“A couple should live at least a hundred miles away from both sets of parents for at least the first year of marriage.” That’s what an older couple told us as we rode to church in the back seat of their car. We thought we were doing pretty well by that standard: it wasn’t quite our first year of marriage, but we were 3,000 miles away from all four parents.
Leaving home in order to join together and form a new, separate identity as husband and wife is woven into the creation ordinance. Genesis 2:24 tells us that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife…” The New Testament repeats this mandate (Matt. 19:5). Getting married necessitates getting out of your parents’ home (in all but very rare circumstances) and creating a new, independent household. At least, it does according to biblical standards.
Moving out of town certainly facilitates leaving and cleaving, but it doesn’t guarantee it, just as staying in town doesn’t prevent it. So why is leaving and cleaving crucial? When a couple marries, they thankfully and respectfully leave their own families to form a new nuclear family. Leaving and cleaving is actually a command. Without leaving and cleaving, the formation of a new family is stunted; it cannot be as strong and fruitful as it should because it is still depending on others for things that it should be producing itself. Like the college student who comes home to hang out in the basement playing video games, there is something not right—not developmentally normal or productive—about it.
This does not mean that a married couple lives in isolation: that’s not healthy, either! It means that they become a different family, taking good and useful aspects of two family cultures and creating something new, no longer simply accountable as children to parents, but primarily accountable to the local church as a Christian household. Leaving and cleaving does not negate honouring father and mother: it produces a mature honouring that uses parental training and teaching to contribute to church and society.
So what are some practical ways to leave and cleave? Here are some ideas that facilitate leaving and cleaving.
Have your own social circle/calendar. If, as a couple, you depend on a set of parents for social contacts or events, that’s not healthy. You need to have your own friends. The local church is the best place to start, even if you attend the same congregation as your parents. Find couples and singles of various ages that you don’t know well and get to know them. Reach out, create friendships in your church and neighborhood, and your calendar will reflect a healthy social independence that blesses others as you work on hosting together.
Solve everyday problems together. Calling dad and mum to fix your lawnmower, a parenting conflict, botched dinner plan, or anything that poses a challenge, generally means that you are not willing to do the work of being an adult and acquire life skills. If your parents facilitate such dependence, they are not interested in helping you overcome this. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help; it does mean that the help should not always have to come from mum and dad, and that practical skills will increase so that you need less day-to-day aid. Bigger or more serious issues (like a wayward child, illness, or a porn addiction) do require help and advice, but that can come from the local church as well as godly parents. Solving your own minor problems demonstrates a good work ethic and willingness to learn so that you are not a burden to others.
Pay your own way. Sometimes, in certain situations, a couple will need financial assistance. But that needs to be temporary or exceptional. The expectation should be that the new couple will function as an independent financial unit. Depending on one or two sets of parents for money in order to live means that you are not, in normal circumstances, able to function as adults. It also means that you are not blessing others who are truly in need (Eph. 4:28). In normal circumstances, a financially self-sufficient family is a blessing to parents and the church, as it provides for itself and can offer aid to others.
Have your own spiritual life. Read the Bible together. Pray together. Go to church together. If you think it best, find your own congregation that isn’t your parents’. This is vital if your leaving and cleaving is to be a biblical, healthy one. History is full of couples who were totally on the same page, but it was the wrong page. Ananias and Sapphira are just one example in Acts 5. But if you are growing closer together under the Word and in honest fellowship with mature believers, not depending on parents to carry the spiritual load, it will be a cleaving that honours the Lord and brings blessing on your marriage.
Actively leaving and cleaving leads not only to the feeling but also to the reality of a strong, new family. Doing these (and other) things together creates a bond between husband and wife, creating a stronger and fruitful nuclear family. You cannot host friends, solve conflicts, pay bills, and pray for each other without growing closer together, even if you need to work through issues on the way. Failure to leave and cleave inevitably weakens a marriage over the long term. Obedience brings blessing. God gives grace and means to strengthen marriages so that they can, in some mysterious way, picture the closeness that Christ has with the church. After all, that’s the goal, isn’t it?