Life Coaching for Leadership CouplesAug 11th, 2014 | By Tony Stoltzfus | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching
Keeping spouses on board is an important part of life purpose discovery. Ideally, couples go through this process together. In marriage, the two shall become one—and hence, their individual destinies are intricately woven together. I frequently encourage my clients to invite their spouses into our life purpose coaching calls. Working at purpose as partners enriches the client’s experience, provides excellent feedback along the way, and draws the marriage closer together. Some spouses stay in the background and comment every so often, some engage the process as a partnership, and some clients find that they cannot move forward in their own callings until the spouse is also clear on his/her life purpose.
When working with Christian leaders, the most common couple-specific issue is when one partner’s destiny inappropriately dominates the marriage. I’ve repeatedly come across couples where the husband has a clear sense of call and is moving forward in it, but the wife is just following along with no clear sense of destiny of her own. The usual tip-off to this is when a major decision needs to be made about the couple’s future.
In our cultural context, it is common for male Christian leaders (especially ones who are called to the ministry) to assume that their personal call is the priority in the marriage, and to fold their wife’s energy and abilities into the pursuit of that call, instead of making it a priority to pursue her heart and draw out her unique destiny. This pattern violates Paul’s most fundamental admonition to husbands: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word, that he might present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27). The husband is supposed to exhibit sacrificial, agape love by giving himself up for the wife. Unfortunately, the pattern among ministry leaders is often the opposite: the man expects his wife to give up herself for his call.
Modeling Christ’s Way
This verse calls us to model the way we love our wives after how Christ laid down his life for us. Compared to Christ, who allowed himself to be tortured to death so that we could have a future and a hope, husbands who don’t aggressively pursue, promote and even find ways to defer to their wives’ unique callings sorely miss the mark.
I’ve been deeply touched by men of God I know who have chosen to make room for their spouses’ callings and loved them well in this way. A good friend who is a career pastor in his 50’s chose his last pastoral position based on where his wife wanted to go to grad school—and then they moved across the country to where she got a job. He was very clear before the move that she had sacrificed to put him through grad school and had moved around for his call, and now he was going to step back and sacrifice for her. He ended up substitute teaching in the public schools and teaching English as a second language to kids for several years to help make ends meet until he finally found a ministry position in their community. That’s laying down your life for your wife!
However, men can be prone to a blind spot where they just don’t see how often the wife is sacrificing her desires for his. One of the oft-quoted Proverbs is, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). And I’ve coached some heartsick spouses over the years. They’ve deferred, served and sacrificed for decades to advance their husband’s call, but haven’t been loved in that same way in return, and there is a hole in their hearts that aches for their husband to pursue them and help them become who they were created to be. I’ve even coached men who were deeply disappointed later in life at their wife’s lack of initiative, responsibility and risk taking—but when I scratched the surface, I found that those patterns were actually created by the husband! Because he made all the decisions and took responsibility for her instead of giving her opportunities to partner in risk and responsibility, the wife simply settled back into the passive role her husband created for her.
Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on this topic can be found in Tony’s book, The Christian Life Coaching Handbook.