Even pastors learn marriage isn’t easy, but here are 5 ways to help make it work

When I made my wedding vows on the perfect summer day, staring into the eyes of the man I loved dearly, it was easy to repeat “for better or for worse.” I couldn’t wait to begin our “happily ever after!” On your wedding day you don’t know what it truly takes to maintain a solid and healthy marriage. I thought terrible things happened to other people – but not to me. My new husband and I could have never imagined what our marriage would survive.

My husband, Ed, and I have been married and in ministry for over 40 years, which is no small task! We founded Fellowship Church in the early 1990s with a handful of people and a lot of prayer.

Some might think this marriage thing is easier for us pastors, but I beg to differ. Every job has its unique challenges, for sure, but ministry is a bit complex. The expectations to live above average, which is placed on the pastor and their family is felt and often overwhelming. Walking through pain and difficulty with others regularly brings weariness that bleeds into every aspect of life. Let me just say that having a lasting marriage isn’t a “given” for anyone, including a pastor!

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Throughout our marriage, we have experienced times of great joy, peace, and love. However, the defining moments have been experienced in the most difficult times. 

For us, the most painful and testing experience happened in January 2021 when our eldest daughter, LeeBeth, lost her battle with addiction. So here we go, a pastor of a large “mega-church” had a daughter who struggled with addiction? Yes!

And we also have a son with a genetic disease, a daughter who struggled with an eating disorder, and did I mention that Ed had to have open-heart surgery to repair a valve? Marriages experience pain and brokenness on many levels, and our family, the pastor’s family, is no different.

How does a marriage survive an out-of-order death, the loss of a child? The death of a child is considered one of the most traumatic experiences a family can experience. Research shows that bereaved parents experience more symptoms of depression, poorer wellbeing, and other health problems that can lead to divorce.

Is it even possible for a marriage to thrive when you go through such a horrific, painful experience? Is there any way for us to navigate this without it taking its toll on the unity, love, and devotion that have been the components of our marriage thus far?

Ed and I are a testimony to this possibility. Marriage isn’t the easiest thing, but it can become the greatest thing if we are willing to work! We had to take our work quotient to a new level.

I’d like to share a few principles we applied to succeed in our marriage despite the surmounting pain we experienced.

Ed and I realized that we aren’t the only ones going through the brokenness of this world. Pain is a great equalizer in life; no one is immune to the brokenness of this world. God didn’t promise any of us that pain and suffering wouldn’t be in our stories.

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Our firm foundation, our anchor, was the Lord. Ed and I realized turning to anything else would set our marriage towards destruction. Faith has been an integral part of our lives since childhood and has proved a worthy anchor through every storm. We didn’t run from our faith as if God was to blame for our situation. We held firm to the trustworthy anchor that had steadied us securely thus far.

We have found that although we needed to give each other space to grieve, we couldn’t grieve in solitude. Ed and I needed not only each other but faithful friends. Our church community surrounded us even when they weren’t sure what to offer tangibly. Though we sometimes needed to draw away and regroup, we knew that isolation for an extended period would be detrimental!

Communication can be challenging even in good times, but in grief everything is intensified. Ed will have a good day while I have a bad one, and vice versa. When it comes to grief, articulating our feelings facilitates understanding from one another. Grief never leaves, so we must be honest about our “pain level” and what we can handle each day.

Pain makes our feelings of love, disappointment, and anger come and go at unexpected times. This fluctuation of feelings means we can’t trust our emotions and therefore must build our stability on tried-and-true commitment. Commitment is the foundational quotient that gives credence to emotions rather than emotions giving credence to our commitment.

When pain hits, which it will, walk through it together. Don’t quit, commit, and know that you are not walking this path alone.

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