Every time someone at the church sported a new engagement ring, everyone insisted the couple-to-be attend Derek and Bonnie’s Tuesday-evening marriage prep classes. “They’re so much fun!” “You’ll learn so much about making a perfect marriage!” “They really know how to communicate!” “They have great stories from their own marriage!” “You’ll want to be just like them!”
It’s dinnertime Tuesday and Bonnie is staring at Derek, who is staring at his bowl of white chicken chili. Neither has said a word for ten minutes. They haven’t discussed tonight’s class, but that’s okay, because they usually wing it. Tonight’s subject is comparing financial attitudes, and their anecdotes always get a lot of laughs. Nobody in this room is laughing. The kids would rather be anywhere other than sitting at this table. It’s been a long time since family occasions were fun.
Was it what Bonnie found on Derek’s phone or how he thought she disrespected him at the Church Council meeting? Both, but those are small compared to what’s driven them to think (separately) about divorce. The congregation adores them. Derek was the assistant pastor they dreamed of, and Bonnie arrived as a bonus. Everyone has watched their family grow and been part of every moment. Derek, Bonnie, and the kids are the perfect model of a loving Christian family.
Behind the veil, things aren’t quite so perfect … and that’s a common situation among pastors and other church leaders. When you’re in the spotlight, everyone counts on you to have everything together, and you respond by putting on a great performance. But when it’s just the two of you, something just isn’t right. It’s been far too long since you’ve had fun together and looked at each other like you did while dating. Free time is spent watching TV instead of talking. And the only time you touch is when you bump into each other in the kitchen.
This kind of silent struggle in marriages among church leaders is more common than you think. Maintaining a healthy marriage is tough enough under normal circumstances, but when you’re expected to do it while trying to pay attention to the needs of dozens of families while those families expect you to be perfect … well, there aren’t many couples who can get through that without some support.
That’s where we can help. We’ve had experience helping pastors and church leaders strengthen their marriages. We understand the emotions involved, and we understand the special challenges created by your congregation’s expectations. While we can’t make your marriage easy, we can help you rediscover each other and find better ways to help each other survive your role.
One more recommendation: if you’ve never participated in a Marriage Retreat, that can be a great first step. It’s a chance to get together at a new level while getting away from the world.
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Michael Spencer is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors. He has combined ministry with counseling for families, couples, and individuals of all ages for over 15 years.