As many as 69 percent of pastors' spouses say they have very few people in whom they can confide about "the really important matters in my life," according to a new survey by LifeWay Research.
The study, published on Tuesday, found that a majority of pastors' spouses say that ministry has had a positive effect on their families, but many of them report being isolated and under financial stress.
Forty-nine percent of the respondents say they feel like they live in a fishbowl. As many as 79 percent say their congregation expects their family to be a "model family," and 86 percent say they are expected to have a model marriage.
The survey results also indicated that half of the pastors' spouses say they do not confide in people at church because they have been betrayed in the past. A total of 55 percent also say they do not have enough relationships where they can be themselves.
Kathy Litton, a national consultant for pastors' spouses at the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB) said that churches often have unrealistic expectations for a pastor's spouse.
"They feel like their family needs to be perfect. When congregations paint that picture for you, that's a lot of pressure," she said.
Litton, who has been a pastor's spouse for nearly four decades, said that she often felt pressure to present a good example as a family when she was younger. She contended that in reality, pastors and their spouses only need to apply the gospel in their families.
"Pastors and their spouses don't need to try to keep up appearances at church or at home," she said. "It's especially critical for our kids to see us as human frail parents who need Jesus and the gospel like anyone else. Our homes need to be places of vulnerability and reality," she added.
Ninety-six of the survey respondents are women, and 81 percent also feel a strong call to ministry. As many as 90 percent are married to pastors who work at least 35 hours a week at the church. Fifty-three percent have children at home and 51 percent have spent at least 20 years as a pastor's spouse.
The study further noted that 86 percent have responsibilities at the church, including 19 percent who are part of the church's staff. Fifty-five percent work outside the spouse's church, and of that number, 26 percent work for a church, ministry or other non-profit.
Many of the spouses say that money is one of their biggest worries. Thirty-six percent are worried about making ends meet each month, while 46 percent worry about not being able to save for the future. As many as 69 percent say that the compensation paid by the church is not enough to support their family.
The mail survey, sponsored by the NAMB, Houston's First Baptist Church, and Houston physician Dr. Richard Dockins, was conducted from June 21 to Aug. 2 among 722 spouses with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.