14 Feb 3 Steps to Counteract the Effects of Ministry on Your Marriage By Dr. Brent Sharpe
One of the challenges with pastors and leaders in ministry is that our lives are lived outwardly. There is an endless stream of needs, and those needs naturally draw us away from the highest priority that we have, our families. How? Because dealing with constant needs is exhausting! There’s a lot of virtue that goes out in ministry work, and that can leave us feeling personally depleted and like nobody understands, our spouse doesn’t understand, our kids don’t understand. It can put us in an unhealthy place relationally.
I’ve discovered some key ways to counteract the pull of ministry away from the family that I’d like to share with you today. These are just a few ways you can stay alive to and add value to your marriage.
You know, we all start out with a face-to-face relationship. I’ve been married 44 years. I met Janis 47 years ago at ORU, and I quickly became smitten. My mindset was, “It’s you and me, baby, against the world.” We spent every spare minute with each other in those days. I call this the “unoffendable zone.” It’s nearly impossible to offend one another during this time because there’s so much good, positive nurturing that’s going on. The challenge is, studies tell us we get about eighteen months of that nurturing. It’s easy to be in relationship then. But the relationship matures, and we turn side to side.
What is side-to-side relationship? We have jobs, babies, obligations, kids who need to make it to soccer practice. We have all these to-do’s that distract us, and there’s nothing evil about them, but the best of relationships will slowly start disconnecting during this time. It’s a phenomenon that’s going to happen. If we don’t pay attention and consistently find ways to work back toward each other, to care for our relationship, our marriages are going to struggle during this time.
Good, healthy marriages have good, healthy habits that pull spouses back toward each other. Most of life will be spent side by side. I’m not suggesting you will ever spend five hours a night sitting over candlelit dinner, staring into each other’s eyes and discussing your dream vacation. That’s not real life! But if we don’t develop habits that pull us back together, our marriages will struggle.
Let me share with you two practical ways you can make a difference almost overnight in your marriage.
Couch time – Develop a time in the evening or at the end of your day to bring your ships back together. This time tells your spouse, “You’re the most important relationship in my life. Being your spouse is the most important role in my life, above my ministry role and above my role as a parent to our children.” Make it a 10-15 minute experience. Consistency is the key here. Here are some simple guidelines that will make this time relevant:
1. Take turns communicating. In most families, one person typically outtalks the other, so be aware of that and give time and space for each person to equally share about their day. My wife and I work together. We have offices side by side. We are around each other all day, but we don’t have any idea what’s going on in each other’s inner lives, so we sit together. We take turns sharing about work and life during our couch time. It’s good!
2. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Just listen, recognize and validate your spouse during this time. Have empathy. You don’t have to agree with how they’re experiencing a situation. And don’t try to fix it. When you do, it minimizes and discounts your spouse’s experience. Now, if you spouse asks what you think they should do about a situation, then those are your magic words, and you can offer advice.
3. Give total focus and attention to your spouse. Turn off the television, set down the phone, and close the laptop. Show your spouse they’re the most important person on the planet to you. I know it can be hard. We’re a plugged in society. Completely unplug. Be present in the moment. That’s what your spouse needs from you.
4. Take their side. Make sure your spouse knows that you are in their court, that you take their side over every other person and relationship. Don’t play opposite or “devil’s advocate” during your couch time. See from their perspective. Validate.
Couch time makes a big difference in your daily lives. You might not be able to come together every day of the week this way but make this regrouping a high priority on the days when you spend hours away from each other. It will keep your marriage alive and away from the stagnant waters of ministry and business partnerships. Partnership is a blessing. It’s wonderful! But it’s not the highest priority for your marriage. Keep the flame alive.
Unplugged date nights — As ministers, I believe we have to squeeze all the juice out of the lemon when we can, so to speak. Our moments with our spouse may not be happening as often as we’d like, but we can do something about that. Try to plan a 2 to 5-hour experience once to twice a week consistently. Get it on your calendars. This is only about 1-2% of the week, yet it’s shocking now many couples cannot pull this off! Why? Because they don’t make it a top priority. My advice to you is don’t try to fix life first or stabilize. It’s never gonna happen. Just when you think you’ve got it all together, something or someone is going to cause it to go haywire again. So put the dates on the calendar and guard the time regardless of what life is throwing your way.
1. Focus on fun. What usually happens in busy lives is that the date turns into a business or ministry meeting (sharing a ministry idea, talking through a problem one of the children is having). This will kill your date night! It will suck the life out of the experience! Put a strong boundary in place. My wife and I give each other permission to bust each other if we start in on a serious conversation during our date. On this date, you should just be boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s not the time to resolve conflict, problem solve, or deal with serious issues.
2. Make a list of your top 10 date night ideas. The number one killer of date nights is not having a plan. Both of you should make a list of 10 things you’d like to do together. Then swap lists. Every other week, select an activity from your partner’s list for your date night. For instance, my wife loves plays. That’s never been on my list! But because she loves them, I take her to them. It’s fair because next week we may eat barbecue and go watch an action-adventure movie from my list. The benefit of swapping lists is you’ll never ask “What do you want to do?” again – and you’ll enjoy giving and receiving the “gift” of doing something that excites you.
If you will begin to put these two features – couch time and unplugged date nights – into play, you will quickly see your marriage catch fire again. Make time for one another. God wants you to love your spouse, to take care of their needs and make them a priority. Your greatest ministry work will be done at home, so make home a place that serves as a testimony to those you lead of a life aligned with God’s Word and His will for marriages. May God bless you with a flourishing marriage as you prioritize your spouse and guard your time with them.