talk about it for our own emotional or spiritual process.
If you don’t support them as ministers, you are getting kicked to the curb – Doesn’t matter if you are married or not. It might take longer for it to happen if you are married, but it’ll still happen, nonetheless. If you can’t get up behind someone in prayer and attention, if you can’t give an encouraging word, if you are always throwing problems in the process, like refusal of financial support or a moment or time to show them that you support what they do, then you aren’t going to stay married.
As a rule, ministers need a lot of space and time to process things – I am so astute and on-point with what is going on spiritually because I spend a lot of my free time by myself, seeking God about the things that I see. Ministers need space and time, not always, not constantly, and not to the neglect of their responsibilities in life, but they need time to process and hear from God, which means that they don’t want to talk incessantly, they don’t want to feel like they have to entertain someone else, and they don’t want to feel like they have to be a problem-solver in their relationships. They are great for being there when you need them and for giving advice when it is needed, but incessant neediness and clinginess will result in a lot of frustration for both.
Ministers deal with insecurities – It’s a fact that preachers love preaching. We love the crowds, the applause, the big offerings, the feeling of being up there. Being up there is a part of our calling, and it inspires us to continue on in our lives. This doesn’t mean that the confidence we exude in the pulpit extends to every area of our lives. Many ministers are insecure people, who experience a lot of rejection and hurt feelings, people tend to be mean towards those who are in ministry, and that can lead to personal insecurities. Also consider that ministers sometimes experience their own doubts about their calling, about what God has asked them to do (especially when things aren’t going well), and that they might receive pulpit attention, but ministers don’t often have a lot of people they can rely on to be there for them or care about them when times are difficult. Many ministers struggle with bouts of depression and loneliness, and this is definitely going to be something that one will see if they are married to a minister for any length of time.
Being married to a minister is about more than great suits, big hats, and seats in the front row of the church – I’ve met a lot of ministry couples who cite money as a serious contention in a relationship. The main problem is that today, ministry costs money rather than being a profitable source of income for most ministers. Most of the ministers I know actually put money into their ministries, and that means more money goes from jobs and households to fund ministry. A marital spouse may be the primary source of income, the primary caretaker for children or for household responsibilities (especially if a minister holds another job on top of doing ministry), and there may still be times when the amount of money a couple has will not be enough to keep the lights on at the church AND at home. Gone are the days when being the spouse of a minister is all about good looks, prestigious seats in the church, and good clothes. There is a certain level of sacrifice that comes along with being married to a minister, and some of those sacrifices will be required by the spouse as much as by the minister.
Ministers don’t always want to be ministers – Sometimes we don’t feel like being all super-deep. Sometimes a minister just wants to be a person, enjoying time with their spouse or family, or just enjoying time by themselves. It’s not always about praying, getting a word, reading the Bible, or being a spiritual guide for everyone. Maybe they want to go to a movie, watch a TV show, read a non-spiritual book, go out to eat somewhere, work on their marriage from a counseling or constructive viewpoint, be under the microscope of life, or do something fun that doesn’t involve ministry. Respecting and recognizing this balance can make a ministry spouse a true champion, especially in times when it is most needed.
© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.