The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

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When I’m talking to a pastor or other leader who has accepted a new position or is in a time of transition – after I hear the excitement in their voice of what they see God doing – I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your spouse dealing with the change?”

There is usually a pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She/He seems to be doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on him/her than I thought it would be.”

Pushing even further, I might hear, “I don’t understand why he/she is not as excited as I am. We agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the leader is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as for the pastor. It will likely come in time – if given time – but for now, the spouse is simply not as excited about the change in positions as the one who made the change in career is.

Why is this?

I like to encourage pastors and other leader to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition. The person who moved to a new opportunity has found their center of gravity and purpose. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. It takes time.

Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share every time. Things are moving, changing, challenging them daily. Even on days things aren’t going well – they have drama in their day they can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, the spouse has days which look the same.

You come home pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most – your partner in life and ministry.

But, if you’re not conscious of your spouse’s emotions, depending on their state of mind, they may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.”

Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not and would not think those things – and would never want your spouse to think you do – but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. This is part of change.

Your spouse moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. They may even be more relation-centered emotionally. Their heart may transition slower. The roles they held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times hers took a step backward. Or, at least, seem to have for now. This will change in time, and the spouse probably knows this intellectually, but emotionally they feel a sense of loss which will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

The key is to remember your spouse is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Failure to acknowledge this and be sensitive to it is not only unfair it can damage the relationship and slow the process of acclimating in the transition. 

In a future post, I’ll share some specific thoughts on helping your spouse find their center of gravity in a time of transition. Stay tuned.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

  1. This was suggested to me by a close friend since my husband and I just transitioned and I feel like you have been peeking in at our personal conversations and interactions. This is so spot on and as the spouse who feels like what she built up in one geographical location has come crumbling down and must be re-built in this new place, I thank you for your relatable words (especially about the irrational thoughts and actions).

  2. As a career coach focused serving ministers in career transtion this one hits home. Yes, it is true that we men tend to get busy and passionate about the new challenges and opportunities and forget to consider the big impact on our families. Most of the time I have found sessions with both husband and wife to reveal this very disconnect. The good news is that often the comment I hear from the men is, "I've never heard you say that before!" It tells me that we need to help our wives open up and share their feelings more often. We also need to learn how to listen–REALLY LISTEN especially during those stressful times of transition.