The Bible tells us that when a man and woman are married, they are to “leave and cleave.” That wording is found in the King James version of Genesis 2:24. We don’t tend to use the word “cleave” in today’s language so here’s some updated language in two other versions of the Bible:
New International Version (NIV): That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
The Message (TM): Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife.
The important thing about this passage is leaving the family of origin and creating a new family with your spouse. That’s what today’s Marriage Monday is all about.
As a pastor, I’ve seen too many marriages struggling because one spouse or both have refused to “leave” their family of origin. They have continued to be largely influenced, and at times manipulated, by their parents rather than “cleaving” to their spouse and establishing their new family.
When Mark and I were first married, the first thing we did was find a church that we both were comfortable with. While there are many people who successfully attend the same church as their parents or inlaws, we felt it was important to establish ourselves as a couple in a place of worship we both chose together.
Sometimes “leaving and cleaving” requires us to set boundaries with our parents. Most of us aren’t comfortable doing this so we let unhealthy situations and expectations go unattended, causing hurt to our spouse without intending to.
Just a few weeks ago, I talked with a mom who was frustrated with the church they were attending. It was a small church that her husband had grown up in. It offered little opportunities for spiritual growth for their family. Not only that, but it was nearly an hour from their home. Every time she would bring up the possibility of finding a church that would work for their own family, her husband would say, “I won’t consider leaving the church until both my parents are gone.” That’s a man who has yet to “leave and cleave.”
Jill’s example is just one of many that we’ve seen over the years of marriage mentoring. Sometimes it rears it’s ugly head at holidays where one spouse insists upon always giving preference to his or her family. Other times it is a daughter who goes to her father for wisdom before she comes to her husband. Other times it’s a son who continues to allow his mother to manipulate him with her expectations, moods, or guilt.
So what does it practically look like to “leave and cleave?” Here are six ways to make sure your “new” family is your first priority:
1) Respect your spouse’s wishes over your parent’s wishes. What your spouse thinks and feels is far more important than what your parents think and feel.
2) Establish holiday traditions for your new family. If you both agree that going to “Grandma’s” house is the best way to celebrate Christmas, then continue the tradition. But if one or both of you would like to establish new traditions for your new family, get to work discussing the possibilities. You may have to put on your courage to “rock the boat” of family traditions, but this is an important part of leaving and cleaving.
3) Be prepared to grieve. Choosing to stand up for your “new” family means that you will likely experience a sense of loss of from the traditions, habits, and even gatherings that your family of origin may continue on without you. Even in the midst of grief, however, it’s important to focus on what you are gaining rather than what you are losing.
4) Focus on becoming “one flesh.” This requires us to think for ourselves, learn the art of communication and compromise, and determine what is best for our “new” family regardless of what our “old” family thinks.
5) Share your feelings and your heart’s desires with your spouse, not your parents, sisters, or brothers. A red flag should go up if you discuss something with your extended family before you discuss it with your spouse.
6) Be willing to establish boundaries with your parents. If you have a dominant mother or father, be prepared to “protect” your new family with a hard conversation with your parent. It’s never easy to do this, but it an important part of building trust with your spouse and clarifying boundaries with your parents.
Leaving your parents means recognizing that your marriage created a new family and that this new family has to be a higher priority than your previous family.
One woman found herself being questioned by her parents about a decision she and her husband were making. She found herself wanting to please her parents and began questioning the decision she and her husband had made. When she saw the reality of what was happening, she made this declaration to herself:
“I don’t need my parent’s permission to live out God’s will for my life.”
That statement freed her from her parent’s displeasure and lack of support and allowed her to engage fully in where God was leading her and her husband.
Do you need further encouragement? Check out the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It’s a great resource to help set relationship boundaries that help us leave and cleave.
What about you? What strategies have been helpful for you and your spouse to “leave and cleave?”