I’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.
#8: You’ve Got to (C)leave
When the Bible talks about marriage, it says a man and woman will cleave their mothers and fathers and cleave to one another.
It’s one of those insanely illogical yet strangely efficient words (come to think of it, are there any other examples?) with two mutually exclusive definitions.
To split or sever, especially along a natural grain.
To stick fast to
This is the word scripture most often uses to describe what God wants us to do by being married. We’re supposed to sever ourselves from our family of origin and stick fast to the new family our marriage creates.
We’re meant to cleave and then cleave.
By a safe estimate I’ve done about 1500 hours of couples counseling in my ministry. And if my math is correct, I’ve spent about 106,000 hours in my own marriage. I can tell you on good authority that God knew what he was after with this whole cleaving business.
Example: The Christmas Tree Cleaving Story
I tell this to every couple getting married.
Growing up, Christmas was always a stressful, toes-on-eggshells time of the year. My Dad’s drinking and absence and my parents’ eventual divorce meant my Mom struggled knowing we weren’t having the sort of Christmas she thought other families gave their children. It stressed her out. Disappointed her. Frustrated her. Every year it would come to a head while we decorated the Christmas tree. Trimming the tree invariably ended with things being shouted, tears being shed and the treetop angel being thrown on the floor.
That’s an experience that proved hard to shake, like how a smell can conjure a certain memory.
When I first got married, just the errand of getting a Christmas tree stressed me out and decorating the tree with my wife- and later my kids- called up in me, for no rational reason, all those feelings from my childhood and teenage years and meant I acted like a prick to those I loved.
I couldn’t help it (I thought, wrongly).
And it sucked for my wife.
And, as she pointed out, it wasn’t fair.
This whole cleaving business meant I had to bury those ghosts, consider them wounds that could be licked no longer, and get on with the family I’d created just by saying ‘I do.’
I see couples struggle with this all the time. For some, they drag the baggage of resentments and abuse from their first family into the next where they play themselves out all over again. For others, the goodness of their first family becomes its own baggage, meaning they never really (c)leave to cleave.
Marriage is about creating new families, new traditions, new values and dreams.
And making all that newness your priority.
You’ve got to cleave, God says.
And then you’ve got to cleave.