Leaving & Cleaving

Many married couples have trouble with the question of who comes first, your spouse or your parents?  The answer is your spouse – that’s your first obligation. 

It is the rare marriage that has no in-law problems.  Think about it – you picked your spouse, but that spouse comes with a whole family (and sometimes with their baggage).


It's best to set boundaries with your in-laws during the initial stages of your marriage.   The sooner the better.  Remember that you are creating a new family here – and everybody needs to know their role.  But be patient – there is a learning curve for everybody.  You included.

Let Your Spouse Deal With The Situation

If you (ladies) have a mother-in-law that is a problem, talk to your husband and ask him to speak to her.  His conversation with her may go something like "Mom, my wife and I appreciate you and Dad, and in order to maintain a healthy relationship with you, I am going to ask you to  respect our new family unit (back off a bit).  God is calling me to make my wife my highest priority on earth, and that means that she comes first, after God.  We are not walking away from your love and affection, but we are asking for some healthy space between us."  

When you get married, you leave your parents (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31).  It doesn't mean you don't talk to them anymore (unless they're horrible), but you have to cater to the new dynamic.  You're going to have a much stronger marriage if you become a loyal husband or wife.

You Don't Have to Try and Please Everyone

The choice between your spouse and parents/family was already made when you took your vows.  Your vows trump everything, even a neurotic attachment to your family or your passivity in dealing with their over-controlling nature.  Each of you must focus on making your spouse your first priority, no matter how much it irritates your mom or dad or siblings etc...

They're Too Intrusive

They always have to know everything about what's going on.  They show up uninvited and/or overstay their welcome.  Suggestions:

Set some rules and set them fast.  Talk to your parents about visits and say that they have to call first because “we might be in an intimate moment in the living room and we don't want to be interrupted” (when you say things like that, parents hear you loud and clear).  Or tell them you might not be fully dressed.  Tell them that you love them, but if they don’t call in advance, the door will not open unless it’s an emergency or somebody just died.  Saying this might hurt their feelings, but it’s essential.

They Expect You To Do Things Like They Did

A marriage brings together two people with two sets of genes, behaviors, family dynamics, and ways of doing things.  Tell your parents that you appreciate their input and viewpoints, but you've made your own decision.  Say you expect that someday your kids are going to tick you off too when they make their own decisions (a good joke thrown in is always helpful).  And parents, give your married children some space.  They are growing up in a different world than you did.

They Criticize Your Spouse

This is a bad pattern, and needs to be nipped in the bud early.  Explain to your parents that you don't want to hear it and that you won’t be talking to them if they don’t stop.  You married your spouse, not them, and if you’re happy, then that’s what matters.

They Set a Bad Example

Your mother has been divorced four times, or your dad is cheap beyond repair.  How to handle it: You can't fix your parents or the past, so don't bother trying.  Instead, put your energy into not picking up their bad habits.  Ask God to break any negative links between you and your parents (Ezekiel 18), and build a world of your own together.

Lessons Along The Way

My mother-in-law was known for speaking impulsively, and she would often blurt things out that were hurtful.  Years ago, she was visiting our home.  One evening when my wife and I were in the kitchen with her, she blurted out "Nancy you're impossible to live with."  I could tell this hurt my wife.   I spoke up (Her name "______),I have been living with Nancy for 22 years and enjoyed it.  It's good to have you as a guest in our home, and there are some rules about how we treat people in this house, and I must ask you to honor them while here."  She didn't know what to say.  Later on I spoke with her in the dining room, and she was like a different person.  She commented later that what I said helped her to respect me.  Lesson:  Set some rules for the home and live by them.

I had some in-laws who would come right into our home without knocking for many years.  It became a pattern, and I didn't much care for it.  One day it happened again and instead of talking to the person in private I chewed her out in front of her children.  That wasn't the best way to handle it.  Later I talked to the husband and explained that she had barged into our home when I was in the bathroom once, and barely had time to close the door.  From now on, she would have to knock first.  They understood and she agreed to knock before entering in the future.  Lesson:  Deal with issues early, when they are easier.


I recommend the 5/500 plan to young couples planning marriage.  That means that a newlywed couple lives 500-miles away from both sets of parents for the first five years of their marriage.  This is mostly rhetorical, encouraging the principle of building a world of your own with this new family unit that you just created.  Seriously, if in-laws are a problem, distance can help a lot.


Guys, you are a husband.  It means literally "the band of the house" (house-band).  You are the person who keeps it together, as a band keeps together a sheaf of corn.  You are are spiritual leader and protector of the home -- your wife needs that.  She has special gifts that benefit you as well.  If you abandon your post, that will damage your spouse, and make it difficult for her to respect you.  


It literally means a weaver.  The wife is the person who weaves.  Before our clothing factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own.  The wool was spun into thread by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who accordingly was called the weaver, or the wife.  In the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupations, as being fitted for her who bears this name (1 Timothy 2:5).

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD (Proverbs 18:22).

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31).

Marriage can be a real blessing.  Have fun!