From girlhood many women have been taught that happiness comes from achieving fame or fortune. Whether the model is Cinderella or Queen Esther, women subtly learn that marriage is one way to make their dreams come true. From childhood we are encouraged to think about who we want to marry. It is inbred that we should not settle for a pagan, substance abuser, or non-motivated man.
In many ways there is nothing wrong with this thinking. All social relationships are based on the formula:
reward - costs = profit.
No one wants to feel used. Biblically, the apostle Paul tells us not to be unequally matched. Balance is central to any relationship. We all want to get roughly equivalent to what we give, especially from a relationship.
Pastors' wives are no different. We, too, have carefully selected our spouses. But what attracts us to them? What rewards did we imagine we would receive by marrying a pastor?
Usually all the dynamics of establishing a relationship are evident: age, physical attractiveness, background, approval among acquaintances, stability, etc. But there is another underlying dynamic present. Potentially, a pastor is a leader who will command respect. To those who value spirituality, he can seem superior to others. He is a star. Or at least there is the hope that he will be. He can seem exciting, influential and admirable. And since fantasy plays a big part in female sexuality, this dream of being somebody by being identified with someone important can play a significant part in our original selection of a pastor husband.
It seems that this dynamic should lead to happiness ever after. But that is not always the case. Every year since my husband entered the ministry, we have experienced one of our pastor-friend's marriages breaking up because the wife walked away. Why? The fantasy did not come true. The importance and attention she imagined she would receive from this relationship became disillusionment when the door to reality opened.
Her disappointment is predestined because of the kind of man she married. Pastors, for the most part, are more developed in the male-female traits than the general population. They show more concern, act more helpful, and are more nurturing. This is what most women say they desire in a man. Women come to seek the pastor's advice and call to discuss their problems. After marriage it can feel like he is having an affair. He is serving everyone else's needs with the qualities that attracted his wife.
Many times the minister's wife adds her water to the soup by fulfilling her desires for status through her husband's profession. She gives up her personal aspirations and lives a lot of her dreams vicariously through her husband's ministry. She may reason, "If he succeeds, so do I." Yet, after lonesome hours and years of hard work, it does not always feel like success. This back-seat role can leave her feeling like she is playing second fiddle. It is so easy to believe everyone else is responsible for the moves in the playing field of life. These feelings of hopelessness especially surface when she is asked over and over again to do the job nobody else will take.
When these fantasy dreams do not become reality, it is easy to become enmeshed in a situation that seems, at best, impossible to unravel. Affairs are attractive to a needy woman who has not developed her own self-esteem or feels her life is completely unfulfilled. Since the fantasy aspect of her marriage has been lost in the mundane daily necessities of budgets, children and work, a fresh new fantasy life is alluring. It can keep her feeling like her feet need not touch the ground. She can pump energy into it. And it can be a way of making a statement: "I have a life." "I am somebody." "Someone values me."
One minister's wife had a brief affair and in working through the problems with her husband, he resolved there was no reason to break up their home. However, she insisted on leaving him and taking their children. The affair was her way of tangibly confirming the fact she was miserable.
What are the answers? What do we do with our desires for intimacy? How do we take the loneliness out of our lives? First of all, recognize that the problem lies with our own unrealistic expectations. These desires will not be met by throwing away our marriages. Second, since the problem is ours, take the necessary steps to fix it. Happiness in a relationship comes when we assume responsibility for ourselves. If intimacy is not present in marriage, take the responsibility for creating it. Learn tools of communication that facilitate intimacy.
I have done this. There was a time when I expected my husband to know by my little antics or looks when I wanted some extra affection. I would not consider directly telling him because I imagined only cheap women were honest about what they really wanted. To verbalize my needs, I felt like I was selling myself. However, as I realized the manipulativeness and childishness of this approach, I was able to give it up and openly state my feelings. It was a hard but necessary lesson that has led to a much more harmonious relationship.
Very seldom do our marriages fulfill all the dreams we idealistically hoped for in the beginning. The ability to construct a good solid marriage comes when we recognize the problems and set out to address them directly. We need not be victims of a maze of social expectations, but rather we may see our problems as stepping stones of strength. Jesus will help us recognize that behind our rusty relationships are the silver linings of a relationship built on His desires for our lives. The rewards will be tremendous.