How can a Christian 'leave and cleave' and still honor their parents?

The Bible tells us that when we marry, we are to leave our parents and cleave to our spouse (Genesis 2:24). At the same time, the Bible instructs us to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1–3) and care for them when they need help (1 Timothy 5:3–8).

Marriage relationships are intended to be lifelong and to take precedence over our relationship with our parents. In marriage, the two become "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6). The husband and wife relationship is primary. We "leave" our parents and "cleave" to our spouse, thus forming a new family. At the same time, we still honor our parents.

At times it can feel like a parent is pulling a child away from a marriage, or like a marriage is restricting a child from honoring and caring for parents. Understanding what God's Word says about each relationship helps us know how to navigate when there are potential conflicts.

As has been stated, marriage is a lifelong commitment in which two people become one. There should be, between husband and wife, a growing oneness in every aspect of your life: emotional, intellectual, financial, physical, social, and familial. When an overbearing parent threatens this bond, appropriate boundaries need to be put in place. We are still respectful toward parents, but we do not allow the parent-child relationship to become primary. We are intended to "leave" the parent-child relationship.

At the same time, when our parent has a legitimate need, even if our spouse does not like our parent, we are to meet the need (Mark 7:10–13; 1 Timothy 5:4–8). When both husband and wife are seeking to honor God, even if the circumstance is uncomfortable, it is possible to honor both sets of parents and care for their needs while still keeping the marriage bond primary.

This balance can be compared to another in Scripture, that of obeying those in authority (Romans 13). We are instructed to honor those in authority, but the Bible also gives examples when apostles defied authorities to continue preaching the gospel (Acts 4:1–22). Each and every human relationship must submit to our relationship with God Himself (Luke 14:26). If a parent seeks to violate our marriage relationship, we reject that. If a spouse seeks to violate the call to honor parents, we reject that. We are to do all of this with respect and in submission to God.

We will need God's wisdom to discern what are true needs and what is overbearing, manipulative, or dishonoring. We should discuss these matters with our spouses and our parents as well. When all parties involved are seeking to honor God, things go much more smoothly. At the very least, when expectations are made clear, there is less risk of hurt feelings or confusion. As in all things, seek God's wisdom (James 1:5) in balancing the need to leave your parents and cleave to your spouse with the call to honor your parents.

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