Preventing and Addressing Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Advice for Spouses

As the spouse of a minister, maintaining the health of your marriage is probably the most important thing you can do to help your husband or wife succeed in ministry. That is because there is a direct correlation between the health of your relationship and the health of the organization that your spouse leads. Your sexual health is no exception. Your spouse needs your help to maintain a healthy sexuality, and, therefore, you need to work on this area of your marriage just as you would any other.

The Trap of Expectations

Being a clergy couple comes with many (often unspecified) expectations. Church members have an image in their head of what the minister and his or her spouse is supposed to be like, and they expect you to conform to this prototype. The standard they set for you is impossible for you—or anyone else—to meet, but the temptation for you and your spouse to try to exceed this standard is difficult to resist.

For that reason, the subject of sexual misconduct may be a difficult one for you to tackle with your spouse. After all, ministerial families are supposed to be perfect, right? And perfect families don’t have any sexual issues. They might not even have sex!

Do not fall into this trap. Protect your relationship by being proactive. Talk about it with your spouse even if you think it will never be a problem. It is worth the effort.

The Importance of Honest Communication

When you talk to your spouse about sexual matters, you may feel the pressure of the expectations that people have of you. You may feel that you need to present yourself as perfect to your spouse, and you may feel the urge to expect perfection out of your spouse. Set aside these unreasonable expectations.

As humans, we are sexual beings. And, as humans, God has created us with imaginative abilities. That’s why many people decide to read more about whenever they feel themselves becoming sexually aroused. Embrace this reality with your spouse in the area of sexuality. Allow your spouse to be honest about the things he or she imagines without shaming him or her. If your imagination produces fantasies that you think are inappropriate, share them honestly with your spouse as well.

This type of honesty requires trust. So, when your husband or wife tells you about a fantasy or sexual tendency that he or she is having, do not freak out. Furthermore, do not bring it up later when you get into an argument. Respond in a loving way, even if you are shocked by their revelation. Your spouse is telling you this because he or she trusts you and wants your help with the problem.

Honest communication about sex can be difficult, but it is important for at least two reasons. First, it is vital for maintaining the sexual health of the marriage. Second, it is indispensable if you and your spouse are going to hold each other accountable in the area of sex. If you talk about the difficulties that each of you is having now, it is less likely that either of you will act on any inappropriate impulses later.

Setting and Keeping Boundaries

I have already said that you must not freak out about what your spouse shares with you. Nevertheless, accountability is also important. Talk with your spouse about steps that you as individuals, and you as a couple, can take to prevent inappropriate sexual desires from turning into full-blown sexual sin.

One of the most important things that you can do—both as individuals and as a couple—to address problem areas is to set appropriate boundaries for your own personal conduct and for how each of you relates to members of your church and community. For example, if you or your spouse are having inappropriate thoughts about a specific church member, take steps to ensure that you or your spouse are never alone with that church member. If the problems are more general, ask your spouse to leave the office door open, and ask your spouse not to do unassisted home visits. Be creative about making appropriate boundaries for you and your spouse, and keep those boundaries!

If you talk to your spouse and discover that there is very little risk of misconduct, it is still important to discuss opposite sex parishioner relationships with him or her and to set boundaries for those relationships. Even when a parishioner does not pose a risk, there is nothing wrong with saying to a parishioner, “I’m sorry that you can’t come in, but my husband/wife isn’t home.” Do not feel awkward about asking your spouse to let the parishioners know that boundaries exist, and that you and your spouse intend to keep them even when you see no apparent risk.


When you and your spouse talk about sex, everything that you talk about should remain private. Do not tell your friend, your mother, or a trusted church member. Maintaining the confidentiality of these conversations is essential if the two of you are going to have an open, trusting relationship.

There are two exceptions to this general rule.

  1. If you find that you have an unsolvable problem, it is appropriate to get professional help. Discuss the issue with a psychologist, counselor, or social worker who is committed to a Christian understanding of sexual ethics and (if possible) who has some training and/or experience working with issues of a sexual nature. For member of the clergy and their families, it is often helpful to seek help outside of the city where they serve. That way, parishioners have less ability to nose into your private affairs.
  2. If you find that your spouse is engaging in illegal and/or abusive behavior, you must tell the appropriate authorities. This certainly includes appropriate law enforcement and/or child welfare agencies, but it could also include the person or board that supervises your spouse.

A Closing Challenge

Maintaining a healthy sexuality and preventing misconduct is a challenging task, but I hope you consider your marriage and your ministry worth the work. My husband and I do! Since God has called your spouse to be a minister of the gospel, your work of supporting him or her in this calling is important. Be up to the task by proactively protecting your marriage.

Published: Feb 14, 2017


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