And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:23-24
My husband and I mentor young engaged and newly married couples at our church. We witness, daily, the joys and struggles many of these couples go through. Merging two families can be difficult on everyone, and often we look at the partner we have chosen to marry and think, “Their parents MUST be aliens!” Learning to work within a new family system takes time and adjustments on everyone’s part, but it begins at the altar when we step into a covenant with God as we seek to follow the example He has given us beginning with the creation of man.
What does to “leave and cleave” mean, and how do we put this into practice? From the beginning let me state that leaving and cleaving occurs for both the husband AND the wife. I’m speaking just to the women here, for a moment. My husband and I often run into new brides that interpret this verse incorrectly. They believe their husband is supposed to follow this example, but that they can continue “as is” with respect to their familial relationships. This is not correct. Leaving and cleaving is to take place with both the husband and the wife if they are going to develop a successful covenant union with each other.
Let’s first look at what it means to “leave.”
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.” In this example, the word leaving means to depart.
“If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying (helpless) under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release (it) with him.” Exodus 23:5. In this verse the word leave means to release the burden.
“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’” Luke 10:40. Here we see that the word left is equivalent to the word forsake. The word forsake means to abandon or desert. Most couples will include in their vows that they will “…forsake all others.” What the literal translation of this means is they will abandon and desert all others.
In order to leave, release the burden and forsake we must learn to become responsible in certain areas of our lives which means becoming independent from our parents. As a dear friend and professional counselor, once stated, “Leaving your father and mother means taking responsibility for your own independence: physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually.” -Melinda Havard
We never completely achieve independence from our parents if they still control certain aspects of our lives. To truly mature, we must leave and cleave, otherwise, we remain in a childlike state, and this is unhealthy for our marriage. In our society, we do not allow children to marry, and there is a reason for this. It is important to move out of the childlike world we once lived in and step forward, with our spouse, into our new adult world.
What steps do you need to take to practice leaving your parents? Maybe you call them every time you have a problem instead of first going to your spouse. Maybe they are helping you financially by continuing to pay some of your monthly bills. Let me be clear. Receiving a monetary gift from your family is perfectly fine, and I have seen everything from $20 given to the opposite extreme where the down payment on a house is received (WOW!). A gift is different than relying on your parents for monthly financial support.* If this is the case, it is time to cut the apron strings! Remember, he who controls the money controls the relationship! (*Life can bring about extenuating circumstances, like an illness or job loss. Or, even closer to our reality, now, a worldwide epidemic! Please know, when I am speaking of being self-sufficient, I am speaking to the fact that this is your goal. It may not be your reality right this second, but it should be the number one thing you are working toward achieving. As families, we should be there to support each other. Maybe you are starting your own business, and you and extended family have come to an agreement as to how you can support each other during this time. This is fine. When my husband and I moved back to Houston, we lived with my mother for two months until we could find a home. This was an enjoyable time for all of us, but my husband and I aggressively looked for our own place and moved out as soon as we could. Being self-sufficient is important for the health of all relationships involved. You want to be able to stand on your own two feet and achieve complete independence. If there are no unusual situations, then we need to leave and cleave.)
What steps do you need to take to loosen the burden on your parents? This was the second meaning of the word leave. It means to loosen the burden. As children, we often forget the fact that we can be a burden to our parents, and this is not meant as a negative. It is a burden our parents lovingly embrace, but we are a heavy load, nonetheless. By the time a parent has raised a child to adulthood, paid for all their medical expenses, the endless sports lessons, put them through college and/or helped them get started on their road to independence, this can be exhausting. When we become adults, it is time for us to loosen the burden from our parents and begin carrying our own load. This also brings about a sense of pride in ourselves. It is the ability to say, “I can do this,” that will not fully be achieved until you can stand on your own two feet.
Now is the time to release Mom and Dad from financial burdens, but it is also the time to release them from emotional and physical burdens. Continuing to ask your parents to run errands for you or make your doctor’s appointments, these might be physical burdens. Emotional burdens, though, can come in the form of sharing all your problems with your parents or the arguments you and your spouse might be having.
I want to be clear. Relieving your parents from the emotional burden of raising you does NOT mean you cut off communications! You WANT to have a close relationship with your family. They can be great mentors in your lives and will be grandparents to your future children, should God bless you in this way. Your relationship needs to shift, though, from a parent/child relationship to one of friendship. If you were to stop communicating with your parents about things going on in your life, this would INCREASE their burden, because they love you and will worry about you. The key is to find a healthy balance in what you share (to keep them in the loop) and what you do not (things just between you and your spouse).
My mother gave me some wise advice when I married. She said, “Lisa Lou, I do not want to hear about the arguments you have with your husband. You will forgive him…I might not.” My mom is a wonderful Christian woman who absolutely has a forgiving heart. Her point was very wise, though. When we argue with our spouse and then share OUR SIDE of the argument with a parent (or friend) we are doing our partner a disservice, and we are being very unfair. Even if we think we are being unbiased in how we present the argument, the parent you are sharing the information with is only hearing one side. The other spouse is robbed of the opportunity to either defend themselves, or to show a very different side of the story. A judge would never be asked to decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant based solely on the prosecution getting to tell “both sides of the story.” How ludicrous, and unfair, would that be!?!
A second point is that parents do not have the benefit of seeing the communication used between husband and wife to resolve their conflict and reach a place of forgiveness. So, the parent is left only hearing the bad part of the argument you had with your spouse. They never get to see how your marriage has healed and grown as a result of the conflict. That is unfair to do to your parents, and it is potentially a violation of your spouse’s trust.
A practical way to filter what you should share with a parent or friend, and what you should not, is to ask yourself, “If this conversation I am sharing about my husband/wife were being videotaped, and the videotape was then replayed for my spouse to watch, would I be proud of what I am saying? Or, would I be potentially violating his/her confidence in me?” It’s amazing how this one little technique will help you know what you should, or should not, share with others. Dave Ramsey is a well-known speaker and author in the financial world, and he often says there is more than just sexual infidelity. In fact, the word infidelity means: “The act of being unfaithful to a spouse.” Besides sexual infidelity, there can be financial infidelity (which is what Ramsey is usually referring to where you spend money behind your spouse’s back when the two of you had agreed not to do this) and there can be trust infidelity. Sharing things with others that our spouse would not want us to share is a form of infidelity.
The last meaning of the word leave is forsake. We leave and forsake by stating our loyalty to our spouse. Once you are married, you have begun a covenant relationship between you, your spouse and God. It’s a 3-way covenant, and no one else is included. You leave, then you cleave, and a covenant is formed.
In Leave and Cleave Part 2 we will learn what it really means to “cleave.” Until then…
Together with you,
*This blog was summarized, with a few additions/subtractions, from a lesson taught by Melinda Havard, Director of Counseling at SBC in Houston. Melinda has an MS in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and is a Texas Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor. Much of her content came from Bruce Wilkinson of Walk Thru the Bible Ministry.