God designed beautiful and distinct roles for husband and wife and then he asks that we receive our spouse as a gift from His hands. The next step in pursuing a marriage by God's design, He asks us to leave our family of origin. Let's unpack this concept of leaving.
3. Commanded to Leave
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Because we receive our spouse as a gift from the Lord, we must leave our families of origin, so we can establish dependency on and allegiance to our spouses. Leaving is done as an obedience to God’s command and design, not as an affront to the parents. Boundaries established in leaving help create the best environment for a godly, healthy marriage to form, launch each person into their roles, and above all else, protect their oneness.
Parents can cause some of the largest wedges between husband and wife, negatively impacting the formation and maintenance of a healthy marriage. Because parents have longstanding ties to their children, it can create a bias in their approach, forever siding with their “little girl” or “baby boy.” Also, parents may have strong opinions and even attach their approval to those opinions, making it difficult to receive their input as suggestions rather than ultimatums.
Here are some questions to ask before approaching parents for input:
- Are both husband and wife in agreement of when and how to approach them? We recommend that couples do this together, both to show a united front and to lessen the chance that parents may cause a wedge.
- What is our motivation for seeking out our parents? Are you seeking their wisdom or validation? As children, we will have a bent toward wanting to please our parents; however, as an adult, we might need to make decisions that could cause them confusion or hurt.
- Will seeking our parents’ input put our unity at risk? If you and your spouse are at odds, you may not want mom and dad casting the tie breaker vote. Typically couples may want to seek their parents’ input for one element of the overall decision.
Leaving can also be a concern outside of family ties. Giving loyalty to someone else, such as a close friend, above loyalty to your spouse will negatively impact the development of allegiance and dependence in your marriage. Oneness in marriage may also be affected by one’s own independence. Many couples who get married later in life struggle to leave their self-sufficient and independent lifestyle. This can also cause harm in developing the marital bond.
Why does the Bible only command the man to leave?
In ancient Hebrew culture, the man remained in his family of origin, bringing his wife into the fold of his family. The groom would build an addition onto the family home for his bride. In this sense, the wife had no other choice but to leave her family. With no technology in those days, her ties to her family would be severed in every sense of the word. However, God desired the best environment for establishing the union between husband and wife. For this reason, God commanded the man to leave his family. In this way, we see that leaving isn’t just a proximity issue; it is much deeper than that. A man needed to intentionally leave and make choices to put his wife first, even more so because he was living with his family. In our culture today, leaving needs to happen on both sides of the equation. God’s heart behind the command is to establish an unbreakable union between the husband and the wife.
Areas of Concern Connected to Leaving:
- Financial - Couples need to learn how to live within their means. Borrowing money changes a relationship and invites expectations. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is a slave to the lender.” Couples need to be careful not to accept gifts with strings attached or gifts that will indebt them to their parents or others. For someone leaving independence, this may look like combining finances.
- Decisions - Be careful to seek your parents’ input for a piece of the overall picture, not to make a decision or to break a tie. Seek wisdom, not approval, and make sure your parents have the appropriate expectations of what you may or may not do with their input.
- Emotional Support - Mom and/or dad can’t be the trusted guide through the emotional terrain of life and marriage. This doesn’t mean a couple or individual never talks to their parents, but they need to be wise when and how the parents are invited in. The struggle to cut emotional ties is typically harder for females. It is healthy for both husband and wife to have “safe” people other than parents with whom an individual can process. These “safe” people need to be acceptable to the other spouse. Safe people point back to Christ, advocate for unity, and encourage each partner to take responsibility for their part. Since our human tendency is to find people to side with us in a disagreement, husband and wife should agree to always speak in an honoring way to others and to communicate in a way that conveys a fight for the marriage, not against each other.
- Other subtleties of leaving come up throughout marriage. These typically surface when a husband or wife exclaims, “But that’s how we did it in my family.” This may be humorous but can also lead to some big arguments. Here are just a few examples that have come up in other marriages:
- At what temperature do you set the thermostat in your home?
- What is your idea of a vacation? Do you like to fly or drive? Partake in a lot of activities or rest?
- How do you handle meals, holidays, or birthdays?
- There is another covert aspect of leaving that comes up when husband or wife says, “I will never do ‘that’ like my parents.” In this regard, it seems like they are leaving, but in essence, they are still allowing their parents or family of origin to have power over their decisions. A couple needs to seek where God wants them and how He wants them to act, not just be the antithesis of their parents.
How leaving may tangibly look:
- Standing up for your spouse and not allowing your parents to speak negatively about your spouse.
- Showing respect for your spouse’s family and friends, even if you don’t “like” them.
- Not speaking negatively to or about your spouse in the presence of others. This can destroy oneness and tempt a spouse to develop allegiance with someone else.
- Praising your spouse in the presence of your parents.
- Not taking arguments to your parents.
- Consulting your spouse before seeking advice from parents.
- Including your spouse in conversations with your parents and your family.
What about “Honor your Father and Mother”?
In Exodus 20:12, God says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Many take this command to mean if one’s parents are hurt or disagree with a couple’s decisions, the couple is not honoring them. However, who gets to decide what is honoring or not? What’s of greatest value－agreeing with your parents or establishing a unified marriage? Most of these situations aren’t black and white, and typically they have a lot of emotions tied to them.
Honoring or dishonoring doesn’t have to do with agreeing. It is more about the heart. Here are some recommendations on ways to honor your parents, even if you disagree with them:
- Openly communicate your expectations to your parents.
- Show love, respect, and admiration for the role they have played as your parents.
- Treat them with kindness and a respectful attitude.
- Don’t complain or use negative language about your spouse’s parents.
- Assume the best if you have to assume at all.
- Ask for their advice and honor their wisdom (which doesn’t mean always agreeing).
- Take care of them as they age.
Isn’t leaving just a premarital issue?
No. Leaving done poorly early in marriage can result in shockwaves throughout all stages of marriage. For example, it can be found in middle-aged marriages arguing over a husband’s deeper desire to please his mom and live with a disappointed wife. The issue reappears if it wasn’t initially dealt with properly, often creating resentment and conflict in the marriage relationship and with parents.
We will cover the subject of releasing your adult children in another blog post later. This can be another complicated process as a parent's role changes.
- How would you describe in your own words the concept and importance of leaving in marriage?
- Who are your "safe" people other than your parents that you both approve of?
- How have you seen this topic surface in your relationship?
- In the area of leaving, do you have any concerns that need to be addressed? If so, what are they, and how will you deal with them?