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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Successful Marriage: Unity


Mankind's earliest marriage is Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:24, marriage is explained as the reason "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

Other translations of this verse have yielded the principle of "leaving and cleaving". To "cleave" means to "adhere to, stick to, join with". The "leaving" involved refers to parents, but also to close friends and those who have significance and influence in your life. Nowhere does the Bible suggest "cutting off" your father or mother. Rather, it is a time-honored commitment and one of the 10 Commandments that you forever "Honor your parents".

I have been a divorce lawyer for almost 10 years. I have witnessed the demise of hundreds of marriages. In my experience, all marriages end because of the violation of this "leave and cleave" principle. Whether you fail to "leave", or fail to "cleave", the result is the same - divorce.
In short, a successful marriage depends on TWO people's promise re-prioritize past relationships and ties, and join as ONE in a new union. How does this happen?


When you marry someone, you will have differences of opinion. Why? Because they are NOT you. Expect disagreements. Expect frustration. Expect that you will some days feel utterly alone because this person you promised to be with for the rest of your life (and vice versa) simply will not understand you.

When this happens, don't fall apart. And whatever you do, do NOT turn to other people. Do NOT confide in your parents about these little disagreements. Your parents will love you forever and will never leave you. They will naturally want to protect you and run to your side, offering assistance. This is harmful for your marriage. Because of the bond they have for you, and because of your natural inclination to turn to them for support, you must be vigilant and actively leave them, and instead cleave to your spouse.

When you marry, immediately claim this marriage as YOURS TOGETHER. Your marriage will be a journey of many, many experiences. Some will be glorious, like childbirth and financial success. Some will be doom, like death in family or financial distress. This is the wonderful privilege of marriage; when you are married, you truly share everything -you get to double your joy and half your pain.

A couple should carefully guard this privilege and ensure they do not carelessly share or break this bond.

The transition from singleness to couplehood is not intuitive. You will need to make active changes.


Your individual choices and decision-making should end at "I do." After that declaration, it is now about US. With minor exceptions, you should no longer make major decisions without consulting in your spouse.

Relating this to the "leave and cleave" principle, it is not uncommon for newlyweds to appear like they are "abandoning" their respective families. Actually, they should. At least for a while. When my younger brother married, our family Christmases began missing his presence.

It is natural for his parents and sister to feel hurt, and a little jealous of the new wife. It is natural for us to desire the new wife become an addition to OUR family. It is natural for a strong personality like me to want to tell the new wife, "You didn't just marry my brother. You married his family, so behave like it!"

However, this is wrong. When two people marry, they marry each other. Their "I's" and "me's" became "us" and "we's". As much as my brother would naturally expect his new wife to come to our Christmases, and as much as he loves the Chang family tradition, he cannot agree to come without first considering his new wife. He cannot make decisions regarding holidays and vacations alone, as the two are now ONE.

Boundaries need to be established from the outset as an active announcement of "leaving". This is particularly important in the first few years of marriage, when roles are not particularly understood.


I read this excerpt from an excellent article in Engagement by Cherie Burbach, so I thought I would quote it here:

"Too often families can become territorial about celebrations, and this can put undue pressure on newlyweds. As a new couple, you’ll probably be pulled in several directions when it comes to holidays and birthday celebrations. While you want to balance out time spent with your families, you also need to make sure to nurture your new union. After all, the two of you are creating your own family now. Start a few traditions all on your own, and let your families know that they are welcome to join you. By shifting the focus from “this is what we’ve always done” to “here’s what happening now”, it lets both sets of relatives know that while you want to remain part of the world they’ve helped build, you also want to start off on your own path."

Speaking from experience, immigrant families can have a lot of functions. My father has nine (9)brothers and sisters, and my mother five (5) brothers and sisters. They all have children, and everyone loves celebrating all the children's birthdays, American holidays AND Chinese holidays. The children also have sporting functions, and as a family that loves to travel, there are annual vacations to overnight destinations which are too fun to refuse!

When my brother first got married, it seemed that he stopped going to any of OUR functions. Of course, he is also an exceptionally busy doctor in private practice, with a new baby, with a full-time working wife, and loads of other responsibilities. As his sister (and speaking for my parents as well), it was thoroughly hurtful (and irritating) to have him miss all of OUR functions, and yet see his Facebook posts about his rock-climbing trips, honeymoon, babymoon, and countless other vacations and exotic destinations that he and his new family were now taking, and ignoring us.

It is natural for us to slightly resent his wife.

Looking back, I wonder if Katie (Yes, his new wife has a name!)'s family felt the same way. We didn't even consider that Katie (who has three brothers and sisters) also has family traditions and functions that she may be missing.

And looking back, how is it possible for both of them (full-time working with new baby) to attend ALL family functions on both sides, and have their own marriage thrive and succeed?

They simply could not survive if they were catering to OUR demands.

This is why it is the DUTY of both spouses to actively LEAVE their parents and families and CLEAVE to their new spouse.

Form new traditions and make those your priority. Christmas is a very important holiday for our family. I can naturally assume it is important for my husband's family too. However, for my family (or my wonderful husband Scott's family) to naturally assume I will be there every year, or every other year without first checking with Scott will cause inevitable conflict.

Also, on the same point, family vacations are like weddings - times 10,000 in terms of awkwardness. My parents should never expect my brother to bring Katie on weekly cruise that we used to go on every year when we were children, or even adults pre-marriage. You must first consider your spouse.
Even though I believe we are good-hearted, kind and intelligent people, and it would be absolute heaven to hang out with us for 6 nights, I can't expect that Katie would feel that way. I also can't expect my brother to clear his hectic schedule and his own family vacations just so he can continue the Chang tradition of annual vacations. The Chang-Kirby union has formed, and we need to respect that.

Creating your own traditions does NOT mean you abandon your families. You still make it a point to "Honor your parents" and to keep in regular contact with them.

Don't let either side say, "This is how it's always been done."

Your new union has formed. Make decisions as a couple about how it will be.

The last time you should ever use "I" in a sentence is on your wedding day, when before, "do."

May all of your enjoy a long-lasting, sacred union!


demony granger said...

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