"Leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh"


John W. asked this question: "What is the Biblical meaning of 'cleaving' and the relationship with 'interdependence'?"


"Cleaving" is taken from the King James version of this passage about the first marriage that God ordained on our first parents, Adam and Eve. In the New International version, "cleaving unto his wife" is interpreted as "united to his wife." 

Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (KJV)

Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)

There are three necessary steps for a person to negotiate successfully before a marital relationship can truly be healthy. Psychologically speaking, this is known as an emotional maturity process of separation and individuation that facilitate the successful merging of two egos in a mutually enriching emotional relationship.

While leaving is the first step that is necessary for an individual to be emotionally separate and independent from his or parents, cleaving is the second  psychological process for a person to negotiate during dating and courtship.

"Cleaving" in the original text can be translated into "to be joined together." This states the progression of a process with the final destination of marriage, thus "becoming one flesh." When two individuals have separated from his or her parents successfully they have become emotionally secured and matured. When they start to date each other, they will not have unrealistic expectations for another to be the only person to meet all of his or her emotional needs. Each person will give another healthy limits and boundaries as they grow emotionally closer to each other.

Psychologically, this is a process called "merging." Ideally, when each person in the relationship allows another to have space to grow and to be autonomous, the functioning of the marriage is actually better. In systems theory of family development, when a couple is cohesively bonded to each other with an ability to adapt, this becomes the most healthy form of relationship.


Dependency and interdependency

When a person fails to separate from his or her parents emotionally, this person is not able to achieve an autonomous self. One of the key characteristics of this immaturity is dependency. What this means is that the person depends on the nurturance and assurance of another outside of himself or herself. This person is a people pleaser and cannot do the right thing if doing right is against the popular culture. They are followers and not leaders. Co-dependence is another term to describe this condition.

A dependent person often has problem with anger and feelings of fear of being rejected and abandoned. To prevent any fear of others disapproval or rejection, he or she will become covertly controlling by using blame and shame as ways to cause others to comply to his or her wishes and desires. In emotional relationships, this will take the form of "if you love me, you will do.... for me." This person can become upset very easily if his or her wishes are not followed, "my way or no way."

As mentioned above, for a healthy marital relationship to take place each spouse must first be independent emotionally. During dating, they will be able to negotiate their emotionally closed relationship without excessive need for control.

After marriage, each spouse can become accommodating to each other without fearing the loss of his or her personal security or ego. This is the manifestation of interdependency. With this process in place, the marriage will become effective and can actually enhance the functioning of each spouse. For example, a person can enjoy riding a bicycle (or unicycle to be more accurate) with one wheel, but if he tries riding a  bicycle with both wheels in good balance, he will go faster and be more able to control it.

Interdependency is consistent with Biblical principle of marital relationship. Since each person was created with the image of God, each person has equal worth. For a marriage to function well, each spouse must take different roles to fulfill the functioning requirements of this committed relationship. So each spouse has become dependent on the function of another to achieve the successful functioning of a healthy relationship; in this process, they will have to be able to yield to the will of the spouse without a neurotic fear of losing personal control. Successful marriage life is about this perpetual give and take. For happy marriages, each spouse has come to accept each other so they are able to live with the uniqueness or quirks of each other without getting too upset over these differences. The smart marriages are those where each spouse has made it a point to enhance the uniqueness of each spouse with aplomb. This is the art and the challenge of marriage life that a couple may enjoy for a life time.


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