Leaving Your Parents To Cleave To Your Spouse

The following is a small portion of an excellent eight part radio interview series which was put together by the ministry of Family Life Today. It was titled, “Becoming One: God’s Blueprints for Marriage” and Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine were the hosts (afterward, we have a link to an additional article posted on the Family Life web site):

For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, and the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25)

Photo credit: Mike Miley / Foter / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: Mike Miley / Foter / CC BY-SA

Dennis Rainey: We want to look at the whole aspect of how you leave father and mother to establish this new union. And at the outset I want to say there is a lot of emotionally deep water around this subject of leaving your father and mother to establish a new marriage relationship.

Bob Lepine: I was reading recently in Dr. Dan Allender’s book, “Intimate Allies,” and he made the statement that, in his experience, he could trace 90% of marital discord back to a failure to leave.

Dennis: Most couples don’t think they’ve failed to leave, yet if they could see what is trailing behind them as they walk out the church, they’d see “apron strings” still tied to a man and a woman by their parents; by people who love and care about them, but simply don’t know how to let them leave. It’s awkward because there is a new union formed there, a new relationship that is an entity, and it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a couple who are one, who are in the process of forging a marriage relationship.

I was reading in Tim Kimmel’s book, “Powerful Personalities,” describing different personality types and how different people try to control others through aggressive or passive behavior and how we can manipulate each other. A young couple that is really not prepared properly to establish this new marriage relationship —if they’re not careful, will be controlled by either his or her parents or find themselves in between two sets of parents trying to establish this relationship. The word “leave” from the biblical text means to “forsake dependence upon.” It means to turn your allegiance away from your parents toward your spouse.

We do that in such a way that honors our parents but that sends a clear signal that this is a new relationship that must be established. Sometimes parents don’t realize that this command in Genesis 2: 24 is as much a command to the parents as it is to the couple who are getting married. It’s the wise parents that can understand the dynamics that a young couple is under as they try to forge the identity of a new marriage in the midst of two competing families.

Bob: It’s one thing for parents to understand what they’re supposed to do, it’s another thing for parents to process that emotionally and make that switch.

Dennis: It’s hard to turn your back on the emotional giving, sharing, and development that you’ve poured into this daughter or this son’s life to encourage them to leave. It doesn’t mean you lose the relationship, though. It means, in essence, you get one back that’s different, that has different parameters. You shouldn’t be controlling them as a young adult, anyway.

A lot of parents need to realize you need to let your son or daughter grow up. Let them become a mature adult and relate to them more as a peer and less as a child. But some of our parents simply can’t get beyond that because, in some situations, we represent the only real relationship that our parents have. They don’t have a vital marriage, and the only real relationships they have are with their children, and they simply can’t or won’t allow them to leave.

Bob: You said that most of us would think that we have left, and we may not have really left. You defined leaving as “forsaking dependence upon.” How can I run a test to see whether I’ve done the leaving that I’m supposed to have done?

Dennis: There are three areas you can run a test on to see how you’ve done in leaving your father and mother. The first is emotional —have you left your parents’ emotional control of your life? Are you still looking to them for support, for encouragement, and for their approval?

I remember, in my immaturity as a young man, sharing with my mom a mistake that Barbara had made in our marriage. It was a minor mistake. Barbara had hurt me, but I shared it with my mom, and it was as though I had shared this grievous error, because my mother came running over to me. And although she didn’t say these words verbally, what I felt was, “I knew that she couldn’t be the woman that you really needed as my son.”

I was almost 25 years old, so she had 24 years practice caring for me as her son. But what she was doing was rushing in to care for me, and in future conversations with my mom, the mistake that Barbara made would be brought up by her. I learned a valuable lesson —be careful, as a couple, what you share with your parents of how your spouse has disappointed or hurt you. Your parents don’t have near the grace to give your spouse that you have. You’re their son or their daughter that they will naturally move to protect. They’ve been trained to do that for years.

I don’t condemn my mom for her protective instincts. I just recognize that they’re there. But I realized at that point I couldn’t share those disappointments with my mom. It would simply play to a weakness in her life, and set Barbara up to be a failure in my mom’s eyes.

Bob: So you’re saying that in this idea of leaving emotionally, we’ve got to be on guard against a natural tendency our parents will have to continue to try to be our parents.

Dennis: Yes, and if your parents are trying to manipulate you emotionally, what you have to do is ask your spouse to help you get beyond this. Build some boundaries around your lives, around the holidays, determine how long you’re going to go and when you’re going to go and whose house you’re going to go to for that first Christmas or that second Christmas or successive Christmases. Use the marriage relationship that God has given you to protect one another from being manipulated or being taken advantage of or from emotionally being clobbered by parents.

Your spouse ought to be that person you cleave to and depend upon to really help you get free of your parents and establish your own identity as a couple.

Bob: Okay, we have to see if we have left emotionally —are there other areas?

Dennis: I think the financial area is one where parents can try to exert power or control over us . I remember early in our marriage, I had invested some money in a small land deal. It turned over and sold quickly, and I made a nice little profit. So I thought, “Hey, I think I’ll put the profits in another investment.” So after we had gotten married, Barbara and I together decided we’d invest in a second investment. And just as the first investment had been really good, this investment was equally bad —and we lost it all.

At that point, the temptation was to call daddy. Now, I use the word “daddy” there specifically because it wasn’t calling “Dad.” It would be calling “Daddy.” For me this situation became an opportunity to squarely face my obligations as a young man with a wife. If I’d made a dumb choice and a bad investment I needed to bear the loss that came with that.

I feel like that choice to take my losses and not run home to my dad to bail us out as a couple was a very important step in becoming financially independent and becoming responsible as a man, to provide for my wife and be responsible for my own financial decisions. Now, I’m not saying it would be wrong to ask parents to help you out in a situation.

It turned out, later on, that my dad ended up giving us some money to help us with a down payment on our first home. But that felt different, getting that down payment, than what I would have felt if I had gone home to dad and asked him to bail us out of a difficult situation. I think what happens today with many young couples is they’re trying to live on a higher level than they ought to be living. They’re going home to mom or dad to bail them out of a situation. And it’s creating a dependence upon parents, because where money goes, there can be —not every time —but there can be control, manipulation, and there can be a payback.

It’s interesting that when my dad did help us with the house, later on, I felt absolutely no control by him or by my mom, even though they did help us establish that first home. Here is the wisdom for parents, who are listening —if you help your kids financially, make sure you’re doing it in such a way that it doesn’t exert control or influence, and it divides this couple who were meant to cleave toward one another.

Bob: How can I tell whether an offer of financial help from parents is coming with strings attached or not?

Dennis: I’d look at the track record of the parents. Do they have a track record of using other things in your life to control you, manipulate you, or seek power over you? If they have, I wouldn’t accept money.

Bob: But if we’re looking at the down payment on a house, and really want to be in the house.

Dennis: There is no house worth the emotional cost that you’re going to have to pay. It isn’t worth it. Leaving and cleaving needs to be away from your parents —cleaving to your spouse. If you allow money to control you, you’re going to be pulled back when you need to be stepping forward towards your spouse.

Bob: We’ve talked about emotionally leaving, we’ve talked about financially leaving —is there another area?

Dennis: Yes, decision-making, and this could include the spiritual dimension of life as well —just getting advice from parents. Parents need to give advice. I think we need to go back to them for counsel and for wisdom, but the decision needs to be yours as a couple. You need to share the weight of that decision praying together and making your decision as a couple.

That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t do what they say. It just means that you can’t give them power over your lives. Illustration in point —I know a grown man who is stuck in a spiritually dead church. He takes his entire family there every Sunday. He has been going there for 15 years with his kids. His kids are now teenagers. Just down the road there is a church that preaches the word of God and it’s got a great youth group. You know who is really controlling this decision —both sets of parents.

Both of those parents go to that church, and they are keeping them in this liberal church, and this guy will not assume the responsibility that he has to lead his family spiritually by taking them to a place where they’ll be nurtured; where they will receive spiritual encouragement to grow. It’s going to cost him big time in his family as his children move on to maturity.

Bob: You talk a lot about the concept of honoring our parents. I’m sure for this man the idea of moving on to another church feels like it would be bringing great dishonor on both sets of parents.

Dennis: This is taking place in a small community, so the pressure is intense. The whole town would know if this man moved his family from that church. But, at that point, you’ve got to look at that man and say, “Do what’s spiritually best for your wife and your family.” In this situation, everyone in his family wants to make the move to the other church, but he’s afraid of what it will cost him. He needs to be a man of conviction. He needs to lead his family spiritually.

Bob: Dr. Dan Allender’s book, Intimate Allies, would be another great resource for him, because in that book Dan talks about the importance of leaving father and mother and about some of the subtle tendencies there can be on the part of parents to continue to try to control us, even after we’re married.

Dennis: I’ve got three quick thoughts for you as you evaluate as a couple what you’ve done in leaving your father and mother. First of all, I’d encourage you to discuss, as a couple, have you left? Each of you —have you left emotionally, financially, and for direction or decision-making? Secondly, if you’ve got some problems there, I encourage you to pray together, as a couple, for a solution. And, third, honor your parents but take action. Set a course for your marriage and take control of the future by making decisions that will create health and spiritual vitality in your marriage.


LEAVINGBroadcast Date: 08/26/04

Bob: The Bible says when a man and a woman are getting married, they are to leave father and mother. But what happens if Mom and Dad don’t want you to leave?

Dennis: You can’t make that decision for your parents. You can’t force them to let you leave. All you can do is leave. Leave your need for approval from them and turn to your spouse and let that person be the one that you cleave to and commit to, to experience approval and appreciation and encouragement that God intended in the marriage relationship.

Many times I’ve used the illustration of the husband having a set of blueprints and the wife having a set of blueprints, and the problem when their blueprints only overlap at points. If a husband and a wife both have the same set of blueprints, and they’re both coming at their marriage relationship from the Scripture, they’re going to be building their marriage as God designed it. Genesis, chapter 2 gives us the panoramic view of the marriage relationship from God’s perspective. In verses 24 and 25 He says, For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.

I believe every marital problem can be traced to a failure to leave, a failure to cleave, or a failure to really cultivate that oneness of flesh. If we understand these blueprints in the Book of Genesis, it will help us, as a couple, have our marriage set in the right direction.

Bob: Couples will often say, “Our problem is” —and then they’ll go on to list whatever the issue that they’re dealing with is. I oftentimes say, “No, your symptom is communication,” or your symptom is finances. I point them back to Genesis and say, “Your problem is either a failure to leave, a failure to cleave, or a failure to really establish the oneness in a marriage relationship.”

Dennis: That’s right, and in Genesis 2:24, it talks about a cause. God wants a man and a woman to become one. It’s the marriage relationship that causes him to leave his father and his mother. The word “leave” here means to “forsake dependence upon.” It means we no longer look to our parents for approval, support, or for encouragement. We leave one sphere of influence and move to another sphere of influence.

Bob: Let’s assume that some of our listeners are headed toward the altar this year. What can they be doing now to prepare to leave?

Dennis: They are in an enviable position of being able to establish the leaving to occur in the right way. They can begin to spend time with their parents and let them know that although they’re leaving them to establish this new union, they still are going to be their son or daughter, and they want a relationship. But they can send signals to the parents to let them know that their allegiance is switching, that they’re going to be committed to this new person that they’re making a covenant within the marriage ceremony.

Parents need their sons and daughters to help them in this process. It’s difficult. Emotionally, parents don’t want to give up the investment that’s taken place over 18 or more years. It’s the wise person who can understand those dynamics and maybe even talk about it with their mom or dad. Let them know that you know it may be a struggle.

It may be that the son or daughter is the only real relationship they have. They may not have any other relationships. They may be in a dead marriage. They may not be alive spiritually. They may not be plugged into a good church where they have their relationship needs met by other Christians. And so for them to say goodbye to a son or daughter who is getting married, is to cut themselves off from a living hope. It’s at that point that we need to give our parents a gift of compassion. It’s the gift of looking at your parents through the eyes of Christ. How can I so minister to them and encourage them that it will make this process of leaving palatable for all concerned?

Bob: You’re saying that a young man or a young woman who is headed toward marriage would be wise to invest time and emotional effort in beginning to prepare his parents for the idea that he’s leaving. That will help establish his marriage relationship in the early days?

Dennis: No question about it. If a young man has the wisdom to prepare his parents he’ll go a long way toward the freedom and ability to establish a new marriage relationship when it occurs. In fact, if he will use these days leading up to the marriage ceremony, at the point when the couple do cleave, there will be a lot less problems in the first years of marriage as they decide where to go over the holidays and whose parents to go visit and how much time to spend at which parents’ house on vacation. And it will also help when parents overstep their bounds, or they’re moving back into control. If there is the relationship there, and it’s been established, then there can be the discussion about these matters without it becoming some kind of polarization.

Bob: Let’s assume that the wedding has already taken place, and it’s 5 years into the marriage, and couples are beginning to look at one another saying, “Is this an issue for us? Maybe we haven’t done a good job of establishing our leaving from our parents.”

Dennis: I think the process really begins when you realize that you haven’t left, and you haven’t done it properly. If you recognize that that’s true, then at that point you can begin to take some steps that will breathe some health into your own marriage but also into your relationship with your parents.

Bob: And you’d recognize that by seeing that you are either emotionally dependent or financially dependent or still dependent in your decision-making on your mom or your dad?

Dennis: Yes, there are certain parents who are manipulators, who are controllers, and they have such a pattern of controlling that they simply can’t allow their child to leave. I was reading in Tim Kimmel’s book, “Powerful Personalities,” about three kinds of personality types. One is the aggressive controlling type; a second kind is a passive manipulator, and a third one is a combination of the two —a passive-aggressive controller. Tim really does a great job of explaining how you can have your life controlled by another person and how you can break free from that control.

The first step in dealing with this as a married couple is beginning by honoring your parents. I think any leaving of your parents, whether it be the wedding ceremony for a couple who’s getting married where you honor the parents during the ceremony, or whether it be a married couple who have been married five years, 10 years, or more, there are ways to leave your mother and father and still bring honor to them.

Let me read a portion from a story about a couple who recognized they had not fully left their parents and some steps they took to lead their parents within the context of honor.

“Dan and Rebecca had been married for more than 10 years before they wrote a tribute to honor Dan’s parents. Dan’s parents were controllers. They expected Dan and Rebecca to attend all family functions, even if it meant missing Rebecca’s family gatherings at Christmas. Dan couldn’t say no to his parents. After years of struggling, Dan and Rebecca concluded that they must do something to honor their parents and establish that Dan’s leaving had occurred.

They had a plaque made at a local trophy store. Engraved on the plaque were the words of affirmation for all Dan’s parents had done for him —a recognition that they had given to his life so that he could leave and cleave to his wife Rebecca. Dan used the opportunity of a tribute to discuss and carefully establish with his parents some boundaries that would prevent their control in the future. And it worked.”

You see what happened here? They couldn’t let him leave, so he left. And by writing a tribute, he did it with such honor, that it formalized the process of him leaving. And I recall in the letter how they had a time of interaction with them talking about the need for Dan to be able to cleave to his wife and meet some of her family’s needs as well.

The issue here is, as you return home with honor, you can use that opportunity to formalize the leaving that should have occurred at the wedding ceremony.

Bob: I’m sure some folks think it worked for Dan and Rebecca, I’m not sure it will work for me. Is there a guarantee on this idea?

Dennis: No, because parents are human, and the emotional bond with children is so powerful that you can’t make that decision for your parents. You can’t force them to let you leave. All you can do is leave. Leave your need for approval from them and turn to your spouse and let that person be the one that you cleave to and commit to experience that approval and appreciation and encouragement that God intended in the marriage relationship.

Bob: And if we try to do that without doing it in the context of honor, we send a message to our parents or our in-laws that we haven’t really grown up yet. So the first step for a couple is to make sure they’re leaving in the context of honor. What’s next?

Dennis: If you’re married to a spouse who gets controlled by his or her parents, then what you’ve got to do is step in there to protect them and really preserve their own individual integrity as they go back home. In other words, let’s say you take your wife home, and she has a mom who’s manipulative, and you watch this begin to occur. Within the context of honor, I think there are ways to step in there, put your arm around your wife, and perhaps pull her out of situations that may be inflammatory, where she may be losing it emotionally; take a walk, find opportunities to build space in the schedule so that perspective can be regained and so that the parents do not maintain control over their son or over their daughter. What you’ve got to do is take the action needed to really protect and just be a guardian of your spouse without putting your spouse’s parents down or dishonoring them.

Bob: That takes some courage, doesn’t it?

Dennis: It really does; sometimes tough situations demand dramatic measures and, as a man or as a wife, you may need to move in there and protect your spouse or confront a situation and protect the one that you’re committed to. And here is a real caution —be careful of turning against your spouse in front of your parents and siding with your parents against your spouse. That can create a feeling of disloyalty and of being a failure to leave and cleave to your spouse. What your spouse needs in those situations is to be publicly reaffirmed. And what I’d suggest, as a couple, is to talk about these issues, pray about them, and then ask the Lord what kind of steps need to be taken and go back home with an offensive game plan in place so that if a certain circumstance continues to occur, you know exactly what you’re going to do ahead of time.

The above transcripts are just a portion of two days worth of broadcasts which came from an eight day series entitled “Becoming One: God’s Blueprints for Marriage” with Dennis Rainey, co-hosted by Bob Lepine produced by Family Life Today. The above portion focused on “Cleaving to Your Spouse,” which is something worth getting ahold of. This is a marvelous series to listen to, or read from the transcripts, or purchase. It can be obtained through the terrific ministry of Family Life Today by visiting their web site at FamilyLife.comThe original air date for this series was in August 2004. We thank God for this ministry and pray God’s people will help them financially so they can continue to offer them to those of us who need the help to make our marriages and families healthy and strong in the Lord.

— ALSO —

The following Family Life Today article, written by Mary May Larmoyeux, gives “ten ideas for dealing with a wife who won’t leave or cleave”:

MARRIED TO DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL

And then when the husband is the one tied to his family and won’t leave and cleave, Focus on the Family has a Question and Answer posting on the subject:

SPOUSE PUTS HIS PARENTS NEEDS AHEAD OF WIFE’S

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Comments

115 responses to “Leaving Your Parents To Cleave To Your Spouse

  1. I just felt like saying thank you so much for sharing this! My fiancé and I will be getting married next year (in July) and this was just an answer to my prayers. My parents have a very bad history of being manipulative, controlling and just flat out awful at times. I will give you just a little bit of background on our situation: They discourage going to college, getting driver’s licenses, SSN, and/or getting jobs. They’ve “forced” the last three married couples in my family to not move out of their house and to “stay with the family”… they have an array of reasons. The most popular is, “We need you here right now, things are difficult.” We move around a lot, every 2 or 3 years… We’ve moved twice in the last year. Personally I see it as another way my parents have tried to prevent any of the married couples from moving out. Also my dad’s response to jobs, “God says to have no idols. If you have a job, you’re putting yourself under someone and therefore allowing yourself to put someone before God.” It’s flawed, I know…

    Now that you’re a bit caught up… my second oldest brother and his wife (he’s been married for almost 9 years) have recently, due to circumstances that were unavoidable, stayed behind in a move. My parents believed he would come along shortly. So in their minds he still hasn’t moved out because they think he will be coming out to be with us soon. His wife has wanted children for the last 3 years, however, since they were living with the whole family and unable to move out (no job/income, although my brother is VERY intelligent and now designing his own products and starting a very fast growing company! **so proud of him** And not allowed to leave without causing a big “stink”) they didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of starting their family.

    My third oldest brother, he is in the house right now. Attempting to start a company of his own, in his free time because he has been “helping” my dad with his manufacturing company as a full time job with food/board as payment. However, his wife is incredibly unhappy. He is uncomfortable being intimate with her (hugging, kissing, going on walks, etc) when everyone else is around.. because he feels the need to give equal attention to everyone in the family so that no one feels they’re being abandoned by him. His priorities are out of whack because he is very controlled by my parents.

    And the third marriage, which was my older sister, was a disaster. Her “husband” was not a Christian. He was lazy, selfish, unkind and had no intention of ever getting a job to provide for her (which is why our situation appealed to him…even though he couldn’t get along with any of us. When he didn’t flush the toilet, left his clothes in our KITCHEN, or didn’t help around the house people would remind him so he could correct it whatever it was, and he would BLOW UP and just go on a full out tirade using profane words, etc. Everyone who knew my sister warned her about him and he abandoned her last year, 3 months after their wedding. He just disappeared one night when he was supposed to be at the store, stole $900 in the process.

    Anyhow, my fiancé and I don’t want this life for us. He is a very devoted, loving, hardworking, honest man. He is looking for work and in the mean time has helped me start a mobile business which allows us to be gone most of the day and get quality time together.

    My parents have not tried to control our relationship recently because they realized that my loyalty is to him because I trust him, and they’ve already taken advantage of me (borrowing thousands of dollars.. which I made from various jobs that my dad didn’t approve of). Also, a great example that comes to mind, on our way down here, where we are now, Texas… I was traveling with my fiancé in his car, and my family was all in my parents’ car, my dad pulled me aside one morning trying to tell me that I needed to break it off with Daniel *my fiancé* because he was just like my older sister’s ex. When I told him he was wrong and gave a bundle of examples how Daniel is not like that AT ALL he brushed me off and continued to yell at me.

    Near the end of this he admitted to me that he only had $100 left and no way of making money and he didn’t know where anyone would be sleeping that night, since they had no house yet. I quickly realized the situation for what it was; he had nothing against Daniel, except that Daniel had money and so did I so he was furious about this. I asked Daniel to come over. I had been expecting this for some time. I asked Daniel to take out an envelope that contained a couple thousand dollars. I handed it to my dad, and the entire mood of the conversation changed. We got in our cars and left heading to our next stop. Within the next 20 minutes, my dad was PRAISING Daniel and myself. Saying what wonderful people we are and how much he respects us and how proud of us he is.

    Since then I haven’t been as close with my parents. After reading this article though, I will work on that and try to make it easier on them as Daniel and I will be moving on with our life & marriage next year.. being the first married couple so far to be moving out and setting boundaries. So that we can have a healthy, God focused life.

    So thank you again SO much for sharing this information.

  2. I just get married few months ago, I’m an only child and my mom is a single parent. We only have one another all our lives. Now that I am married, we want to leave but I am having hard time because she will be definitely alone. I am troubled.

  3. What I need to know is how much is too much. My mother in law calls at least 5 to 6 times a day, and if she calls and we don’t answer the first time, she’ll complain about it when she finally gets through. She often calls at odd times, either really late or really early (like 6 in the morning). I brought it up to my wife, and her response was “My mother can call anytime she wants.” I feel like at that point she put her mother before me. She calls as though we have nothing but time, like we are just letting our three kids raise themselves.

    I feel like we have argued over this issue way too much that it’s to the point where when she calls I don’t answer or say anything. My wife finally got the picture when her mom called while she was napping. Unfortunately the frequency has not changed much. The strange thing is she acknowledged that her mom calls too much, but I’m made out to be the bad guy. I read on this discussion board something interesting that speaks to this situation…parents are in such a disarray of a marriage that their relationships lie within their children to the point that they refuse to let go. That’s where we are.

    Her mom has talked about me to her, and she has a habit of gossiping to and about others. This has resulted in several arguments between my wife and me. One situation that I can never forget was when my wife and I were on an errand and her mom happened to be with us, she told us a story about her niece’s first marriage and how the mom was always calling and always at their house. I could do nothing but think “You’ve got a lot of nerve talking about someone else being too involved in a marriage that’s not theirs”. This was an exact description of what she does to us.

    She has another daughter out of state, and I remember when she used to talk to us about her not calling her after being newly married. My MIL used to say that “They are out there living it up and forgot all about us.” And by “us” I mean “her”. It’s worse for us because we are a few minutes away, but she calls her daughter a lot more than normal. Even she says her mom calls a lot but I can’t seem to get my wife to understand that. She also has three children to raise, and she complains about them not answering her calls right away either. Every time we leave the house, my wife has to explain what she is doing and where she is going. Her mom even goes as far as asking her to go run errands with her, leaving me with all the kids. She even says “Let him watch the kids, I need you to help me.” Total disrespect in my eyes.

    We were looking for another church because we go to the same church, and she says “I’m ok with you looking for a new church” as if we needed permission. She even tries to tell us what to do with our kids, even making us look bad to them. She tries to offer them snacks, and when I tell them no she will say “I wanted to give it to you but your dad says no.” She has done this to my wife also, in which case they start to argue. She tries to assert herself in the wrong matters, whether it’s with the kids or our marital business. My wife shares more information with her mother than I think she should, to the point where she had to explain her choices to her mom.

    To put it into perspective, her mom once said “I wish I could buy one big house so that all my children and their families can live with me.” If that’s not controlling I don’t know what is. She is very manipulative and uses guilt trips to get her way with her children, especially with her son. I feel bad for his wife because she has to sit back while he listens to his mom over her. She often goes on vacations with us, and I really hate it because she is so difficult to deal with…most times she just invites herself.

    I could write a book on the many issues I have with my MIL but I’m so frustrated with this. She has even told my wife that “I’m trying to tear them apart”. I thought that she became mine years ago when we got married, but her mom just won’t let go. There are so many other incidents I could describe, but what should I do about this major one? How can I stop her from playing two ends against the middle like she has so often done?

    1. Hi Charles, I am a husband married 36 years with 2 adult children… and I could not help but reply to your text above. In my opinion, your mother in law is clearly “crossing the line” with her too-frequent calls and other manipulative behavior. Your wife’s answer, “she can call when she wants,” is NOT OK- I can easily understand your feeling that your wife is putting her mother ahead of you here. Also when your wife agrees to let you watch the children while she “caves in” to her mother’s request for help with shopping seems to go a bit far in my view. Perhaps OK max 1x per week… but not more than that! But you will know better of course.

      As I read your text further, I find myself even getting annoyed with your MIL!! Telling you it’s OK if you look for another church?? Making you look like the “bad guy” to your children? Wanting a big house so all her children and families can live with her? Noooo… this is for sure not good.

      Here’s how we do it with my adult children- both of whom live with their partners and their children within 10 minutes by bicycle from our house:
      – We never interject into their private matters beyond asking how they are doing once in a while. We do not offer advice at all unless asked.
      – We always call before going over to visit- our children do feel free to tell us “No” if they wish. No worries!! We visit maximum 1x week. We call them or they call us on a very ad hoc basis 1x or 2x a week. Sometimes also a phone message… not more…
      – We always ask our children’s preferences when it comes to boundaries for their children when their children are staying with us. (They are still young, 1, 1.5 and 4 years old) but this is the basis we already have.
      – We never give our grandchildren anything without their parents” OK in advance. I know I would be very annoyed if even a freind offered my children something to eat without my advance input, then I would have to say “no” and then I’m looking like the “bad guy.” No thanks!! In that case I would take them aside and tell them firmy but tactfully “Don’t do that again!”
      – We basically treat our children and their families in the same way that we treat our friends of our own age- this works very well!!

      To answer your basic question, I believe you need to have a well thought out conversation with your wife to establish clear boundaries on which you both agree regarding your MIL. You two are a unit, a family- not an extension of your mother in law’s family. Your wife needs to see that she must put you and your/her children ahead of her mother. Fortunately your wife has a better idea of your position when her mother called while she was napping :)) It sounds like your wife is still behaving a bit too much like her mother’s daughter insead of an independent grown woman. She should certainly not have to explain to her mother what she is doing or where she is going! (Where is your father in law in all this??)

      I would say in your (you and your wife together) conversation with your MIL that
      – you love her and want her to be part of your family, BUT that the too frequent calls must stop… for now you can tell her “Please do not call us, we will call you.” and then do contact her 1x a week at first… If necessary, she should be blocked from your phones so that you and your family are left in peace.
      – she needs to understand very clearly that she has no business telling you two how to raise your children, You can tell her “We do not want you giving our children snacks or anything else without our express permission.”

      I know this is not complete, but I hope that my comments put things into perspective. In general, you may need to set boundaries which seem to be too distant at first, and then ease up as time goes by. Please ket us know what’s happening? WP (Work in Progress)

    2. Hi Charles, I agree with a lot of what WP says in his comment (although I’m not sure I would start out going as far in the beginning… ease into it a bit and if more is needed, then go further). The thing I wanted to write to you (and just haven’t been able to until now) goes along with what WP wrote. I recommend the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life written by Henry Cloud. It would be a good read for you and your wife to read (if she will agree).

      I believe your mother in law THINKS she’s doing right by you and the rest of the family; she just doesn’t realize that she is going way too far. And truthfully, part of it is because boundaries weren’t set into place when things started out. It really is up to your wife to put some limits on this. She is her mother’s daughter and this will be taken by her mom MUCH better if her daughter starts this process, rather than you. But from what you write, she doesn’t seem to know how to, and just looks away so as not to hurt her feelings (hurting yours, in the process because you feel like you take 2nd place). But it has gone way too far and things need to back up and take more of a back seat rather than doing the driving. She ran her family, now she needs to let her daughter and you run yours. That will be painful to start putting into place in the beginning, but eventually everyone will do much better in this family setting, hopefully, without the whole family blowing apart.

      The Boundaries book is a good one. The reason I recommend for both of you to read it is because I believe it will help both of you to feel more empowered and on the same page as you work through the chapters. And then you will be able to come up with a plan together.

      If your wife won’t do this, you may need to step back more and more with your mother in law and let your wife handle her. Don’t do this in a mean-spirited way because that could sure backfire on you. I don’t believe your MIL is doing this to be mean; she’s just clueless. A softened but steadfast way will go further in establishing boundaries and yet it may not cause as much of an upset. Remember you’re dealing with a woman here, not another guy. Guys can do this too each other and not cause as many problems. Gals need to be handled a bit less gruff, even though it needs to be handled in a steadfast way.

      Also, at this point, you are so upset you will start seeing whatever she does with Manure colored glasses. Whatever you see, it’s all poop (to say it less offensively in this forum — but you get the point). Just be careful about getting offended at everything, which would be easy to do. Give her the benefit of the doubt when you can. Yes, she needs to be reigned back, but no, she doesn’t need to be pushed back aggressively unless she starts fighting you aggressively on this. She will to a certain extent, but try to do this as kind as you can and hopefully, it won’t get to the point of breaking up the family. Remember, there are also grandkids involved and your wife still loves her mom –faults and all. Give them and her that. When you can give in, do so –pick your battles, but just don’t give in as much as you have because she is taking more and more advantage of you and it’s just not healthy. She needs to be (gently) pushed back as soon as it is possible.

      I hope this will help. WP and I agree that things need to change. Our approach is just a bit different, but that’s okay. This is something you and your wife need to figure out. Pray about it, talk to your wife (at a time when neither of you is upset or tired or hungry because those types of settings can cause things to escalate in an unhealthy direction more readily). Tell your wife that you know she loves her mom, and you understand that, but things have just gone a bit too far. You feel like you’re getting crowded out and that the two of you aren’t able to raise your family in agreement because there is too much interfering going on. Get the book and show it to her and see if you two can figure out beforehand how to be the main parents here and the main couple, and find ways to establish boundaries in as kind, and yet not caving in manner as it is possible. I hope this helps.

      1. Hi Cindy, Very well said. Good point about guys being too gruff sometimes. I guess I am a bit overreacting to Charles’ predicament- I think you’re right about “Remember you’re dealing with a woman here, not another guy.” I also had the feeling that the wife was more actively siding with her mother, although your point is well taken- the wife may herself feel caught and not know how to deal with this.

        Hi Charles, There is hope!! Sounds like a good book Cindy is recommending… :) Let us know how you are? WP (Work in Progress)

        1. Thanks WP… What a good guy you are! I/we love your heart and your desire to help so many. Keep up the good work. You are appreciated here.

          1. Thank you Cindy… Very nice of you! Means a lot :) I hope Charles comes back and reads these answers.
            WP

  4. Hello I have a question. Well, I may get engaged in a few years, but my problem is that if I leave my family they may miss me so much like my sister. Actually I think that if I get married one day, and my parents die my sister may become alone more (although she may get married too). I’m worried about her. Am I crazy? Or I am right about this?

    1. Hi Thomas, “Leaving your family and cleaving to your wife” in the Bible does not mean physically leaving your family and never seeing them again. It DOES mean that you and your wife become a family unit in your own right. I live with my wife now for many years, many of them a far distance (7 hours by air) from my family. I visit my family every so often, we call, write letters, send cards, and keep up with each other.

      Yes, your family will miss you. But you can visit each other within reasonable boundaries, just like you set boundaries with other families you know- near and far… Your sister may well marry and start her own family. Why ever not?? Both of my children have families of their own, our three families visit each other, and care for each other….

      Noooo you are not crazy. But I do think you’re worrying too much about a theoretical situation (your sister ending up alone) which will likely never happen. Besides, you are her brother! You can always be a brother to your sister, you see? No worries Thomas… Take care, WP (Work in Progress)

    2. Thomas, you seem like a great brother and son. Everyone should have such a caring family member. I’m so glad you’re conscientious of the pull and tug of family members and a spouse. Too many people don’t consider this, and they should, and need to. Just keep all of this in mind. Please don’t tie your heart to someone until you believe you could put her first under God, before everyone else. But also be careful that if you meet someone, she is a family person and doesn’t seek to have you all to herself. You need to be with your family at times and make them a big part of your life. Yes, she should be first, but no, you shouldn’t have to throw your family out because of her. Just don’t marry unless you can give her first priority AND THEN take care of your family. Please read everything we have posted on this issue in this topic, including quotes: http://marriagemissions.com/category/in-laws/.

      You come from a culture that has deep ties to family, and that can be a positive thing. It’s just not good when it’s taken so far that the birth family is able to boss around, and take first priority over your spouse (and eventual children, if you have them). Anything, even good things, taken to excess can be problematic. Consider it all. It may be that you are called to remain single. I don’t know. But I’m thinking more likely, you’re called to be a great husband who loves and honors his wife, but also enjoys and takes care of his birth family to the degree that it is reasonable within your marriage to do so.

      You are a thoughtful young man. I pray God gives you wisdom and help in this matter. God bless :)

  5. Thank you so much for such a lovely blog. The truth sometimes can be twisted according to our own fancies and what we want to do and believe. I really want to seek advise for my situation. I have been married for 17 months now and my husband is a sailor on a merchant navy ship which keeps him out for 4 months at a time until the next contract. We are both Christians from strong backgrounds and when we met I took for granted that he understood the ‘Leaving -cleaving’ concept. Also during our courting days we had spoken about how essential it was to live with his parents as he was away from home and I had been flying with an airline as cabin crew and working crazy hours and odd timings. After we married, I left my job considering the effects on a normal married life and I also sailed with him for 7 months on the ship. However he doesn’t think any of these choices were made as efforts to the marriage and his only problem is that I don’t respect his parents only for the fact that I want to stay in a different home. My husband has a younger brother and his parents and our family is very close, well bonded in love and we are treated as kids. We take permission to go out and in, we are instructed as kids, I am expected to be a stay at home wife as that is my divine mandate (lol). I want what God has in store for us but I feel restricted and alone in this situation.