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?”
I like to encourage pastors and other leaders to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition.
When I ask the question I often hear a short 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 have even heard something like, “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 it did for the pastor/leader. 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?
Well, consider it from the spouse’s position. (This is always a good practice in any relationship issue.) The pastor/leader who moved to a new opportunity came with their center of gravity and purpose defined. You know what you are going to be doing with your time and energy. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. That takes time.
Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share about the day. Whether the day is good or bad things are moving, changing, and challenging them daily. So, 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 basically look the same.
Since a majority of my readers are in vocational ministry, let me say a word to the new pastor. This is just a typical scenario I have heard many times.
You arrive at your new position, come home at the end of the day 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 likely 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 the spouse may have taken a step backward. Or, at least, seems 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.