Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives-Marriage 101

Warning: This may be a long one. Never mind, I know myself. It will be a long one, so I'm going ahead and taking the liberty of dividing it into 2 parts.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to have a perfect marriage. I just have an almost-perfect marriage. Okay, not almost perfect either, but I'm pretty darn pleased with my husband and would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am not a marriage authority, but I'll be writing about what works for us. A little background...we have been together for almost 26 years, married just shy of 20 years. (Yes, we dated for over 5 years which neither one of us would wish on our worst enemy. Pure torture for two people bent on making "true love wait.")

I'm basing these next couple of posts off of the book His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard Harley. Most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the notion of affair-proofing. "He loves me too much. He would never cheat on me." or "I could never, ever have a relationship with another man." People who think like that are in the biggest danger of all. We are all sinful humans who fall short every single day. Fortunately we have a God who is gracious and loving. Even so, we are all in imminent danger of infidelity. It just takes a brief season of not feeling appreciated, being bored and stale in our marriages, having a little extra attention from someone of the opposite and BOOM! We are where we never thought we'd be.

We have witnessed infidelity destroy marriages of several close friends, some of whom we thought had awesome, rock solid marriages. One of the most devastating was a youth minister friend of Robert's. We double-dated with them, this guy and Robert did an annual joint youth event every year, and we really enjoyed spending time with this couple. Imagine our surprise when we found out he was having an affair with a former youth. Devastating! Affairs are ugly things, but our human brain can rationalize just about anything. (Jeremiah 17: 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?) Our brain can tell us "There's no harm in talking...or grabbing a cup of coffee...or sending a few texts." If we are engaging in something secret and/or that we wouldn't tell our husband about, then there is a problem. It doesn't necessarily have to involve sex per se. It also doesn't matter how bad someone's marriage may be. Bad marriages don't provide justification for an emotional or sexual affair. They only provide justification for marriage counseling. That "'Til death do us part" business is pretty hardcore.

So...any of us are just 1 step away from the potential to have an affair (check). Acknowledging that it could happen and that none of us are above it is the first step. There are some sobering stats from the the Schaeffer Institute study that I previously referenced:

* Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
* Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

And research from Barna, Fuller Seminary, and Focus on the Family quoted in the same article:
*Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
*Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.

Obviously the risk is great. 30-40% of pastors have had an extra-marital affair since beginning ministry!! If you think it could never happen to you, think again.

So for this post I'll tackle what Harley has identified as a man's 5 greatest needs. Obviously, aside from jokes and sitcoms, men aren't stereotypes. These five needs won't hold true for every man. However, from where I'm sitting (clueless female) I do think they seem pretty spot on and they are at least a good jumping off point. I can't totally effect how my husband responds to me, but I can have total control in the way that I respond to him.

Here are the top five needs of men according to Harley:

1. The First Thing He Can't Do Without - Sexual Fulfillment

Okay, we've all heard the comment that men think about sex every 7 seconds. That's false. I think it's really only every 12 seconds. Just kidding--sort of. Anyway, sex is a big deal for guys. I dare say it is a big deal for women as well, or at least should be, but with guys it is #1. From my limited understanding of the male species, sex isn't just about the feel-good physical feelings for the husband (although that is certainly a part of it), but it's also an important way that a man communicates love to his wife and feels loved by his wife. Quite literally, the act of sex is about becoming one not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. See my brilliant husband's thoughts on sex in the context of marriage here.

Okay, we get it. Men like sex. What does that mean for wives? It means we need to be a willing partner! It should not be a chore or another thing on the "to do" list, although there will be those occasional seasons of life. I would suspect that most men don't want a passive, "Well, I'll do it because you want to" kind of wife either, but an active participant who actually enjoys it. I'm not going into any great detail because my in-laws read my blog and they are probably a bit repulsed or unnerved right now. However, I will say this: Sex begets sex. The more often a couple engages in bedroom recreation, the more likely it is to continue to happen.

Women multitask and have a hard time switching gears. Sometimes when our husbands are making their move, we are thinking about what we need to get at the grocery store, who is going to take whom to the orthodontist, and when we can fit in a oil change. It's quite a stretch to go from queen of the kitchen to mistress of the boudoir with the flip of a switch. The old saying that men are microwaves and women are crockpots is true. However, the brain is the most important sex organ on a female and choosing to mentally make that switch is quite possible. Again, although I personally have some good tips for that I am not going to share them at the risk of total embarrassment. I will suggest a wonderful book that we frequently give as a wedding gift, called A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God's Gift of Sexual Intimacy. It covers everything from a biblical view of sex, sex techniques, self-image, dealing with past abuse, getting in the mood, to sex during pregnancy and various stages of parenting, etc.

2. He Needs Her To Be His Playmate - Recreational Companionship

Playing together...it was the foundation of dating and that initial falling in love phase. However, with mortgages, kids, sporting events, homework, church, jobs, etc. sometimes it falls to the bottom of the list. However, I started noticing that my husband liked to have me with him when he was going an activity or a hobby. Even I didn't necessarily engage in the hobby, he wanted my presence. I thought it was kind of odd, as I am one who likes my by-myself time, but now I take it as the ultimate compliment He likes me and wants me to be with him.

So we need to have mutual hobbies and interests. That doesn't mean that we have to share every interest together. I'm pretty sure that he isn't going to take up quilting and I am positive that I will never go hunting. However, we do enjoy cross-country skiing, canoeing, and watching movies together. We are just starting to run together and we ordered bikes last week so that we can start biking. A date that we periodically do is going to Lowe's and wander the aisles for hours planning the dream house that we'll never have. It's a cheap date (can't beat free!) and is a great time to just be together and talk. I will say that he is much better about watching chick flicks with me than I am about watching Dude movies with him. I'm working on that. I think if I quilt or crochet that I can sit beside him during a horrid war movie, science fiction, or fantasy flick. I'm still growing in this area.

3. He Needs A Good-looking Wife - An Attractive Spouse

Looks aren't everything. However, something about the way we look is what first caught our husbands' eye. Then later, it was our scintillating personalities and deep souls. Anyway, our guys like having a little arm candy as sexist as that may sound. In almost every species it is the male that is the most attractive. However, in humans, women tend to be the pretty ones so a man with a beautiful wife is the equivalent of a male peacock spreading his feathers and strutting.

I am under no illusion that I look like Heidi Klum or Gisele Bundchen. I know I am pretty average. I know this because I get told at least once a month that I look like someone's sister's aunt's best friend. However, I have to do the best I can with what I have. I've been a stay-at-home mom. I've done the jeans and t-shirt/sweatshirt uniform for a few years and I know the temptation. When I worked at a hospital and wore scrubs I lived in those. My husband HATED me wearing scrubs all of the time, but they were so darn comfortable. It was like wearing pajamas to work. (However, I have always, always fixed my hair and put on make-up just about every day unless I am doing yard work or something.)

I am reformed though. In some ways I have Clinton and Stacey to thank. Through their show I have learned how to dress my body in comfortable and stylish clothes. I still wear jeans, but they aren't "mom jeans." They are in style, but age appropriate, as there is nothing worse than a 42-year-old trying to dress like a 22-year-old. Pathetic! I only wear printed T-shirts if I am working out or in the yard. Otherwise I wear comfortable clothes appropriate to the situation that look good. I always dress up when we are going out on a date. I spend just as much time and effort getting ready to go out as I did when we were dating.

I have also done the slow creep of weight thing. Many women blame pregnancy and as a general rule, I think that is a cop out. If a woman is a good weight going into pregnancy, stays active throughout and eats wisely, then she shouldn't gain a whole lot of extra weight. Then, breastfeeding it the ultimate calorie burner! With both of my children I weighed less when they were 2-3 months old than I did before I got pregnant. However, it is no lie that our metabolism slows down. I was oh-so-gradually putting on weight and since I was wearing drawstring scrubs I didn't realize it until the grim reality of real waistbands. So, eat less and move more. That's the only way to get it off. Again, not trying to be some ideal, but just having a healthy body. And a woman with a healthy strong body is usually more confident and feels more desirable, which will also influence self-image and sex. It really doesn't take a whole lot of extra effort to woo our husbands once again. Plus, it's pretty exciting if we can still take their breath away after years and years together.

4. He Needs Peace And Quiet - Domestic Support

Hmmm...this one will be a stretch for me. I probably fail miserably here. First of all, I like to talk. That doesn't exactly nurture peace and quiet. I do know that Robert prefers quiet to rowdy and oft times our household is the antithesis of that. I'm still working on that and it will have to be a life goal.

As for the domestic support I think this is referring to pretty stereotypical gender roles. I am a feminist in that I believe (strongly) that a woman can do and be anything she wants to. However, I also pretty much embrace the household stereotypes--not because I have to, but because I want to. I want to be the one who cooks a meal, keeps the household running, and mothers everyone. Almost all of our married life with children I have either been a stay-at-home mom, worked very part-time (8 hrs/week), and then official part-time (22 hrs/week). I only started my first full-time job since kids 2.5 years ago when Robert became a church planter. This is because our children are older and church planters aren't exactly rolling in the bucks, esp. when the only church members originally all have the same last name of Terrell and 2 of the 4 are dependents.

Anyway, I still had the mindset that even though I was working full-time that I should still keep the house running. After a few months of that we had to meet and reestablish roles and responsibilities. I still do the lion's share of the cooking, which I enjoy, and the laundry. We all have to pitch in on housecleaning, including the kids. Robert does most of the doctor/dentist/ortho appts and various kid-carting after school. It's a constantly evolving thing...and I'm still working on the balance there.

5. He Needs Her To Be Proud Of Him - Admiration

Lastly comes admiration. Men like to be the hero and save the day. When we admire and respect our men it thrills their souls.. It's especially important to praise them to others in their presence, Not just for the sake of doing it, but real authentic praise.

I honestly have it so good, that sometimes I refrain a bit because I think people get sick of hearing it and/or they think I'm lying. Seriously though, my husband is pretty much an awesome husband, father, and human being. He is funny, one of the smartest people I know, and he is a servant. He loves the unlovable and champions the forgotten. He has taught me so much just through us living life together.

The opposite of admiration is nagging. I'd like to say I never do that, but I did it just this morning. I felt immediate remorse and I did apologize, but words can't be taken back and they get demoralizing over time. We've had some friends who talk negatively about their husbands IN FRONT OF THEM frequently and you can just see the devastation such comments create. Or they talk about their husbands like they are another child or are incapable of having an original thought. I am thinking of one couple in particular like that...and he's one who ended up having an affair. Is it any wonder why?

It's a pretty tall order, but I know I periodically need a refresher as to what my husband needs from me to feel valued, loved, and esteemed. If he feels that way, then it is less likely that he will look elsewhere for what he is missing. Some PWs get angry about how much time their husbands spend at church or ministering to others (more about that later) that they decide to get bitter and nag, withhold sex, give him the silent treatment, etc. to "punish" him. What happens instead is that everyone is punished and she has just pushed him away, both figuratively and literally. May we be wise and careful with the marriage relationship that God has entrusted us and do everything for His glory.

Next up...What women need


  1. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on ministry and being married to a minister. Very encouraging and great reminders. I have one of those near perfect husbands too, but I sure appreciate your words of advice. I want to make sure we never grow complacent.

  2. Really enjoying your series Pam!

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