The Husband-Wife Relationship Comes First!
The husband-wife relationship must always have priority over all other relationships. If you are older than those whom we often refer to as "Young Couples," you might already be thinking that the material in this segment has little or no relevance for you. Hold on, please! In my marriage and family counseling it has become painfully evident that many Christian parents of young couples are making serious errors in their sincere efforts to help their married children. Some do more damage than good. I have also discovered that many who are in their forties, fifties, and even sixties are having marital problems because either husband or wife has given priority to someone other than his or her spouse. We can all benefit by being reminded of what the Lord teaches on this subject, and how we must put this into practice today. And perhaps the Lord will use you to help others by what you read, especially as you have occasion to counsel them.
The Husband-Wife Relationship First
Joe and Sarah (not their real names) had been married for about two years. They were very bright, attractive young adults, active in their church. But their marriage was already in serious trouble. In our first counseling session data gathering soon revealed the primary reason was that the husband did not really "leave his father and mother." He and his father had plans to go into business together, which would include moving to another state. The young man's father had this idea in mind before his son married. Now his wife was being informed of the plans; she had no voice in the matter. Sarah had not anticipated moving from the west Michigan area, where her parents, other relatives and friends lived. Nor did she want to do this. It was painfully obvious that Joe, as he was wrongfully influenced by his father, had not given their husband-wife relationship the highest priority.
Thankfully, Joe and Sarah were both receptive to Biblical counsel and worked quite rapidly at conforming to God's word. The young man's father was asked to join in the counseling for one or two sessions. Although it was a keen disappointment for him to give up a long cherished ambition, he accepted the principle that his son had to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. He soon rejoiced with his young son and wife as their marriage was dramatically turned around within a few weeks.
Many other marriages run into deep trouble when either the husband or wife does not really "leave father and mother." The same thing is true when one does not leave his or her friends, buddies, business or professional associates, so that the marital relationship does not take first place.
The Lord, as He designed and instituted marriage, revealed that the husband-wife relationship must always have the highest priority. And Jesus makes it clear that this is an abiding principle for all ages as he speaks out against divorce. He says, "Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" (Matt. 19:4, 5 quoting Gen. 2:24).
What Does The Lord Mean?
Does He mean that when you get married you have to forget Dad and Mom? Put them out of your lives? No! Of course not. Continue to enjoy them. Respect them highly. Give them an important place in your lives – the parents of both spouses. However, God's design is that the husband-wife relationship supersedes, stands above the parent-child relationship. Your spouse is always to be the most important person in your life, the closest to you.
Dr. Joel Nederhood, in his excellent book The Holy Triangle, has a chapter on "Leaving and Cleaving." He appropriately says,
From Jesus' words concerning marriage, we learn, first of all, that marriage involves leaving. Marriage is an entirely new way of life that makes it necessary to leave your old way of life behind. We must leave the family into which we were born in order to start another, new family. This must be done in spite of the fact that family relationships, ideally, are some of the most intimate there are. Children develop strong dependence upon their parents, and parents become dependent upon their children too. This was true in Jesus' day as well. Yet when He described marriage, Jesus went back to the oldest description of it we find in the Bible the original of His words is found in Genesis 2 – and He said that marriage means leaving father and mother.
Your Spouse First in Decision Making
After God has joined you together and you have become "one flesh," you are a new decision making unit. Therefore, when you have an important decision to make, you should discuss it first of all with your spouse. Your spouse must not get the message: "He (She) puts more confidence in Dad and Mom than in me," or "What they think counts the most." If and when you want to take advantage of the insights and wisdom of your parents (it is very proper and good to do so at times), agree to seek their advice together. However, the final decision must rest with you and your spouse.
Are you in a business or professional partnership? Be careful to give your spouse the highest priority! Do not conduct your business in such a way that your wife is "left in the dark" in matters of interest and importance to her, or that have an impact on your marriage and family life, now and in the future. She must not be made to feel she is "playing second fiddle" or is less important to you than your business or professional associates. Many marriages are deeply hurt because this principle is not sufficiently kept in mind. One wife said something like this, "He treats me as though I'm one of his employees. He and ... make all the decisions. I'm told about it later and am expected to just fall in line."
Share Interesting Experiences with your Spouse First
In marriage counseling we often hear such complaints as, "It seems like her (his) Dad and Mom hear almost everything before I do." Or, "He (She) doesn't share it with me. I hear it second hand." That often causes bitterness and resentment. When you have something that is of special interest, ordinarily you ought to share it first with your spouse. This will help you enjoy closer companionship and promote greater intimacy.
When You have a Conflict
When you have a conflict, neither of you should quickly get in touch with your parents or others by phone or in any other way, to talk about your problems with them. If they hear just one side of the story, very likely they will get an inaccurate picture of what is really going on. Frequently, in fact, a very distorted picture is given. If and when the parents allow this to happen, then give advice or enter the conflict, siding with their son or daughter on the basis of what they have heard, they do not help. Rather they increase the problem. They become part of the problem instead of the solution!
For example, several years ago Tex and Sheila came for help after being counseled by others throughout the ten years of their marriage. In the process of counseling a pattern became clear. When they got into a conflict Sheila would soon call her parents, usually after Tex had left for work. Her primary complaints were that Tex would not buy the things she needed (actually, wanted!), and that he was harsh and cruel with the children. Her parents usually accepted her word at face value, sympathized with her, gave advice and often acted solely on the basis of what they heard from their daughter. As counseling proceeded, it became clear that Sheila's father and mother had been and still were indulgent parents. Now Sheila's wants far exceeded her needs, and that which Tex was able to provide for her and the children. So she would often accuse Tex of lack of love and concern. She was also an indulgent parent, (which was no surprise), therefore, when Tex properly disciplined the children she accused him of being harsh and cruel. The children began to regard their Daddy as being the bad guy. Grandpa and Grandma added fuel to the fire as they sympathized and sided with their daughter. Unwittingly, they were helping to destroy the marriage and the family! This type of thing is happening a lot and is raising havoc in many families. This can and must be avoided by consistently and persistently conforming to God's design for marriage.
Your Spouse First – Not Your Friends
Fred came for help because his wife, Faye, was developing the wrong kind of relationship with another man. Data gathering soon indicated that for several years Fred had been going out a lot with his buddies: bowling, hunting, etc. Faye had often pleaded with him to spend more time with her, to participate together in recreational activities. Only occasionally would he yield to her desires. In fact, at times he told Faye that they just could not afford to go out for an evening. But he very soon went out again with his buddies. She had to stay home and care for the children. Finally another man began to show interest in her. He had time for her. They thoroughly enjoyed some good talks together. Gradually their relationship grew stronger and stronger, and went in a sinful direction. That's when Fred finally woke up and came for help.
Ralph treated his wife in very much the same way. Then at bedtime she suddenly became important to him. He would soon make sexual advances toward her. At times she would reluctantly cooperate – partly out of a sense of obligation. At other times she would not. He'd get angry. That created more problems. When they came for counseling he complained that Jill was often disinterested in having sexual relations, or even rejected his advances. Jill replied, "But I feel used." Was it any wonder? Sad to say, this type of thing is not at all uncommon. My counseling experience indicates that more husbands are guilty of hanging onto past friendships than are their wives. This, too, goes contrary to God's design for marriage, the principle that the husband-wife relationship must always have the highest priority. It is a major contributing factor in the breakdown of many marriages.
Never Go Out with Your Friends?
Does that mean that you may not go out at all without your spouse, just with a friend or friends? No, of course not. However, it does mean that your spouse must be your bosom friend. Your best times must be spent with your spouse – and family. Never must she (he) be made to feel that you would really rather spend your time with others.
Dr. Nederhood writes, "Jesus also says that marriage involves joining ... In an ideal marriage the husband and wife cling to one another, not in desperation, but in the calm assurance that God wants them to face life together. They engage in the exciting business of living jointly; they live as if they were really one."The Holy Triangle, p. 19