By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “Intimate Allies” by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III
“And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’” (Gen. 2:23-24 KJV)
You and your mate are two separate people ordained to become a single entity. But your attempts to work together will be ineffective if you insist on clinging to old baggage, your parents, or withholding pieces of yourself from your spouse. Marriage depends on the two of you setting everything else aside to pursue union together. You must “leave, cleave, and weave” as the authors of “Intimate Allies” describe it.
For those blessed with loving parents, leaving them can be hard. You depend on their security and companionship. You feel lonely and lost your first day of kindergarten, when they go back home after helping you move into your college dorm and after hugging them goodbye in the airport as you head overseas to study abroad. But you have to learn to live independently.
If wives and husbands want their marriage to last, they must learn how to leave their parents. This does not mean you never speak to them again after you walk down the altar, “but it does mean starting a whole new relationship in which the core loyalty is not to parents’ priorities, traditions, or influence, but to an entirely new family that must set its own course, form, and purpose.” (218)
It’s only natural when you experience your first hiccup to go running to your parents for advice, or to retreat back into those old alliances, but this weakens resolve to commit everything to have to nurturing your marriage. I knew a woman whose mother admonished her not to come crying back home after her first fight with her husband. Which sounds callous and unloving, right? But it wasn’t. The mother just wanted her daughter to find the strength to face her marriage problems like an adult. She also did not want to risk turning against her son-in-law by listening to her daughter bash him in a heated moment.
Leaving does not mean you are readjusting your loyalty from your parents. It also means “being aware how the past might have shaped us both.” (218) You need to understand your personality (How We Love intro page) and use that self-awareness to keep you out of trouble in your marriage. How do you respond to conflict? How do you keep tabs on your mate’s needs? You also need to acknowledge any past traumas that may have followed you into matrimony, intent on wreaking havoc on your marriage. For example, if you were ever sexually abused, you might think about seeing a professional Christian counselor who can help you learn to enjoy sexual intimacy without fear or shame.
Relationships are living scrapbooks pieced together with memories, inside jokes, fights, and adventures. That is why it’s called “bonding.” The experiences you share knit you together. “Weaving–the intercourse of heart and word– involves the making of stories in order to make love. Making stories is far more than sharing common experience; it is much more than being together in a moment. Making stories is being transformed by the moment together.” (220)
I went to a wedding a few years ago where the officiator shared a story of a growing point for the couple. Both were in the navy, and while hiking off-base one day, the wife injured her ankle. Their only source of help was miles away. Instead of bickering and complaining, they sang hymns and prayed together while the husband helped his beloved limp home the best he could. Disasters like this are opportunities to prove how your marriage will respond to trials. Will you take advantage of adversity to weave you tighter, or will you let it rip you apart?
You cannot withhold pieces of yourself from your partner and expect to grow closer to them. Would you want a relationship with someone who kept secrets from you? “Weaving requires speech, exposure, vulnerability, and honesty. It requires the wrestling of souls before spouses can experience the harmony of bodies.” (221-222)
“Sexual intimacy is the culmination of the leaving and weaving process. Therefore, it is the pinnacle of intimacy that assumes true leaving and cleaving.” (223) You have to leave and weave before you can become one flesh. If you insist on prioritizing the affection of others over that of your spouse and keeping parts of yourself back from your marriage you will never achieve the union God planned for marriage.
A lot of spouses assume sexual problems in marriage are because of incompatibility or low libido. And while preferences and sex drive are influential, sexual dysfunction is usually a symptom of problems elsewhere in the relationship. “An angry or distant couple can have sex, but it is not one-flesh intimacy. They physical act happens, and a type of physical satisfaction may be experienced, but the spouses do not experience the same type of glory that is experienced when sexual intercourse is the result of a solid marriage based on leaving and weaving.” (223-224)
How Christian Marriage Counseling can help you grow closer
Have you and your mate grown distant? Do you think one or both of you are leaving the other out of your lives? Call a professional Christian counselor. Distance will not go away on its own. You must drive it away. A counselor will apply scripture-based principles and therapeutic techniques to help you both see where you are holding one another at arm’s length. If ignored, your marriage problems will only push you farther apart.
Images cc: Jungle Hike_pwbaker.jpg and Weaving_blprnt_van.jpg