Leave & Cleave (adapted from “The Art of Marriage” video series)
Most married couples have heard that we must “leave our fathers and mothers and cling to our spouse.” While it’s not easy, it is necessary. Psychologist Dan Allender says in the book, Intimate Allies, that “the failure to shift loyalty from parents to spouse is a central issue in almost all marital conflict.” Some of the ways we fail to leave our parents include:
- Relying on our parents for emotional support instead of turning to our spouse
- Remaining financially dependent upon our parents
- Speaking negatively about our spouse to our parents
- Turning to a parent to resolve an argument between us
For us, personally, this was a real challenge, especially in the early years of our marriage. Leaving my parents wasn’t the problem, but clinging to Paul - making him and our relationship a priority was. My bond with my parents was loving and strong. We shared a condo with them at the coast for our “family” vacation every summer. Over the years I sensed Paul’s resentment and frustration over this arrangement was building and that he wanted our own space as a family. I ignored him by pretending it wasn’t an issue. I judged it would hurt my parents if I uninvited them to go with us and I wanted to avoid that at all costs – even the cost of unity with Paul. It took a 3 month separation 12 years into our marriage for me to finally recognize that I had failed to leave and cleave. One of our biggest issues was me failing to put Paul’s wishes ahead of my desire to please my parents. We finally tackled the issue of changing our vacation plans and I made the decision to talk to my parents. I not only demonstrated to Paul that he comes first, but I gave my parents the chance to be supportive of our marriage.
When Stephanie finally spoke to her parents, I felt tremendous relief and appreciation. Regardless of how my in-laws responded, I saw Stephanie choose me over her parents and that was something new and wonderful. It became the foundation upon which we built greater trust, security, and reliance on one another. I was no longer an additional member of Stephanie’s existing family. We were finally becoming our own family.
We’ve shared with our adult children that when they get married they are forming a new family apart from us. We’ve given them the freedom to rely on their beloved first and that we are secondary support, not life support. We learned the hard way that leaving and cleaving is the difficult first step of having a joy filled marriage.