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Working with Your Husband or Wife


How to Minimize the Challenge & Maximize the Joy

A question I get frequently from people who come for leadership coaching is, "How can I work with my spouse?" Maybe they started a business together, or they both serve at a not-for-profit. Five years ago, when my husband and I worked at the same church, I was interviewed by Christianity Today's WomenLeaders.com:

WomenLeaders.com: You and your husband work at the same church. How do your roles relate?

I'm called Executive Pastor, and my husband, Kevin, is called Associate Rector. Basically, he serves as another executive pastor like I do. It's been a year and a half since he came on staff full time. He has taken over a lot of the financial area, adult formation, and some preaching. My area is the staff, the ministries, the running of the church. We're assigned distinctive roles, but we also overlap because we're in a collaborative team environment.

So what's it like to be married to someone on the same staff?

It's a twofold answer. One, it's awesome because it's something we've dreamed about since we got married. (Although when we first got married, we thought Kevin would be a pastor, and I would be the pastor's wife. So our journey with the Lord has taken us on an interesting path. I actually became ordained first.) We have always loved working together in church. Our lives were called to the church even when we both had full-time jobs outside the church. People would ask, "What's your hobby?" Church. Our spare time and money went to the church. So it's really fun to be on the same staff together.

But, two, we've had to adjust. One big adjustment has been figuring out where we stop talking about work when church is our life and now it's our work, and it's our friends, and our daughter goes to the church, and my sister's the business manager and works at the church full-time… How do we stop talking about church? And when are we talking business about the church and when are we just sharing "How was your day?" like we used to? That's what we've had to really work on.

You're never really off?

At home, the difficulty is knowing where to end work. Kevin and I meet once a month to discuss our jobs, but we're talking about meeting weekly so we can discuss things that we're now talking about at home at ten o'clock at night, when we're both on our laptops in our home office.

Thursday night is our guarded date night. We may talk about work, but not problem solving. If we go into problem solving, we're done talking about it. We stop the conversation and take it up later.

Also, for Kevin and me, Friday is Sabbath. We don't do any kind of church work. Just whatever we want to do for fun.

We also make sure we're connecting on that romantic and personal level. Whenever we go on vacation, we bring along discussion-starter cards or books that help us get off work conversation.

So how do you navigate the marital dynamics at the office?

We're still navigating those. The first thing that helps us is having a healthy staff environment. Our staff uses The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Every staff member reads it and knows those principles. We work on keeping short accounts, keeping conflict down, while also being aware of spiritual warfare.

We've also had honest conversations with the senior pastor and the staff. Any time you bring on a new person, there are ripple effects, and there were when Kevin joined. Right then, our church was working on a new building, and we were having a lot of design conversations. We got feedback from some staff that if Kevin and I were sparring a little, they felt uncomfortable. We're both strong personalities and strong leaders. We were simply disagreeing strongly. But they didn't know our underlying trust was always there. So we had to soften how we disagreed in meetings.

So you are both strong leaders?

Yes. One thing that helps is establishing, "Who's leading the meeting?" So I'd say, "Kevin's leading this part of the meeting, and then I'm leading this part of the meeting."

Another thing that helps is that we have a system for mediation. At first some staff were wondering what would happen if Kevin and I and the senior pastor were all in conflict. We made an agreement up front that if that happened, we would go to the bishop; and if that didn't help, we would go to therapists if we needed to. We would work on mediation.

How does your professional relationship affect your marriage relationship--and vice-versa?

Kevin's entry on staff was harder than we thought it would be. When talking with him, the personal and the professional got mixed: I would start to brainstorm as the executive pastor, and sometimes he would get hurt because right then, he needed my support as his wife. So now he's learned to identify, "I'm talking to you as executive pastor of the church; or now I'm talking to you as my wife."

What advice would you give someone considering working with his or her spouse?

If you are going to do that, your marriage has to already have high skills in partnership, communication, and conflict resolution. That sounds pretty basic, but that's why a lot of marriages end up struggling—they can't do it any more. If they're fighting about sex or money, it's actually about communication, trust, and respect.

At the time of this interview Karen Miller was executive pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. She is now a leadership coach and founder of www.StrengthenYourLeadership.com.

© 2012 Christianity Today

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