Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash
Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash

Leave and Cleave


My wife and I struggle over the topic of loyalty to each other verses our relationship with each other's family. I don't know what to do. She sees my attempts at getting us to be one as an attempt to take her away from her family. Can you help me with some answers?


This sounds like a very lonely and discouraging situation. Your question is a painful example of the need for quality pre-marital counseling. You have run head-first into core issues that would have been addressed by a competent counselor. The good news is that there are some steps you can take that might make a positive difference.

It is true to say that every person marries into their spouse’s family. It is flat-out wrong to say that you “marry” your spouse’s family. Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage involves leaving your mother and father and cleaving to each other, not each other’s mother and father, but to each other. The Bible never says that six people become one flesh. Only two people become one flesh.

It seems obvious that what you’ve done so far hasn’t helped. It’s a waste of time to obsess and ruminate on what you can’t change, what should be, what isn’t fair or what she does or doesn’t deserve. Our question for you is what CAN you change? If she sees your attempts at “getting us to be one as an attempt to take her totally away from her family” then it is probable that you’ve been over-reacting. Don’t try to compete with her family. Don’t tell her how wrong she is. Stop being problem focused. It hasn’t helped. It won’t help. When what you are doing doesn’t work, do something different.

Turn to I Corinthians 13 and read it from 3 or 4 different translations. Then write your own paraphrase of it and ask God for one thing you can take from that passage and apply to your wife. Turn to Ephesians 5 and read what Paul tells us husbands to do. Ask yourself, “What does it mean for me to nourish and cherish my wife?” Look at the “One Another” passages in the New Testament and pick one a week that you will apply to your marriage.

You have an unparalleled opportunity to show your wife what real love looks like. The kind of love she can trust in and rest on. With some prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement of friends and family, the support of your church community and perhaps the wisdom of a wise professional counselor, you are free to choose to move from being controlled by the hopelessness of what you can’t change, to the solution-based perspective of what, with God’s help, you can change.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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