January 14, 2013

How Do You Love Your Husband? Sometimes You Just Have to Listen

In the history of this blog, no post has made people so mad as the one in which I casually acknowledged that sometimes (sometimes, mind you) my husband tells me confidential information about people and situations in the church.

This is not in a spirit of gossip, or slander, or knowledge-is-power. This is because he is my husband,  the church is his "other wife," and some secrets can be an impossibly weighty burden on an individual or on a marriage.

So when The Aquila Report asked me interview a group of pastors' wives about how much sharing happens in their marriages, I was curious.  Would I prove to be odd-girl-out? Or do other couples share secrets, too?

I interviewed ten pastors’ wives from five different denominations with situations ranging from campus ministry to military chaplaincy to solo pastoring. One has been in ministry for a single year, one for more than thirty years. The group includes women who themselves have counseling degrees and medical licenses.

All of these women hear something from their husbands about otherwise confidential information.
I really tried to find someone who didn’t. Even two women who are no longer in ministry (one through retirement, one through divorce) were insistent that a pastor can share with his wife.
For all of the wives I talked to, listening was an act of love. Here's some of what I heard:
“If [my husband] is sad, I’ll notice. So he tells me.”
“If I could give any advice to a pastor, I would say keep sharing your heart with your wife.  She loves you and is there for you.  She does not need all the details, but she needs your heart and your vulnerability.”
“[My husband] is very open with his life.  He tells me everything pertaining to his ministry.  He tells me details of counseling sessions and personal information of those he ministers to and with.  He processes through talking and he feels connected to me when he can share his life with me.”
“I need to be a listening ear.  We have had situations where [my husband] felt betrayed in the church. . . I am glad he shared those things with me.  It was hard to hear, but I am called to bear his burdens as he is mine.”
Does deciding if and what information to share take much wisdom? Yes. Of course. 
But if you and your husband have chosen to sometimes bear one another's burdens in this way, be encouraged that you are in good and godly company.

Would you be willing to share a little of your experience below?

Some of this material is an excerpt from my article: "What Your Pastor Tells His Wife about You."
I also recommend the following articles on the subject:
Tom Ascol "My Pastoral Confidentiality Policy"
Brian Croft "How Much Does a Pastor Share with His Wife?"
Carl Trueman "Pastoral Confidentiality"


  1. Megan, I really liked what you noted that people who share with their pastor's sometimes perceive the information to remain in a box--just between them and their pastors as if their sins remain in complete secret. This is probably very naive thinking, and I totally agree with pastors sharing information with their wives--it is way too much for one human's heart. I think it's also very worthy to note that pastors must realize too that that the information they share does not remain in a box on the other side of whom they are counseling. Their words will travel and do not affect just that one person, as none of us live on an island. The wife that they travel to is the church, his other bride. That's a whole other subject, but a very important side of this to note.So, if folks get upset about information being shared with pastor's wives, they can also look in the mirror of what they share about their pastors and also what pastors share with those whom they counsel. Lots of grace to give and receive all around in this age of information dissemination...

  2. I am slowly learning this over a long marriage. Sometimes your pastor husband is concerned about a ministry issue or a straying parishioner and can't tell you any details of what is troubling him. Because he is distracted or grouchy, you might assume it is something you did. Then, you try to figure out how to be a better wife or feel discouraged that, despite your best efforts, you seem to be making him unhappy. At about the same time you discover that you are not the cause of his heavy heart, you find out serious it really is and are tempted to worry. We need to trust The Lord in these trying times.

  3. There are things my husband cannot tell me. There are other things that he has to wait to tell me. Fortunately, those situations are much less common than the situations in which he can share with me. Like Patsy said, though, those times do exist. The most valuable growth my husband and I have experienced in these times has been to come up with ways to communicate without divulging sensitive information.

    I have learned to ask direct questions such as the following:
    - Is this a problem between you and me or a situation at church?
    - Do you feel our ministry here is in jeopardy, or is this a church member's struggle?
    - Is there a general topic I can pray for (marriage reconciliation, salvation, addiction, etc) without giving details?

    Before I begin asking my husband questions such as these, I reiterate that I DO NOT WANT DETAILS. I simply want to ensure that I am not the problem and then discover how to pray for him and the situation. Sometimes he will later share the situation with me. Other times I never know.

    Meanwhile, he has learned to approach me in the same way because, believe it or not, there are things I discover that I cannot really divulge to him for whatever reason! We don't do this perfectly and it doesn't make everything easy. But, it helps!

  4. Ann, that is extremely helpful. Sometimes even our church members misunderstand how much/little we know. The other day I had a church member call me, and I know she thought I knew something that I didn't. I just told her: I don't know, so please don't tell me.

  5. Good article. Thank you!

  6. For anyone perplexed about this issue, I would ask three (ok four)questions: 1)How often have you discussed your pastor and his wife and children around your table or in your living room with your family and friends? 2)Would you agree that your pastor probably does not have an abundance of close intimate friends in the congregation who selflessly pursue him in friendship? can you agree that a wife is a wonderful provision of the Lord to be that friend? 3) Can anyone truly expect one human being to carry the burden of ten marriages in crisis, three mental/emotional illnesses in the church, two cancer patients, members struggling with addictions, the 'i'm leaving our church' email from friends of fifteen years, angry emails on Monday morning,the burden of fellow weary elders wanting to quit, WITHOUT needed the support, encouragement and exhortation of his wife???????

    Pastors' families gladly suffer for the ministry. One of the greatest challenges is that there are so many things noone in the church ever knows about. It is already lonely enough. Members ought to be very thankful if their pastor has a close intimate marriage in which he can share such immense burdens and receive comfort. Churches may have no idea how often the wife has been used to keep her husband from writing that resignation letter!

    By the way, I am a very joyful wife of an amazing man who happens to be a pastor. Christ is my strength and as difficult as it is, I would chose no other life.

  7. Specifically when my pastor husband councils women, he lets them know that he will likely share parts of their session with me. He also always tells me when he meets one on one with a woman. This is to keep the counseling relationship pure. Particularly when a pastor is counseling women, it is important that there is at least some small level of sharing with his wife. Counseling is intimate. The marriage should be more intimate.

    What Courtney said above is fantastic. A pastor's family can sometimes feel like a lonely place, an island. But there is another side to this suffering that we take in. Our husbands are called into the sacred places of people's lives on a regular basis. They are trusted with information that may not have ever been revealed. At times of family crisis, the pastor is in the midst of folks, suffering alongside them through the most tender moments. What an incredible priveedge. Yet, the emotional toll from these times cannot be underestimated. The Lord has given many pastors a partner to share in these hurts. We get to be powerful tools of the Lord to speak truth to our weary husband's heart when he needs it most.

    1. "Particularly when a pastor is counseling women, it is important that there is at least some small level of sharing with his wife. Counseling is intimate. The marriage should be more intimate."

      Well said, Kristen.

  8. Some of you may have read that Dr. Clark at the Heidelblog strongly disagreed with us and said that a pastor should share "nothing" with his wife. He presupposes, it seems, that the non-ordained, laity (male or female) is not called to be involved in ministry when he said, "I’ve re-considered the whole business of every-member ministry, I’ve re-thought what the laity should be doing." It seems to me that, in his logical system and from his writings, a pastor's wife is forbidden by God to know about what her husband does in ministry because she is not called to that.

    Although a few agreed with Megan's post, most of his followers echoed Dr. Clark's position; and some were quite negative in their comments. I try not to take this personally. I call it "iron sharpening iron" and am happy that this issue is in the light now. With God's help, we aim to be biblical, reasonable and charitable on this blog. I hope our followers do the same.

  9. My husband and I found this very edifying and fairly in line to what we believe and practice... blessings sisters!


    1. Yes, I, too, was thankful for Pastor Ascol's clear and wise advice on the issue. Glad you shared it here!

  10. i think your blog very informative, thanks for sharing.


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