Changing Allegiance From Parents To Spouse

Man with father and mother Photoclub

In Genesis 2:24 we read, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” This principle is repeated in Ephesians 5:31. God’s pattern for marriage involves the “leaving” of parents and the “cleaving” to one’s mate. Marriage involves a change of allegiance. Before marriage, one’s allegiance is to one’s parents, but after marriage allegiance shifts to one’s mate.

Importance of Psychological Break from Parents

It is what the psychologists call “cutting the psychological apron strings.” No longer does the individual lean on his parents, but rather on his mate. If there is a conflict of interest between a man’s wife and his mother, the husband is to stand with his wife. This does not mean that the mother is to be treated unkindly. That is the second principle, which we will deal with shortly. The principle of separating from parents is, however, extremely important. No couple will reach their full potential in marriage without this psychological break from parents.

What does this principle mean in the practical realm? I believe that it suggests separate living arrangements for the newly married couple. While living with parents, the couple cannot develop independence as readily as when living alone. The dependency on parents is enhanced as long as they live with parents.

Living in a meager apartment with the freedom to develop their own lifestyle under God is better than luxurious living in the shadow of parents. Parents should encourage such independence, and the ability to provide such living accommodations should be a factor in setting the wedding date.

Making Spouse Happy Should Take Precedence

The principle of “leaving” parents is also important in decision making. Your parents may have suggestions about many aspects of your married life. Each suggestion should be taken seriously, but, in the final analysis, you must make your own decision. You should no longer make decisions on the basis of what would make parents happy but on the basis of what would make your partner happy. Under God, you are a new unit, brought together by His Spirit to live for each other (Philippians 2:3-4).

This means that the time may come when a husband must sit down with his mother and say,

“Mom, you know that I love you very much, but you also know that I am now married. I cannot break up my marriage in order to do what you desire. I love you, and I want to help you, but I must do what I believe is right for my wife and me. It is my hope you will understand because I want to continue the warm relationship that we have had through the years. But if you do not understand, then that is a problem you must work through. I must give myself to the building of my marriage.”

Importance of Changing Allegiance From Parents to Spouse

…The principle of separation from parents also has implications when conflict arises in marriage. A young wife who has always leaned heavily on her mother will have a tendency to “run to mother” when problems arise in the marriage. The next day her husband recognizes that he was wrong, asks forgiveness, and harmony is restored. The daughter fails to tell her mother this. The next time a conflict arises she again confides in Mom. This becomes a pattern, and before long, her mother has a bitter attitude toward the son-in-law and is encouraging the daughter to separate from him. The daughter has been very unfair to her husband and has failed to follow the principle of “leaving” parents.

If you have conflicts in your marriage (and most of us do), seek to solve them by direct confrontation with your mate. Conflict should be a stepping-stone to growth. If you find that you need outside help, then go to your pastor or a Christian marriage counselor. They are trained and equipped by God to give practical help. They can be objective and give biblical guidelines. Parents find it almost impossible to be objective.

Honor Parents, but Not Above Spouse

The second principle relating to our relationship with parents is found in Exodus 20:12 and is one of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” It is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:16 and Ephesians 6:2.

The command to honor our parents has never been rescinded. As long as they live, it is right to honor them. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Obedience to parents is the guideline from birth to marriage. Paul’s second statement is, “Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (vs. 2-3). Honor to parents is the guideline from birth to death. Honor was the original command and stands forever.

The word honor means “to show respect.” It involves treating one with kindness and dignity. It is true that not all parents live respectable lives. Their actions may not be worthy of honor, but because they are made in the image of God, they are worthy of honor. You can respect them for their humanity and for their position as your parents, even when you cannot respect their actions. It is always right to honor your parents and those of your marriage partner. “Leaving” parents for the purpose of marriage does not erase the responsibility to honor them.

How is this Honor Expressed in Daily Life?

You honor them in such practical actions as visiting, telephoning, and writing, whereby you communicate to them that you still love them and want to share life with them. “Leaving” must never be interpreted as “deserting.” Regular contact is essential to honoring parents. Failure to communicate with parents is saying, in effect, “I no longer care.”

A further word is necessary regarding communication with parents. Equal treatment of both sets of parents must be maintained. Remember, “For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). We must follow His example. In practice, this means that our letters, telephone calls, and visits must indicate our commitment to the principle of equality. If one set of parents is phoned once a month, then the other set should be phoned once a month. If one receives a letter once a week, then the other should receive the same. The couple should also seek to be equitable in visits, dinners, and vacations.

Holidays Can Get Complicated

Perhaps the stickiest situations arise around holidays —Thanksgiving and Christmas. The wife’s mother wants them home for Christmas Eve. The husband’s mother wants them home for Christmas dinner. That may be possible if they live in the same town, but when they are five hundred miles apart, it becomes impossible. The solution must be based on the principle of equality. This may mean Christmas with one set of parents one year and with the other the following year.

Speak Kindly

To “honor” implies also that we speak kindly with parents and in-laws. Paul admonishes: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were father” (1 Timothy 5:1). We are to be understanding and sympathetic. Certainly we are to speak the truth, but it must always be in love (Ephesians 4:15).

The command of Ephesians 4:31-32 must be taken seriously in our relationship with parents: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

A further implication of honor to parents is described in 1 Timothy 5:4: “But if a widow has children and grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”

When we were young, our parents met our physical needs. As they grow older, we may have to do the same for them. If and when the need arises, we must bear the responsibility of caring for the physical needs of our parents. To fail in this responsibility is to deny our faith in Christ (1 Timothy 5:8). By our actions, we must show our faith in Christ and honor for our parents.

Practical Suggestions:

If I could make some other practical suggestions, I would advise you to accept your in-laws as they are. Do not feel that it is your task to change them. If they are not Christians, certainly you will want to pray for them and look for opportunities to present Christ, but do not try to fit them into your mold. You are expecting them to give you independence to develop your own marriage. Give them the same.

Do not criticize your in-laws to your mate. The responsibility of your mate is to honor his parents. When you criticize them, you make it more difficult for him to follow this pattern. When your mate criticizes the weaknesses of his parents, you should point out their strengths. Accentuate their positive qualities and encourage honor.

The Bible Gives Examples

The Bible gives some beautiful examples of wholesome relationships between individuals and their in-laws. Moses had such a wholesome relationship with Jethro, his father-in-law, that, when he informed him of God’s call to leave Midian and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Jethro said, “Go, and I wish you well” (Exodus 4:18). Later on, after the success of Moses’ venture, his father-in-law came to see him.

“So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent” (Exodus 18:7). It was on this visit that Jethro gave Moses the advice that we discussed earlier. His openness to his father-in-law’s suggestion shows something of the nature of their relationship.

Ruth and Naomi serve as an example of the devotion of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law after the death of both husbands. Jesus directed one of His miracles to the mother-in-law of Peter, and she in turn ministered to Jesus (Matthew 8:14-15).

Freedom and harmony are the biblical ideals for in-law relationships. The train of God’s will for marriage must run on the parallel tracks of separation from parents and devotion to parents.

This article comes from the book, Toward a Growing Marriage, written by Dr Gary Chapman, which was published by Moody Press (unfortunately, it is no longer being published).


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Filed under: Dealing with In Laws & Parents

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115 responses to “Changing Allegiance From Parents To Spouse

  1. Me and my boyfriend are about to move in together since it’s less stress for both of us since I am in school and preparing for marriage. The only thing that makes me second guess it all is that his family is financially dependent on him. This makes me question when we have children how are they going to be cared for, how will we save and prepare for retirement so we won’t be in the same situation depending on our children.

    Some have said to wait till after the marriage so I have a right to say something first to try to resolve it. I have brought it up multiple times and he said he going to fix it then next thing you know its another added bill from his family. I want to have a relationship with his parents but this is really putting a bad taste in my mouth. They are both physically able to get second jobs but not willing to. How do you fix this or is it worth it?

    1. Hi Brittney, This article actually pertains to those who are married, but since you are looking to possibly marrying some day, I will address the question you are asking. First off, moving in together is a bad idea. It does not prepare you for marriage, it actually causes more problems if you do marry. I just need to tell you that. All the data shows that it breaks down your relationship if you move in together before marriage. Please don’t put a strike against marriage before you even enter into it. Move in together with both of you FULLY COMMITTED after marrying.

      You ask if it is worth it to work through this issue of your boyfriend. My answer is yes –absolutely, if hoping he will listen, and follow through with what he says he will do. If he won’t, then you know that you don’t have someone who will put your relationship first over his relationship with his parents who are draining him financially. He might SAY things will change after marrying, but they won’t. We see it over and over again.

      You are being given bad advice from those who tell you to “wait till after the marriage” so you will have the “right.” That is dead wrong. If your boyfriend won’t break this bad precedence now, trust me, he will carry it into marriage and then you are stuck with it. You aren’t stuck with this behavior at this point because you aren’t married. NOW is the time to work on these kinds of issues. If he won’t work on it now, he won’t later. He is showing you a taste of your future.

      That “bad taste” in your mouth is actually a red flag that is waving high to warn you that this type of behavior from him and his parents, that will carry over into marriage. If you think that you are already feeling resentful… it will only get worse once you are married and he keeps giving you empty words saying one thing, but never following through. You will resent him, and you will resent his parents. Work through these issues NOW… don’t wait. You can change your mind about marrying into this problem now, but once you enter into the covenant of marriage, you are stuck with this mess.

  2. Hello, I’m at at a loss. I have been married for 11 yrs. This is my second husband. My first passed away leaving me with two teenage boys. My current husband doesn’t have children. He never wanted any. He doesn’t have a relationship with my boys. When I met him I thought it was very nice how he cared for his parents. His parents made him move 850 miles away to get away from bad influences of the small town friends. He had a job waiting for him and he could learn a new skill. I am older by 10 yrs then my husband. I am now 53 and he is 43. So from the beginning I thought my new inlaws would like me, but it was the exact opposite. They expected their son to come home with his tail between his leggs. But instead he fell in love and wanted to get married. They despised me.

    Since we lived so far away it was easy dealing with them. But things have changed. He lost his mother and one month later I lost my father. We have since moved 4 hrs from his dad and 11 hrs from my mother. His dad has made it very clear to me that in no certian terms he will get his son back. He will do what ever it takes to have him move back in with him.. We have been in our new town 1 year now and he has come to visit us twice. I had back surgery 6 months ago. I called to see if he could come up to visit as it is hard for me to sit in the car for that long. He would say yes, only to call later to tell my husband he’s sick… and it could be the big one, he could be gone by a time he gets here. So we hop into the car, get there only to find dinner waiting for us with a smile… Not sick! He has done this many times. And yet again this weekend, he calles telling us he has to have major surgery on his heart. He needs his son.. We hop into the car again, only to find out it’s just a “procedure” to make sure his heart is still ticking like it should be.

    He’s 78 and doesn’t eat well, no exersice, and many years of smoking. But in front of my husband he will act very sick.. when my husband leaves the room he will make snide comments to me and just smile. I tried telling my husband, but he only takes his dad’s side. My husband can’t handle losing his dad. Nobody wants to lose a person they love. But my mother is 800+ miles away from me and has to take care of herself. When it was time for us to move my mother told me you are married and your place is with your husband. Why can’t my father in law say that to his son. Its hard having two aging parents with so much distance between us.

    At this point I’m at a loss as to how to deal with my father-in-law. He is pulling so hard on his son, leave me of course in the same action. I am not in the plan as he puts it. I told him to start dating, he said why should I, I have my son who will take care of me. My husband and I are arguing so much over his dad. This is causing so much stress on me that I am healing slower then normal with my back. I don’t play these childish games. And I’m getting tired of being 2nd fiddle. I feel invisible in my marriage.

  3. I’ve been in a long distance relationship with a man that takes care of his elderly Dad for 2 years. His dad treats him horribly as if he’s his maid. I’m constantly hearing my boyfriend cursing the Dads lack of respect for him. It’s tearing us apart as I feel like I’m losing my grip because it’s the negative arguing and hardly any happy moments for us. I love him but also it’s tearing at my emotions and health. He says he wants to be with me but chooses to stay and be in constant turmoil. I’m not living my life with the man I love and I’m not sure how long this will last.

  4. The Bible also says, “don’t exasperate your children.” My in-laws are used to having their son go along w/whatever they want. We are in our mid forties, newly married (second marriage for us both) and they are very controlling and they don’t want to “Let go.” The catalyst came about once I got angry and raised my voice to them….and understand this can be construed as disrespect, however in this instance, I’m justified in my anger (when I’m wrong, I can admit and apologize – and I realize the fruit of the Spirit includes self control, but at the same time, it’s not healthy to stuff our feelings…it’s not like I swore at or cursed them…it was genuinely letting them know how I felt with my tone of voice at a higher pitch than it ordinarily would be).

    I was friends with “the folks” for years prior to meeting their son and falling in love with him, and now I feel like a total fool since I did not see them for who they really are. He is a kind, sweet, man who wants to please everyone, who is sadly not respected by many in his family, and it is because he want’s to please everyone. He is just now at 46 years old, learning about healthy boundaries. I’m too old, tired, and disappointed as I thought these were fair, reasonable people. Now I just want to be home with the Lord – where there is no more pain,tears and sorrow.