The Leave and Cleave Relationship

Every society has at least one. North America has them, more the exception than the rule; but Southeast Asia has its full. What am I talking about? Men who cleave to their mothers.

Is the man in your life tied to his mother’s apron strings? Is he Mama’s little boy? Are you in a joint family dominated by your mother-in-law? Does your husband listen to his mother rather than you? Or maybe even worse, are you subject to the torrential onslaught of an abusive mother-in-law who pours verbal, emotional and/or physical blows upon you?

Many societies have turned God’s blueprint for a happy marriage upside down, Daughter-in-laws are the last in the totem pole somewhere down the line of Mother-in-law, Father-in-law, son, sisters-in-laws, and children and then the lowly bride (aka daughter-in-law). In fact the boy’s father may well be blocked out as well as the strongest bond in this kind of family is the mother-son relationship. This hierarchy is man’s idea and was never God’s design. When His design is twisted, then trouble and heartache are guaranteed.

God’s blueprint is very different. He was the one that put Adam and Eve together. Not only was he the Creator but he was also the One who married them. You could say that he performed the very first marriage ceremony in history. What words of wisdom did he pronounce over our ancestral mother? Well God didn’t really give any words but He did sanction the idea that “a man should leave his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” How far wrong have we come?

The God-given hierarchy in relationships is God first, spouse second, children third and then parents and in-laws fourth or so down the line. But when the parent-child relationship remains the primary relationship, problems arise. The couple cannot unite as one, there is no oneness between husband and wife. The marriage breaks down and the new family suffers, in fact all suffer for neither is there harmony between husband and wife nor is there ’t harmony between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which means the son and mother relationship is also strained. We have one very unhappy household.

Cleave includes the idea to pursue hard after someone and to be glued or stuck to that person. So courtship doesn’t end with the marriage vows, it is to continue throughout the marriage. The husband and wife are to stick to each other as glue. This indicates a closeness that doesn’t include a parent in between; otherwise the glue doesn’t stick and the marriage falls apart, if not physically at least emotionally.

Leaving parents and cleaving to our spouse doesn’t mean that we don’t honour our parents. We don’t ignore them or continue to value all the things they have done for us. It doesn’t mean letting them suffer or not taking care of them if need be. And it does pose challenges if we live in a patriarchal society where the joint family exists and the son brings his new bride into his parents’ home.

Sometimes the mother-daughter relationship is the primary one, but in most cases, at least in Asian societies, it is the son-mother relationship that needs to take second place to building a relationship with the wife. How is this to be done? Ideally, son’s need to follow God’s principle of leaving and cleaving. But what do you do if the ideal doesn’t happen?

If you live in a society where there is no support system, no safe houses for abused women, then practically there is no way to distance yourself from the situation. For myself, living under abuse, my escape was to God. It was in Him that I found strength for each day, comfort from the heartache and hope for a better tomorrow. Sometimes all God gave me was a sighting of a beautiful bluebird or the warm rays of sunshine. But in God who loves us unconditionally and sees every teardrop we drop, I found my comfort and solace.


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