Leaving & Cleaving
Throughout Scripture, God often utilizes marriage as a metaphor to convey His love toward His chosen people (Isaiah 62:5b) and Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The relationship we have with Jesus provides essential principles that are helpful to consider as we seek to nurture and grow our marriage. One important principle for married couples to consider is the union God wants us to have with Him. Deuteronomy 13:4 “Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.”
God’s desire is for us to “cleave unto him.” In order for the process of cleaving to take place, there first must be a leaving of the things, which are not of Him. This means we leave other gods, whatever form they may take, and join to Him alone as our God. Next, we cleave to His authority, His Word, and seek to follow our Savior’s example. As we follow Him, we find instruction for those called to marriage to “leave” father and mother and “cleave” unto our spouse (Genesis 2:24). It is beneficial for couples to consider this process not only as it relates to parents, but also other aspects of life. Keep in mind that what works for some couples does not always work for others.
The Process of Leaving
The Hebrew meaning of the word “leave” in Genesis 2:24 is to “leave behind,” “depart from,” or “let loose.” In other words, letting loose is the releasing of something that once was tied. Consider a horse tied to a post or fence; to release it would be to untie the rope holding the horse and let it go without expecting to tie it up again. This is the process God calls couples into when they commit to marriage.
The family you grew up in is your family of origin. Many perceptions are shaped by your family of origin including how you see God, yourself, and others. In addition, your unique family structure, daily routines, and early childhood experiences form your relating patterns and beliefs about how life and relationships work. These developmental years mold our answers to crucial questions such as: Am I loved for who I am or for what I do? Is God present or distant? Can I make a mistake and still experience being valued? The answers to such questions influence your temperament and insecurities as well as how you experience love, approach life, and view relationships.
God designed marriage in part to confront and address early messages, beliefs and patterns of relating which we then carry to adult life. God calls us to leave our family of origin regardless of whether it was fantastic, okay, or horrible. This does not mean turning your back on your parents or blaming them for all your struggles. Rather, leaving is about respectfully transferring loyalties by becoming aware of and naming your family’s influence on you, challenging these influences where needed, and, with God’s help, shaping something new.
Leaving father and mother involves a complex process of both maintaining ties and responsibilities toward the previous generation, while shifting loyalties to a primary covenantal marriage relationship. This can bring up difficult feelings of loss and requires a redefinition in aspects of family roles, membership, and boundaries. Who comes first, parent or spouse? The “leaving” process also extends beyond parents. Each spouse has a primary loyalty commitment to the other that cannot be divided by children, parents, grandparents, employers, friends or other influences outside the marriage relationship. Jesus taught us nothing is to come between husband and wife (Matthew 19:6). It is important to be sensitive to your spouse’s feelings when talking about the past and past relationships.
A number of things can inhibit the leaving process. Consider the following:
- Unresolved issues or conflict from family of origin or the past.
- Excessively looking for approval, encouragement, and support from parents, instead of spouse.
- Intrusive parents not respecting a newly married couple’s boundaries.
- Relying too heavily on parents for decision-making thus leaving the other spouse feeling insignificant.
- Revealing details of marital conflict with parents thus leaving the other spouse feeling betrayed.
- One or both individuals in a couple maintaining a mindset of singleness or allegiance to their friends over their marriage union.
A healthy leaving process requires changes in both the parents and the child leaving the family. Genesis 2:24 is as much a command to parents as it is to the couple getting married. It is wise for parents to understand the dynamics a young couple experiences as they try to forge the identity of a new marriage in the midst of two competing families. It is also helpful to remember the responsibility is on the husband and wife to make the break from home, not on the parents to force out their children.
The Process of Cleaving
Appropriate leaving means you are more concerned about your spouse’s ideas, opinions and directives than you are your parents, friends, or other extended family. This type of leaving facilitates appropriate cleaving to one another. The Hebrew meaning of the word “cleave” is “to cling” or “keep close.” The modern Hebrew use gives the sense of “to stick to, adhere to.” Consider the image of gluing two objects together or getting super glue stuck to your fingers. It is impossible to pull the objects or fingers apart without some kind of damage. The “glue” brings the objects or fingers together as one, and so it is in the marriage relationship.
The cleaving process creates a deep connection that does not allow children to come between parents and play one parent against another, nor friends to disturb the marriage union. In addition, the newly formed couple will seek to solve problems on their own, allowing their parents to be parents and not gatekeepers. This does not mean they do not seek advice or input from parents, but in the end, they realize the decision is between the couple.
There are a number of things to consider as you seek to facilitate the cleaving process:
- Consider how to limit the involvement of and set boundaries with individuals outside the marriage relationship (parents, extended family, friends, or co-workers).
- Seek to keep personal issues between you and your spouse.
- Learn to say no to excessive demands outside of the marriage relationship.
- Develop your own social circle and calendar of events.
- Seek ways to grow spiritually together (prayer, Bible reading, and worship).
- Respect your spouse’s wishes over your parent’s wishes.
- Seek to function as a financially independent unit from your parents.
- Develop and establish traditions for your new family.
- Appropriately grieve the loss of traditions, habits, or gatherings that your family of origin may continue without you and focus on what you are gaining in your new family unit.
Genesis 2:24 calls husband and wife to “cleave” to one another in affection and loyalty. As a couple leaves their family of origin, they cleave to one another and form a new, unique marriage and family unit, not just an extension of either family. This new couple creation “cleaves” to one another by sharing life experiences, feelings, thoughts, ideas, spiritual beliefs, and their bodies together. The sharing of such intimate details in the marriage union weaves a couple together in a deep and meaningful way (“threefold cord”) so that the couple becomes one. This provides an environment where physical and emotional safety can flourish, love and commitment can grow, friendship can be nurtured, and a couple can create a legacy of blessing for future generations.
Scripture provides the blueprint for a marriage relationship that involves the process of leaving, cleaving, and weaving together to become one. Other expectations a husband and wife may bring to the marriage relationship lead to tension and fail to cultivate oneness in marriage as God designed. It can be helpful for couples to reflect on areas where they may be following this blueprint and areas where they may need to make adjustments to nurture and grow their relationship in Him.
It is helpful to remember that forming a new marriage relationship will inherently create a tension between balancing desires of your spouse and your parents. This is a tension to manage appropriately and not a problem which can necessarily be solved. It is a process to continue to work through and not a one-time event. The leave, cleave, and weave pattern for marriage outlined in Genesis 2:24 is a process that continues through the course of our marriage and life. Thus, it may be helpful to ask frequently the question, “to whom or what am I most loyal today, this month, past year?” As couples richly grow together, they will be a blessing to parents, children, the church and the surrounding community as they intentionally live out the biblical principle of Leaving and Cleaving.
The process of leaving and cleaving is often filled with mixed emotions. In addition, while there are helpful principles to consider in this transition, the process is unique to each individual and family. The following information and questions are designed to help facilitate conversation between the child and parents that provide clarity and realistic expectations in this process.
Note to family member leaving:
- We are called to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12). Consider the care and countless sacrifices your parents made throughout your life and share your appreciation with them. Consider ways you can maintain your respect toward your parents yet form a new family that will be different.
- For some parents, it is really difficult to let go. Be considerate toward the loss that comes with a change in relationship roles while also establishing appropriate boundaries.
Note for parents:
Psalm 127:3-5 “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”
In this Psalm, children are compared to “arrows in the hand of a mighty man.” Arrows are designed and built to be released toward a specific target, not to stay in the quiver. Throughout life to this point, you have been “carrying” your child in the quiver. You have poured into them, sharing the truth and grace of Jesus. Now it is time to “let go” of the arrow in the direction of the target (Jesus). John Baptist said of the Lord, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). In a similar way, letting them go is allowing the responsibility toward Jesus in their lives to increase and the responsibility toward you as a parent to decrease. This does not always come easy and it is a process to grow in over time. There are certain things that you can help with in this process:
- Remember it is okay to share advice and wisdom, but it is also important to leave the outcome with your adult child.
- As your child comes to you for advice or wisdom, consider asking them if they have talked this through with their spouse. This can be particularly helpful early on in their marriage.
- Recognize it is healthy for your married child to respect the wishes of their spouse over your own. This will likely mean grieving the loss of your child’s presence for some family gatherings that were possible prior to their marriage. Seek to not personalize such a decision made by your child.
Below are a number of questions designed to lead the parent/s and child to healthy discussions surrounding the process of leaving and cleaving. Parents are encouraged to take some times to review and think through the questions. This can be followed by a meeting between the parents and the child, without the fiancé present. The purpose of such a discussion is to identify clear and realistic expectations for the transition in relationship roles.
- Do you have any reservations about the character of your own son/ daughter getting married?
- Do you have any reservations about the character of your son/daughter’s fiancé?
- How will you respond if your son/ daughter calls you for help resolving conflict in their marriage?
- What are your expectations of how often you will see your son/daughter once they are married?
- What are your expectations of how often you will talk to your son/daughter once they are married?
- What are your expectations about the relationship you want to have with your new son or daughter-in-law?
- How do you feel about your son/daughter, once they are married, moving away from you? (More than driving distance)
- What role do you believe you should play as a grandparent?
- What are your expectations for holiday gatherings?
- What will you do if you disagree with how your own children are parenting your grandchildren?
- How did you resolve in-law differences of opinion?
- What advice would you give your child for the best use of their time of engagement?
Newly engaged couples need opportunity to get to know one another and cultivate healthy intimacy and affection for each other. At the same time, there needs to be clear physical boundaries around inappropriate touching. This creates a tension to manage during your child’s engagement. Mark an X where you are at on continuum below and talk this over with your child.
No Touching Allowed Appropriate touching No Boundaries for touching
*Many of the above questions were adapted from Conversation Starters for Engaged Couples, Cunningham and Straub.
For Further Information:
The Laws of In-Laws
This article provides useful information related to resolving conflict with in-laws. [Thriving Family]
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life
Authors: Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
This 304-page book is about developing emotional and relational boundaries. It focuses on helping you take responsibility for your own actions and not let others run over your boundaries by using guilt, anger, or manipulation.