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Leave and cleave

To leave home....
To get married is so much more than playing house-house with your life partner. In Genesis 2:24 the Bible says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and live with his wife, and they will become one.” To leave and cleave.

“Last week I had to make a decision regarding a retirement annuity,” says Leanie (26 and a newlywed). She has a very strong bond with her parents. “Isak (my husband) tried to give me advice, but my father recommended the opposite. I know I’m a married woman now, but I could not follow my father’s advice. He was my advice giver for more than 25 years and has much more life experience than Isak.” Leanie’s scenario is a typical example of how difficult it can be for young couples to break the bonds when they begin wearing a ring on their 4th finger. People struggle with this concept. On the one side God says that you must leave your parents and on the other side He says you must honour them. How do you achieve both? And if you have had a very strong bond your whole life, how do you leave them emotionally and put your partner first (without hurting their feelings)?

Understand the meaning
Firstly, understand the true meaning of leave and cleave. The command is also repeated in Mark 10:6-8: That a man and woman must leave their parent’s house (leave) and then become one (cleave). To leave your parents home doesn’t mean that you have to clear out your bedroom and move to Simon’s town. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop phoning them and limit your conversations to small talk only. It does however mean you have to recognise their role in your life, as well as their loyalty and sacrifices through your childhood years, but also to end your dependence on them.

As soon as you have taken up your dependence with your man, you must make sure that you never again in critical situations develop a dependence on them again. The overwhelming idea that you must remember is that you two are now your own family, apart from the family where you grew up. You are a unit with your own ways of thinking and doing things. In his book Intimate Allies explains Dr Dan Allender that in his experience, altogether 90% of marriage conflict can be linked to couples being unable to leave their parents emotionally. Dr Bruce Wilkinson says that in his 25 years of counselling, he came to the conclusion that marriage problems have a direct link to couples not being able to live out Genesis 2:24.

From the parent’s side...
Sometimes a new couple can try as hard as they might, but the older couple doesn’t make it easy for them to break the bonds. They can even try an autocratic approach, something that will undermine a new marriage and can cause huge problems (especially when there’s tension between parents and children in law).

In a radio interview entitled “Becoming one: God’s blueprints for marriage” says Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. Dennis says: “Parents don’t always understand that the command in genesis is for them just as much as for the couple that’s getting married. Wise parents understand the pressure that young couples are under when they are trying to establish the identity of their marriage in the middle of two competing families.”

Bruce says that couples don’t just have to leave their parents, but sometimes also friends, distant family, a certain sport, hobby or activity, selfish habits or anything that can stand in the way of a couple cleaving. Before you write off your entire inner circle, wait! The people or things that Bruce is referring to are the things or people that you still place above your marriage. Your man must now be your top priority. According to him the process of leaving is not as sudden as what it feels, but a process that begins at birth and is complete when you get married.

How do you do it?
There are three ways that you should “leave” your parent’s home, explains Dennis. The first is emotional. Ask yourself: Have you left your parents emotional control over your life behind? Do you still look to them for emotional support, encouragement and approval? It’s natural to long for those things. It’s good to hear from your parents that they are proud of you. You may therefore long for it but you can no longer be dependent on it.

The second way is financial. When you have for instance made a bad investment the temptation is huge for a young couple to run to Daddy for assistance. But if you survive a rough financial time, it can mean much on your road together. It does not mean you refuse all financial help from your parents. It’s a privilege for your parents to assist you where they can, but you must take responsibility for your wrong decisions. Otherwise you will get yourself in a position where your parents want to control you, manipulate you and expect payback (emotionally). Parents who want to assist their children financially must make sure that it comes from an unselfish view point, without trying to influence or control them. It must bond the couple together and not cause conflict. How do you know your parents aim is sincere? Look at the past. If they in the past used it to control or manipulate you, don’t accept financial aid from them.

The third way a person leaves their parents is in the area of decision making. You can turn to your parents for help, like Leanie, but the final decision must lie with you as a couple.


  • Be careful about the things you share with your parents. What you share about your husband’s inconsiderateness can be used against him later.
  • Remember that your parents have a natural inclination to stay parents – even when you are 50 years old! Handle it firmly, but be sensitive.
  • Leave friends of the opposite sex with whom you have an emotional bond completely. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends but issues of the heart are not to be shared with them.
  • If your parents manipulate you emotionally, call in your man for help. Build natural boundaries in your lives, especially around holidays and Christmas.
  • If you are engaged, spend time with your parents and let them know (gently) that you are leaving them to create a new unit, but you will still remain their child.
  • Love your man long term. Think of your marriage as a boat that has to travel 3000 miles on the sea. If a problem arises you must handle it together. You can’t swim to the side or jump out of the boat.
  • Don’t live above your standards so that you land up in financial trouble. Learn to manage your finances.
  • Never choose your parents side in front of your spouse and stand against him. You create a feeling of disloyalty and it’s an obvious attempt that you’re failing to “leave and cleave”.
  • Work on your marriage by learning each other’s love languages. Know what romance and acts of service are.
  • Create your own traditions. Families often become very possessive over festive holidays and it places pressure on young couples. As a young married couple you are often pulled in different directions in the holidays. Create your own traditions and tell them firmly: “this is how it is done at our home.”
  • If your mother creates a problem, talk to her honestly and explain to her that your partner comes first and that she must respect it.
  • Don’t talk about your parents home by saying “I’m going to visit my home.” Your home is where your husband is.
  • Keep God in the centre of your marriage. Don’t let people, issues or friends influence God’s plan to make you one.

With the above in mind, you must not also stare blindly into your husband’s words. There have been cases where parents have seen warning signs in their children’s marriage. There are also cases where your partner (against all advice) makes the wrong decision. Listen, take your parents advice into consideration, but make the decision on your own and with your partner. “Leaving and cleaving” takes courage and sometimes drastic steps. You might have to protect your partner like a tiger. Just remember, like Bruce says: “You can’t begin to cleave until you have learnt to let go completely.”

Do this test to see if you have successfully left your parents home:
Answers on a scale from 1-7. Mark 1=Very false and 7=Very true. Here are the questions:
1.    We were successful with the leaving process when we got married.
2.    To leave family and close relationships was an easy process.
3.    Even though we have had times when we struggled in our marriage, we have not given in to the temptation to run back to our parents.
4.    Both of us are free from manipulation and control from our parents.
5.    Not one of us has tried to turn the other into one of our parents.
6.    We have settled into our own home away from our parents.
7.    We are not financially dependent for anything from our parents.
8.    We enjoy regular chats and visits with our parents, but our emotional health is not dependant on them.

48-56 = you have no problems and have left your parents home successfully.
8-17 = you have not yet left successfully and must be carefully talk to your parents to work out a plan. You don’t have to be harsh, but you will have to use initiative to let them know what is correct according to the Bible.