(I may be stepping into controversial waters with this topic. But I hope that you will allow yourself to look at your marriage in this area without fear or defensiveness.)
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (NIV)
Just about everyone has been to a marriage ceremony and heard this verse quoted. Or maybe you heard it with the word “cleave” from the King James Version rather than the more modern term of “unite.” But either way, this verse has a powerful message that I think we often take for granted or misunderstand.
When a couple marries, God not only wants them to leave their family of origin (parents), but also to cleave to their spouse. The word, leave seems straightforward enough. When we marry we are, after all, moving out of our parent’s house—well, most of the time! That constitutes leaving, right? And what about unite or the more old fashioned term cleave?
I actually like the word cleave better than unite. After all, countries unite, soldiers unite, and even protestors unite—but cleaving takes uniting one step further. It’s defined as adhering closely, sticking like glue and remaining faithful in the face of persecution.
But here’s where I think our trouble often occurs. We’ve been nurtured and loved every day of our lives by our parents. Now we have a spouse in our lives that we need to turn to rather than finding our nurturance and love from our parents. But for some that really isn’t happening, at least not completely. Now don’t get me wrong …
- I’m not saying you should stop loving your parents.
- I’m not saying you should never ask your parents for advice.
- And I’m definitely not saying you should quit associating with your parents!
But I am saying that many marriages, especially messy ones, neglect to follow through on this marriage-saving admonition. For example –
- We have an argument with our spouse and we turn to our mom or dad for comfort or just to vent instead of working it out with our spouse.
- We struggle financially to make ends meet so we turn to our parents to pay our way out of our financial hole.
- We disagree with our spouse about how to raise our kids (or whatever) so we seek support and ammunition from our parents on the issue.
- We let our parents pressure us into spending more time with them than our spouse or our spouse’s family.
I’ll be honest. In the past my husband and I have done some of these to varying degrees on various occasions. But I would never recommend it. I don’t think it ever strengthened our marriage, even though it might have temporarily helped the situation (Of course, that might depend on which one of us you’re asking!).
Here’s my bottom line: Turning to mom and dad too often and too much can divide you and your spouse’s loyalties. And over time, it can lead to jealousy, guilt, irresponsibility, manipulation and/or resentment. And God wants us to avoid all of that by truly leaving and cleaving to our spouses. God’s design is always best!