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Survey: pastors’ wives often feel disconnected, isolated

When a pastor is burning out, many times a board of elders or deacons form a support system. Often, it’s his spouse that watches out for him. But, who cares for the pastor’s spouse?

According to a LifeWay Research survey released recently on pastors’ spouses, most turn to their husband or wife when stressed, and few feel like they can turn to members in the church.

While a strong 85 percent of survey respondents said that they are “satisfied with their life,” nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of those surveyed turn to their spouse when stressed, and more than half feel that they do not have enough friends that they are emotionally connected to, or around whom they can just “be ourselves.”

“The deepest truth is that what I really want is friendship,” writes Christine Hoover, author of Messy Beautiful Friendship and a pastor’s wife in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I’m surrounded by lovely people and countless relationships, but relationships don’t always equate to friendship, and I tend to forget that.”

Part of this disconnect seems to be a lack of trust of church members. Half of those surveyed said they couldn’t confide in church members about personal struggles since their “confidence has been betrayed too many times” and feared that honest prayer requests would become fodder for gossip. Most of those struggling in this area were younger women raising children, the survey found. 

“There’s a pressure for pastor’s wives to know everyone, because in most churches everybody knows the pastor and the pastor’s wife and their family. I think maybe sometimes the pastor’s wife tends to put the pressure on herself to know everyone,” Kristie Anyabwile, a writer and speaker, and wife of Anacostia River Church pastor Thabiti Anyabwile said in an interview with Hoover. “Sometimes it’s outside pressure, that she should know certain things about people’s lives.”

Anyabwile admitted that it’s hard to find a “ministry and marriage confidante” with whom she can safely share marital or family issues and trust that friend to still respect her husband. More than two-thirds of spouses surveyed reported that, “I have very few people I can confide in about the really important matters in my life.”

In general, survey respondents overwhelmingly responded positively about their lifestyle in ministry. Ninety percent of spouses said ministry has “had a positive effect on their family,” and 85 percent feel cared for by their church. Overall happiness and thriving often increased with strong personal relationships and marital and family life satisfaction.

Most pastors’ spouses (86 percent) are involved with church ministry, two-thirds of whom are serving in some way without pay. More than half of pastors’ spouses (53 percent) are employed outside of their church.

The survey, conducted over the summer, polled a random sampling of more than 700 Protestant pastors’ spouses, 96 percent of whom are women. More than half (56 percent) are spouses from evangelical churches, with 30 percent from mainline Protestant denominations and 1 percent from Black Protestant churches. It was sponsored by Houston’s First Baptist Church, the North American Mission Board and Richard Dockins, MD.

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