Cathy and I have navigated 26 years of ministry and marriage and learned a lot along the way. Today I want to share a third idea that I’ve been thinking about that may be helpful. Idea #1 was to give your spouse veto power over the church events that you oversee/control. Idea #2 had to do with being your spouse’s biggest cheerleader. Today’s idea has to do with battling the expectations that your spouse is part of a two-for-the-price-of-one hire.
Many ministry friends have expressed the pressure they feel over their spouse’s involvement in ministry. Even though the church is only paying one salary, they often feel like they are supposed to give a 2 for the price of 1 deal. While this isn’t a realistic expectation, I’ve discovered that when they’re really pushed for a legitimate source and specific examples, they discover it was a mythical expectation. Even though it feels like “the church people” passionately expect a 2-for-1 deal, it’s more felt than articulated. This whole “discerning expectations” thing can be confusing and create havoc in a marriage.
Here are a few thoughts in an attempt to figure it out:
1. Have intentional conversations to identify the “real” expectations.
Not casual conversations, the idea is to be a little assertive and go on a fact-finding mission to see where the expectations are coming from. Find out…
• What is really required of me/my spouse within the specific ministry in which I serve?
• What is really expected of me/my spouse from the church leadership?
• What do people in the congregation expect of me/my spouse?
The goal here is to try to discern the real from the imagined expectations. There may well be some real expectations from these sources, but just because they’re real doesn’t mean you need to honor them if they’re unrealistic and/or unhealthy. Your findings may lead to the need for more specific communication.
2. Uncover your spouses “real” expectations
Oftentimes the real expectation expressed from the “paid” spouse is simply emotional (i.e. “I just need to feel like you support me”). Have an honest talk and seek to discover what the “paid” spouse is feeling. Get to the bottom of where the pressure is coming from.
3. Articulate your findings from 1 & 2
• Write them out
• Speak them out to your spouse
• Pray them out
Cathy and I came to realize that the “real” expectations of the 2-for-1 deal were not coming from the church leadership or congregation, instead they were coming from me. They were birthed out of my own insecurity about my position at church. Since I wanted her so heavily involved, I assumed others did too and if she was more involved it would make everything better.
While people loved seeing Cathy at ministry events, her presence was never required. Most of the pressure for involvement she felt in our early years of ministry and marriage came from me… and no one else.
During different seasons with our children, Cathy’s role changed. She went from being at everything, to being at some things, to having weeks where she showed up to nothing. When I grew up and became comfortable with the reality that the church wasn’t paying for a 2-for-1, and Cathy was living out her role of mom, supportive spouse and occasional youth worker…life got a lot better at home too.
If anyone ever asked, “How come Cathy never comes to Sunday night?” I would say with confidence, “Because she’s healthy! She’s currently not involved in every area of the ministry. Right now she disciples a small group of girls at our house on Wednesday night because with all we have going on that is where she can commit. She doesn’t do everything, but what she does do, she’s amazing* at it and she loves it.” (*see yesterday’s post)
Don’t allow the mythical expectations to create unneeded stress in your marriage. You may be adding stress to your marriage that is based in perception and not reality. Do your homework and see what needs to change. The biggest change may appear from the two of you.