A big part of the transition of marriage involves developing a new identity. Not like, I’m going to be Jada and you’re going to be Will. But more like, though I love my family, YOU are now my family. This takes some obvious reframing when it comes to things like how you spend holidays and which traditions you will uphold. But I believe there is an internal reframing that must occur also; like, “Are your parents REALLY my parents? Will your siblings ever feel like MY siblings? Will you be friends with my best friend?”
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
Leaving and cleaving can be tricky. Leaving implies us literally leaving our parents, our first source of love. And cleaving instructs us to be joined together “as one” with our spouse, someone we are learning how to love. Being joined with our spouse says, “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Leave your peeps, embrace mine, but cling to me so we can be one. I’ll embrace your family as my own and you will embrace mine as yours.” To mesh with one’s family it is important to spend time with the family. But in order to get to know your spouse, it’s important to spend time apart from others so you can acclimate as husband and wife and develop your new identity as a couple. It can almost feel like a mixed message.
Is Genesis 2:24 saying, “Separate (from your family), connect (as a couple) and build your own family? If so, what do familial relationships look like now? What if both Mother in-laws wish to host Christmas dinner and it’s equally important to husband and wife. Do you decline both invitations and celebrate alone or do you explain to both sets of parents that you’ll be alternating holidays? Both those suggestions are a fair compromise, but what is really taking place in your heart while making such decisions? Are you complying to appear like you’re a good sport, while internally resenting everybody, feeling like you’re taking one for the team? As you adjust to this new idea of becoming one with your spouse you may at times feel like you are losing your own identity in the process.
You can either view your circumstance like you are losing your identity or gaining a new one. I’ve been married for 19 years now and although I have a healthy marriage, I just realized this year that when I chose to leave, I did not choose to cleave. My bank account, zip code, dwelling, and even my last name changed but deep within, there were hidden things that remained the same. One of which was, my Dad was my Dad. Although my Father-in-Law is a man in which I have boundless respect and honor for, he was not my Dad. I have used so many tactics over the last two decades to keep from calling him “Dad,” it’s really quite ridiculous. He’s been affectionately called, “Mr. Poplar, Grandpa, Melvin Poplar Sr. My Father-in-Law.” But not until 3 weeks ago did I refer to him as “Dad.” That might seem trivial to some, but to me it was huge. It was hard, but I did it, and I’m glad I did! (Even though it was in a text message. I felt a significant shift.)
I met my husband when I was 16. My Daddy died 9 years before. A lot takes place in a girl’s life between the ages of 7 and 16, but one thing that didn’t change for me was that I was a Daddy’s girl at heart. I was so young that my “Daddy” was just that, “Daddy.” He died before I ever reached the stage of even referring to him as “Dad.” I’m 40 something and in my mind, my Dad is still my “Daddy.” I think the little girl inside of me was not willing to relinquish the space in my heart that was reserved for my Daddy. Rather than seeing how God gave me another Father figure, the little girl inside of me felt like if I embraced my husband’s Dad, then I would be letting go of my own. Letting go of his legacy, his love, and his life.
It never dawned on me that God gave me a new family and Father so that I could receive love, embrace legacy, and celebrate life. Grief kept me from cleaving to my husband’s family, and grief is what drove me to embrace them as my own. After my Daddy died we stayed in touch with our local relatives, but we had no contact from his family in his State of origin. My Dad was the youngest of my grandfather’s children and I’m the youngest of my siblings. I have now lived in that State for the last 16 years and as we travel throughout Alabama I would often grieve the thought that I could have family in the cities we were in and not even know who they were.
I know this is going to sound all the way crazy, but the movie Black Panther heightened this grief all the more. I identified more with the supervillain, Erik Killmonger, as I felt displaced from my people and jealous of my husband’s rich cultural heritage. His family’s genealogy made me jealous because I could not trace my history past my grandfather. Part of me would take pride in the fact that my children gained this wonderful legacy, but the other part of me felt discouraged and displaced and my heart ached for something deeper.
The day after calling my Father-in-law Dad and deciding my husband’s history was my own and his people were my people, I logged on to Facebook and saw where my first cousin had posted an obituary that her brother found on a genealogy site. The person who had passed was “James Burton Sr.” from Montgomery Alabama. I started combing through the names of his family members, entering them into the Facebook search bar and noticed that I had mutual friends with one of the women that I found. I contacted that friend via text and within hours I was on the phone with my newfound family member. It was surreal. Her father who had just passed away days prior was my grandfather’s nephew. To think all these years had gone by of me fearing that cleaving to my husband’s family would lead to loss and it led to such great gain.
Is there an area in your life in which you know you either need to leave (your family) or cleave (to your spouse)? Your circumstance might be totally different from mine but you are keenly aware that there is something that you’ve been holding back? You could be hindering the oneness God has designed for you and your spouse to experience.
Parents aren’t the only ones you may have to leave. Before marriage, you may have had friends with the opposite sex. Within marriage, it’s important to leave those friendships and foster friendship with your spouse. Your spouse should be your best friend. So in some cases, even BFFs have to renegotiate the terms of their friendship. Friendship is important, but being friends with your spouse needs to take priority. I’m not saying you can’t cultivate friendship with others, I’m just saying you can’t really fully connect with your spouse if your focus is always connecting with others.
You are no longer Single, so why live like a Single person? If you are a couple, then it’s important to leave behind Single mindsets. This isn’t something you have to announce to others, it’s an internal shift that takes place within that will be reflected in your priorities. My prayer for you is that you release what needs to be let go of so you can embrace that which will cause you to cling to your spouse. Your new identity doesn’t have to erase who you were it should enhance who you are becoming.
What are some areas in which couples generally struggle when it comes to leaving and cleaving?
Have you found yourself in an identity crisis at any point along your marriage journey?