I LAY IN BED ASKING A QUESTION I never imagined I’d ask: Was my marriage about to collapse?
My wife, Anne, and I were recent empty nesters. After nearly 25 years working and raising a family in the Northeast, we’d moved to Nashville to start the second act of our life together. I passed the reins to younger leadership at the church I’d planted in Connecticut. Anne left behind a middle school teaching career. Our three kids were away at school. For the first time since our newlywed days, it was just the two of us.
It wasn’t turning out the way I’d planned it would.
Anne had been reluctant to move. She didn’t seem to understand that after a pastor steps down, he can’t keep attending the church he once led. That’s unfair to the new leadership. I needed a change anyway. The church had been my life. Only a clean break would disentangle me from the web of relationships and responsibilities.
I’d grown to love Nashville after spending time here to work on the side as a songwriter, a passion of mine. I urged Anne to keep an open mind, but she valued routine and tranquility. The move felt traumatic to her, she said. I couldn’t understand it. Nashville seemed like a great change of pace to me.
We began arguing the moment we arrived. After years of biting her tongue as a pastor’s wife, Anne suddenly told me what she really thought. Her uncharacteristic bluntness took me aback.
“You’re selfish, Ian,” she said. “I devoted myself to supporting your ministry. Did you ever thank me? Now you’ve dragged me to this place, where I know no one. How long do I have to keep living your life? I don’t even know who I am anymore!”
“I wish you would find out!” I shot back. How unfair to blame me! Was it my fault Anne avoided conflict and shied away from asserting herself? I’d longed for her to break free and discover her own interests and passions. Yet every time I said so, she turned sullen and told me I just didn’t understand.
We went to see a marriage counselor. Piled our bedside tables with relationship books. Went on marriage retreats. The more we butted heads, the more we each silently wondered whether divorce was the only way out.
The problem was, Anne’s conception of me was out-of-date. I had been a self-centered frat boy when we met in college. And I did at that time have an alcohol problem, which harmed our relationship. But just a few years after we married, I attended 12-step recovery meetings and got sober. I hadn’t had a drink in years.
True, I hadn’t always been the most involved husband and father. Pastoring is a full-time job and then some. Ours was a family ministry. Everyone played a role. My love for my wife and kids was never in doubt, at least in my mind.
Anne’s feelings would have been justified if I’d become one of those functioning alcoholics who copes with stress by getting drunk every weekend. But I’d dealt with my drinking. I’d built a life around ministry. I was there for my family when it counted.
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