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'Leaving' and cleaving is not easy

by Jacob Ninan

This is not about leaving as in divorce. This 'leaving' I am going to talk about is a part of the foundational requirements for a successful marriage. Without this leaving, many problems could come about in marriage, because one of the foundational stones has not been placed there properly. I am going to talk about leaving behind the family of origin when you start a new family of your own through marriage.

family cycle

Look at the picture above. We all have come from our parents' family, which we can refer to as our family of origin. After we were born in that family, we leave that family at a certain time, get married, and start what we should from now onwards call 'our family.' Then when we have our children, 'our family' consists of us, our spouse and our children. A time comes later when our children leave this family and start families of their own. This is a family cycle that goes on and on. If we don't acknowledge this cycle, find our position in the cycle at different times, and make necessary adjustments, we are going to have some problems!

After we get married, if we still cling on to our family of origin and are not willing to let go, it will not be easy for us to cling on to our spouse as strongly as we should! If our parents cling on to us and will not 'release' us to our spouse, then also there will be problems. Finally, when our children form their families and we will not allow them to 'leave' us and cling on to their spouses, then we will be the ones creating problems!

What does this 'leaving' mean? Certainly it does not mean that we make sharp cuts in our relationships such that we have nothing more to do with the other family. We do not want to cut off relationships. Rather, what we need to do is to essentially shift our loyalty. For example, when we 'leave' our family of origin we move the priority of relationship from our parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc., to our spouse and also to our children. Then we can cling to our spouse with full commitment and loyalty. If ever there comes a clash of interests, we will stand with our spouse and children rather than with our family of origin. To continue along in the same direction, when our children get married we will encourage them to move their priorities to their spouses rather than cling to us.

Why is this leaving necessary? One primary purpose in marriage is companionship, and that too of a most intimate nature, so much so that a married couple can become 'one' unit rather than two different individuals. And this cannot work out if we have divided loyalties. There will come different occasions where there will be clash of loyalties with heartaches and sometimes serious consequences.

This is the reason why God, who started the whole concept of marriage, gave instructions at the very beginning about this. God said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen.2:24). We should understand that 'man' is used in a generic sense to refer to human beings as such, because a woman also has to leave her parents and cling to her husband (which can be sometimes more difficult!).

'Leaving' involves essentially this shift of loyalty. When we leave our family of origin it does not mean that we no longer care for our parents, visit them, or take care of them as they get older. We still need to honour our parents, which is one of the major commandments of God (Eph.6:2). They are the ones who brought us into this world, and brought us up with great sacrifices. To neglect them or to despise them will show an utter lack of humility, thankfulness and love. At the same time we should remember that when we get married we have stronger responsibilities towards our spouse and children than to our parents. We are no longer required to obey our parents, because it is only 'children' who are required to do that (Eph.6:1). Now we can listen respectfully to the advice and suggestions of our parents and then take our own decisions, because now we are responsible for our own family.

Problems come up in different forms. Our parents may not be aware of the need to let go of us, and may still try to 'control' us as if we were 'children.' One or both of us may fear to upset our aged parents and choose rather to upset our spouse instead! Even after we have faced this kind of problems with our spouse and parents, when our children set up their own families we still try to 'protect' them from mistakes and then 'impose' our views on our children and disrupt their family life!

Certainly keeping a physical distance from our parents and living separately with our spouse can be helpful in establishing the new equations. Even with that the marvels of modern communication can still keep remote controls going! At the same time if it becomes necessary to keep the parents with us due to several reasons from the beginning or later, the need for 'leaving' them in our mind and 'clinging' to our spouse must be kept in our mind and worked on.

Even with the best of intentions, understanding and parents, this leaving can cause transition pains, and it can also take some time to settle down. It is important to realise that it is better to go through this pain in the beginning itself and overcome it than to put off this pain and end up in more pain, greater complications and long term consequences.

When God tells us to go through the pain of leaving, it is because He wants us to enjoy the delectable fruit of cleaving with our spouse.

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