“Therefore a man shall LEAVE his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Gen. 2:24

In Genesis and again in Matthew, Mark, and Ephesians, the Bible tells us that we are to leave our family of origin in marriage and to become one flesh. This instruction is part of traditional marriage ceremonies across denominations. As a counselor, I am once again struck by the fact that in His word, God has repeatedly given us directions about how to build meaningful life-giving relationships with one another. While the direction to “hold fast” or “cleave” to the spouse seems to fit with our idea of marriage, telling the man to “leave his father and mother” seems to make much less sense! Isn’t family supposed to be important? And yet, God repeatedly tells us that we should LEAVE – and this direction ALWAYS precedes the direction to CLEAVE.


It seems that we have a large number of clients who come to counseling with “leaving” problems. These “leaving” problems have to do with those patterns of relating that each spouse has experienced in their family of origin. As children, we develop behaviors that help us to get along – sometimes even to survive – in our families. These behaviors have been purposeful and may even be seen as individual strengths. As we grow up, sometimes the behaviors we held onto for safety or success in childhood don’t work so well for us as adults. Old family Communication patterns, ways of dealing with anger, methods for handling money, beliefs about ourselves, and even sexual messages are all wrapped up in each bride and groom as they come to a new marriage. Recognizing which of these “gifts” are worth bringing into the marriage and which would not work well in combination with the patterns brought by the new spouse is a major part of “leaving.”

What does God mean in telling us to LEAVE our father and mother? I believe that God is asking us to be purposeful about separating from our families of origin. In marriage, he is doing a new work. He is making from the husband and the wife an icon – a picture for the world to see – of Christ and the church. The wife trusts her husband with her life because she knows that the husband will love her as Christ loves the church, giving his life to protect and nurture her.

We often describe early marriage as a time of “nesting.” We see a birds’ nest as the work of a pair of birds, woven together in shared purpose with new twigs, dried grass, old pieces of string, and even feathers from their bodies. Truly a joint effort, the nest holds the promise of hiddenness from predators, safety from the weather, rest from weariness, and new life. Each pair of birds has its own nest. They weave it, live in it, and repair it as needed. How silly it is to imagine a young bird couple trying to build a nest while each is using one little bird foot to hold onto the nest of its parents! The mother and father bird would never allow it! They would pry that little bird foot right off of the twig (in the nicest possible way) trusting that their offspring would learn very quickly to fly and build its own nest!

Recently, I attended a wedding in which the couple used a “mothers’ candle.”   Each of the mothers lit a candle. Later in the ceremony, the bride and groom each lit an individual candle from their mother’s, lit one candle together and blew out both their mother’s candle and their own individual candle. The sight, sound, and smell of those candles being snuffed out was a physical reminder of the need to “leave” the family of origin and to hold fast to the spouse, creating from two individuals one brand new marriage relationship.

As you attend weddings this summer, if you are already married and realize that you have brought unhealthy patterns with you from childhood, ask God to help you “leave” your father and mother even now. If you are the parents of young adults considering marriage, give your children permission to evaluate your home. Try to avoid being defensive about your child’s desire to build something completely different in their own marriage. Don’t initiate the same patterns of conflict you had with your son or daughter when they lived at home. And if you are young adults who are considering marriage, take a look back, ask for God’s wisdom in evaluating your childish behavior, and with gratefulness for the contributions of your parents, fly!

by Susan Reusser, Clinical Director at Cross Connections, Inc.