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How to Cope When Your Husband is Working Long Hours

By Gabriele Rienas

Gabriele Rienas is a pastor’s wife for 27 years and a professional counselor, lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She speaks at retreats, conferences, and events worldwide. Contact her at 503-705-9230.

Enrichment Journal, spring 2007

Q: Our church is going through a stressful time and my husband is working long hours. He has not been home for dinner in several months. I am taking care of things at home, but I miss him. How do I get him to see that I need more of his time and attention?

A:This is a common dilemma for ministry wives, especially those with young children. The longing in your voice betrays the quiet desperation of a mom who feels lonely, disconnected from her husband, and perhaps a bit resentful of the ministry.

Many pastor's wives in your position either conceal a quiet frustration, or attempt to approach the subject with their husbands finding that it leads to conflict and more distress.

The first order of business is to try to talk about it. Talking about a tense subject is always preferable to avoiding it. The rules for good marital communication apply here as in any other conflict. If you have tried to talk about this with your husband, only to encounter anger and defensiveness, examine your approach. Defensiveness usually arises when a person feels attacked. Could your husband feel criticized or discounted? If you express your concerns in the form of criticism, you are more likely to get a negative response. Communicating thoughts like, You do not care about me or You are making wrong decisions about how you spend your time, will usually lead to protests and self-protection. Instead, communicate respect, positive regard, and understanding as you express what you need: "I know you are under pressure right now, but I am missing you."

Make specific, concrete requests for time together: "Can we take a drive together this weekend?" Sometimes a wife has trouble asking for specific things. Believing her husband should want to spend time with her, she waits for the day when he will initiate togetherness. The rationale is: "He should miss me when we are apart and desire to spend more time with me. Since he does not express a desire to do so, he probably does not care anymore. Why should I initiate something if he does not want to spend time together?"

This thinking is discouraging and sad, and the reasoning is flawed. The conclusion is, My husband does not want to spend time with me. This assumption is most likely incorrect. Pastors are overwhelmed with the many responsibilities and needs represented in a congregation and have a sincere desire to serve people. Your husband may need to be reminded of his responsibility to his family. If he responds positively to your concrete suggestions for time together, it is a compelling sign that he does want to spend time with you.

If you have felt disregarded, discuss with him ways that you could feel more important in his life. For example, ask him to call you during the day or to stop by for a few minutes between appointments. Bring a picnic lunch to the office or ride along with him on an errand or visitation. Volunteer in an area of ministry that places you at the church in closer proximity to him or drop by the office for a quick visit.

Another key to survival is expanding your interests when your husband is busy. If you find yourself in a position where your husband's homecoming is the only relief you have from the stress and routine of your life, then you will be frustrated by his absence. Consider pursuing your talents, interests, or even friendships. Perhaps there is an area of ministry to which you are called. Develop a passion in your life. Use creativity in dealing with financial and parenting concerns. Become less dependent on his presence to make you happy.

In reality, your husband is not the only one in the ministry. This is a calling that affects all the areas of your life together. Approach the challenges of time and priorities as a team. Work together to solve difficulties that arise, rather than as two people competing against one another.

In my own life, as long as I believed my husband preferred to spend his time at the office more than with me, I saw the ministry as competition. When I realized this was not the case, and that my husband looked forward to coming home to me after a long, hard day, I was much less inclined to complain. The difference was that I began to see his heart; he wanted to be with me. I was the icing on his cake, and it made all the difference to me.