Genesis 2:24 – “A man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
“You wouldn’t believe how she is with him,” Dan said. “She totally focuses on his every wish. When he criticizes her, she tries harder. And she practically ignores me. I’m tired of being the ‘second man’ in her life.”
Dan wasn’t talking about Jane’s lover. He was talking about her father. Dan was tired of feeling like Jane cared more about her father’s wishes than his.
This is a common sign of a lack of boundaries with family: the spouse feels like he gets leftovers. He feels as if his mate’s real allegiance is to her parents. This spouse hasn’t completed the “leaving before cleaving” process; she has a boundary problem. God has designed the process whereby a “man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (see Genesis 2:24). The Hebrew word for “leave” comes from a root word that means to “loosen,” or to relinquish or forsake. For marriage to work, the spouse needs to loosen her ties with her family of origin and forge new ones with the new family she is creating through marriage.
This does not mean that husbands and wives shouldn’t have a relationship with their extended families. But they do need to set clear boundaries with their families of origin. Many marriages fail because one partner fails to set clear boundaries with family, and the spouse and children get leftovers. Establishing boundaries with family is a tough task, but one with great reward. It is a process with distinguishable steps:
1. Identify the Need That Drives the Conflict
You do not act in inappropriate ways for no reason. You are often trying to meet some underlying need that your family of origin did not meet. Maybe we are still entangled because of a need to be loved, or approved of, or accepted. You must face this deficit and accept that it can only be met in your new family of God, those who are now your true “mother, father, brothers, and sisters,” those who do God’s will and can love you the way he designed.
2. Practice Boundary Skills
Your boundary skills are fragile and new. You can’t take them immediately into a difficult situation. Practice them in situations where they will be honored and respected. Begin saying no to people in your supportive group who will love and respect your boundaries. When you are recovering from a physical injury, you do not pick up the heaviest weight first. You build up to the heavy stuff. Look at it as you would physical therapy.
3. Say No to the Bad
In addition to practicing new skills in safe situations, avoid hurtful situations. When you are in the beginning stages of recovery, you need to avoid people who have abused and controlled you in the past.
When you think you are ready to reestablish a relationship with someone who has been abusive and controlling in the past, bring a friend or supporter along. Be aware of your pull toward hurtful situations and relationships. The injury you are recovering from is serious, and you can’t reestablish a relationship until you have the proper tools. Be careful to not get sucked into a controlling situation again because your wish for reconciliation is so strong.