kyndallrae

creating me [using words]

The Successful Spouse

Plays the piano.

Very supportive.

Great with children.

An eye for decorating and good in the kitchen.

Grew up around ministry (pastor’s kid), thus knows the ropes.

Even keeps a clean house, can sing if needed, and married to a preacher.

All the qualifications are there for a terrific pastor’s wife. There is just one problem.

He is my husband. In addition to all these great qualities, he’s got others: he’s got big muscles, he can build/fix most anything, he is male, and most importantly, he is his own person.

Fortunately, our congregation is supportive of Nate for being Nate, and they do not pressure him to be any certain way or fill any certain roles as the pastor’s spouse. Unlike some churches, I’m pretty certain they would have hired me even if Nate couldn’t play the piano or lead VBS.

The pastor’s spouse is a tough gig, I think. It isn’t their calling, their vocation, their paycheck—not really. But the expectations are often huge. Nate cannot even experience what it is like, not really, to participate in church voluntarily. He has to participate (more or less) because he married me, and service to the church is part of the package when you marry a minister.

But it’s not just the minister-spouse thing I worry about most. It is his identity, his dreams, his gifts I fear will be swallowed in my shadow. So far, he’s been following my success across the country (well, the state of Texas, at least, which can feel like a country). When we married, he moved so I could finish seminary. When I took a job as a resident chaplain in a college dorm, he followed me and made his home among a hall of college women. When I came to San Antonio to take on my new job as pastor, Nate came with me, joined the church, and jumped right in. Granted, we made all these decisions jointly, and I have never expected him to follow me blindly. But still, I can’t help but notice the imbalance. Thus far, all the doors that have opened, have opened for me. The success has been mine. The opportunities have been mine. Attention, awards, and adventure—mostly all mine.

Nate is an amazing spouse, but Nate is also an incredible person in his own right. What about his life, his talent, his future? We never meant to put him on the back burner. It is just that I am nearly always the one who knows what she wants in life. He’s been more uncertain. I’ve followed my dreams. He is still dreaming up his own. I’ve been noticed. He’s been in the background, encouraging me when I went unnoticed, holding me when I cried, believing in me when I doubted myself.

When does Nate get his turn and what will that look like? Or what if my life continues to be a success story and what if the spotlight always faces towards me and away from him?

I appreciate his many sacrifices for me, but I do not want to become the god of his altar. He was created to serve something bigger than me, to have a bigger purpose than being my faithful pal. But finding that purpose isn’t always easy.

Anyone else out there have a similar struggle? What about men whose wives have sacrificed to support your job—do you have these same worries about overshadowing her identity with yours? What about women who have followed your men—how have you found your own niche? And what about couples like us, who are doing things in reverse of the common trend (successful wives, or stay-at-home dads, or women with bigger incomes, or men who are struggling to find a vocational identity, etc)—how have you “broken the mold” and what have you discovered along the way?

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6 thoughts on “The Successful Spouse

  1. My wife sacrificed for me to go to seminary, supporting us with her job while I pursued what I wanted to do. The stipulation was that she would get to stay home with the kids after seminary. I was supposed to get a “real” job. Instead, we moved to this farm in Waco, TX to learn about sustainable agriculture and not get paid. Then we moved our family to Bolivia to work with Mennonite Central Committee. Both of those things were adventures we went on together. I never felt like I was dragging her or my family around, but I also know that it had to do with some of my dreams and passions.

    Then when we were deported and moved back to the US, I pursued building a small business. She shares my dreams in many ways. Luckily she has her own dreams for our family and herself that she is able to pursue by staying home and unschooling our kids. It doesn’t work out so easily for many and I still feel guilty sometimes. What helps is lots of communication about it and pursuing something holistic rather than individual, asking “What kind of life do we want to build together?” Thanks again for great thoughts and posts.

  2. I love your story–the way life never quite goes how we planned, but what adventures we would miss if we stuck to the plan!

    Nate and I definitely talk about what kind of life we want to build together, but I do think a person’s individuality can get a little swallowed in the we-ness, though this happens to women far more often than men. Or the we-ness can still be dominated by one person, even when the other person is a willing accomplice. I guess I find myself wondering, how to honor the we and the me? The we and the he? If that makes sense . . .

    • Yeah, it’s a mixed bag. The ideal is some sort of mutual submission, togetherness with our individuality not only intact, but part of what makes up the we-ness. History, culture, baggage, domination, etc. all get mixed in to make that a lot more difficult. my wife has taught me a lot about my own patriarchy, but also the value we place in our culture on dominant personalities, excluding introverts from many conversations.

      We’re just lucky to have someone to go on that journey with us. I am often thankful for that. I hear of couples pulled in completely opposite directions, whether it’s family or career or ideologies or whatever. You can’t even try to figure out the we-ness and wade through the muck in a relationship like that.

      One thing I have tried to practice as the dominant one in our family is to make more space both at home and with others for my wife to choose to assert herself without trying to force her. Sometimes (often) she would rather not be involved, vocal or at the center. But other times if I am more conscious and choose to be quiet when I would like to speak, I get to hear these wonderful thoughts from her.

      I also try not to speak for my wife unless she wants me to which she does sometimes, as an introvert. Anyway… good thoughts.

      • You are so right–the introvert/extravert thing adds a whole other dimension. As a fellow introvert, I imagine it means a lot to your wife for you to be so attentive not to talk over her.

  3. Aurelia on said:

    It’s pretty much been about me since we’ve been married. To the point where, now that it’s not in a lot of ways, now that we are kind of in a Lyle season, I find myself frustrated and unfairly expectant. This post was good for me. Thanks.

    • More on Richard Rohr here in a few days, because he is changing my life, but real quick, he said, “You have to develop an ego before you can let go of it.” Wow, this was so helpful to me in describing the tension in my marriage and elsewhere. There is a good and right part to holding onto, cultivating and pursuing things for myself, because I can’t make an authentic sacrifice until I know myself . . . or something like that, I think. :) Anyway, I am thinking the tension we feel is a part of the process of growth, you know?

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creating me [using words]

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