Unhealthy Alliances – To Leave or Not to Leave?

(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!

10 responses to “Unhealthy Alliances – To Leave or Not to Leave?”

  1. Wow, Beth! This is soooo well written! I can speak from personal experience of the destruction caused by failure to both leave and cleave. Thankfully, that is NOT a problem with Bryan and I. I hope this post reaches the hearts of those who need it! 🙂 LY!


  2. Coming from a broken family into a seemingly “normal” one, I wold say I probably pushed my husband to stay more connected to his parents than he likely wanted- trying to attempt to compensate for what I felt I didn’t have. I am very interested in your take on the In Law perspective. Now my daughter is in high school, I realize her adult life is not all that far away. I can accept surrendering her to The Lord, but not to some other man. (I DON’T WANNA BE CLEAVER’D OUT!) And what would be good practice for a parent to re-direct their child to their own spouse if you noticed that pattern?


  3. Hahaha! Kimberly, you crack me up – “cleaver’d out!” I love it! And thanks for the idea about a follow-up to your question with a future article. I’ll get right on that!


  4. Stacey, you are sweet to be so affirming! And I think you are not alone in struggling with this one. It’s sort of that right of passage we all go through when we get married. Some, like you and Bry, figure it out and some go on to turn their messy marriage into a messy divorce! Yikes!


  5. Beth,You don’t know how I needed this. Not from the standpoint of my own marriage (not today anyway, ha), but from the vantage point of a parent of a newly married daughter! She is learning to cleave to her husband, which is exactly what I want her to do!, but that represents another pulling away of her from us. I know it’s right, even though it’s a little painful on this end. So thanks for your words here. God knew just what I needed!


  6. yes. i agree, and i applaud you for taking on this controversial topic, for in doing so you’re walking in freedom. and it’s beautiful.


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  8. Well said!I didn’t realize what a Mama’s Boy my husband was until we were living under the same roof! In many ways, I feel like he never totally left (she didn’t want that), which made her very sudden death a few years ago so devastating to him.And, it’s always been an issue with me. I didn’t have that closeness with a parent, so I was looking to my marriage to fill that void. Only, it turns out he was so into “cleaving”.


  9. You give testimony to how disruptive this issue can be in a marriage, Big D. And even though your husband’s mother has died, he probably still needs to emotionally let go of her if his relationship was as enmeshed with her as you seem to indicate. That’s something a good counselor could help him do. But he would have to be the one who wants to do it or it will only cause him to dig his heels in further. My prayers are with you!


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