FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Leaving, Part 1

with Dennis Rainey | August 25, 2004
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The first step in moving toward your mate emotionally and physically is walking away from your parents. Today, Dennis Rainey tells how leaving your family of origin may be the best thing you can do in order to bond to your mate.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The first step in moving toward your mate emotionally and physically is walking away from your parents. Today, Dennis Rainey tells how leaving your family of origin may be the best thing you can do in order to bond to your mate.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dennis Rainey tells how leaving your family of origin may be the best thing you can do in order to bond to your mate.

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Leaving, Part 1

With Dennis Rainey
August 25, 2004
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Bob: We're here at First Church for the play-by-play of the Walker-Edwards wedding.  The crowd is prepared for the action about to take place.  So far, no one has appeared in the church – no, wait, just a second – here comes the groom, along with his groomsmen, and the minister.  They've taken their place to the right of the altar – that's going from our vantage point – left to right.  And we're waiting now for the bride to appear.  Here she comes.  She takes her first step down the aisle.  She is on the arm of her father.  They're coming up the aisle, the approach is looking very good, they've reached the altar now, and the minister has asked the question – "Who gives this woman to be married?"  The father has spoken up – he says, "Her mother and I do," and he takes his daughter's hand and places it on the arm of her groom to be.  It looks like we're going to have a successful wedding.

 Welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  How did I do on that?  Did you like that?  Did I do okay?

Dennis: Have you ever thought about being a golf announcer?

Bob: Our host is Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: I wonder why they don't televise that.  Think about it …

Bob: … play-by-play for a wedding.  Well, the picture you have at that moment of the wedding is one that brings tears to a lot of mothers' eyes, whether it is the mother's daughter who is being given away or whether it's mothers in the audience watching someone else's daughter be given away.

Dennis: It is.  It is a powerful moment when that dad comes down the aisle with the bride and then makes the handoff, as you just said there, as the ceremony starts.  And it's not without purpose that we begin this broadcast on such a solemn note, because what we've been talking about in this series is really God's plan for the marriage relationship.  Back in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24 and 25, it says, "For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, and the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed."

 Well, what we're talking about today is the leaving.  We've talked about on previous broadcasts the cause of a man and a woman coming together and how that is worth leaving, worth cleaving, worth becoming one flesh for, and today we want to look at the whole aspect of how you leave father and mother to establish this new union.  And, Bob, at the outset I want to say there is a lot of emotionally deep water around this subject of leaving your father and mother to establish a new marriage relationship.

Bob: I was reading recently in Dr. Dan Allender's book, "Intimate Allies," and he made the statement that, in his experience, he could trace 90 percent of marital discord back to a failure to leave.

Dennis: And most couples don't think they have failed to leave, and yet if they could see what is trailing behind them as they walk out the church and down the steps, they would see the apron strings still tied to a man and a woman by their parents; by people who love them, who care about them, but who simply don't know how to let them leave.  And it's interesting.  It's awkward, because there is a new union formed there, a new relationship that is an entity, and it's supposed to be.  It's supposed to be a couple who are one, who are in the process of forging a marriage relationship.

I was reading in Tim Kimmel's book, "Powerful Personalities," just about some different personality types and how different people try to control others through their – well, their aggressive behavior or passive behavior; how we manipulate each other.  And a young couple that is really not prepared properly to establish this new marriage relationship – if they're not careful, they will be controlled by either his parents or her parents or find themselves in between two sets of parents and trying to establish this new relationship.  The word "leave" from the biblical text means to "forsake dependence upon."  It means to turn your allegiance away from your parents and toward another person, that being your spouse.

We do that in such a way that honors our parents but that sends a clear signal to our parents that this is a new relationship that must be established.  I think sometimes, Bob, parents don't realize that this command in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24 is as much a command to the parents as it is to the couple who is getting married, and it's the wise parents that can understand the dynamics that a young couple is under as they try to forge the identity of a new marriage in the midst of two competing families.

Bob: Yeah, and it's one thing for parents to understand what they're supposed to do, it's another thing for parents to process that emotionally and make that switch.

Dennis: Man, and I'll tell you, Bob, I've got a daughter who is 22 right now, and you're talking to the choir now.  I mean, this says easy but it does hard.  It's hard to turn your back on the emotional giving and sharing and development you've poured into this daughter or this son's life and to let them leave; to encourage them to leave.  It doesn't mean you lose the relationship, though, it really doesn't.  It means, in essence, you get one back that's different; it has some different parameters.  And the point now being that you don't control them and, in essence, if you've released them properly, you shouldn't be controlling them as a young adult, anyway.

 There are a lot of single people who listen to our broadcast daily who know that there really is a lot of deep water around this issue of them being released by their parents, although they may not be getting married right now, they may feel like every time they go back home, they are treated like they're a teenager.  Their parents are relating to them just like they did when they were in high school; that their parents have not allowed them to leave childhood and cleave to adulthood as a single person.

 A lot of parents need to realize you need to let your son or daughter grow up.  Let them become a mature adult and relate to them more as a peer and less as a child who is always making childish choices and also not like a teenager, who is making foolish choices.  But some of our parents simply can't get beyond that because, frankly, in some situations, Bob, we represent the only real living relationship that our parents have.  They don't have a vital marriage, they don't have good friendships, and the only real relationships they have are with their children, and they simply can't let them leave, or they won't allow them to leave.

Bob: Okay, let me take you back here for just a second, because you said that most of us would think that we have left, and we may not have really left.  You defined leaving as "forsaking dependence upon."  Now, how can I run a test to see whether I have done the leaving that I'm supposed to have done?

Dennis: Well, I think there's three areas you can run a quick test on to just see how you've done as far as leaving your father and your mother.  The first one is emotional – have you left your parents' emotional control of your life?  Are you still looking to them for support, for encouragement, and for their approval?  Let me tell you two quick stories here.

 I'll never forget a woman in Dallas, Texas, who was 65 years old who said, "You know, Dennis, when my mom comes and visits me, I am so uptight.  My mom is in her 80s, and she makes observations about the way I keep house, about the way I'm caring for my kids, about the way I cook meals, still seeking her approval."  And this woman was angry at herself for still wanting the approval of an 83- or 84-year-old mom, and here she is, she's 65.  She's simply saying the emotional power my mom has over me is still in control of me, and she's not been able to get beyond that.  And, in my opinion, in that woman's marriage, she is missing a good deal of what God intended between her and her husband because she has not been able to get over her need for approval from her mom.

 A second story that I would share relates to my first trip back home after Barbara and I had gotten married.  I remember, in my immaturity again as a young man, simply sharing with my mom a mistake that Barbara had made in our marriage.  And I forget what it was – it was a minor mistake.  Barbara had hurt me, but I shared it with my mom, and it was as though, Bob, I had shared this grievous error, because this mother hen came running over to her son, pulled out her wing, and kind of ushered me under the flap of her wing, and it was, like, "Come here."  And although she didn't say these words verbally, what I felt was, "I knew that she couldn't be the woman that you really needed as my son."

Bob: "She wouldn't take care of you the way I've" …

Dennis: … oh, yeah, that was what she was saying and, you know, to a certain degree, obviously, that can't occur; I mean, my mom had practice.  I mean, I was almost 25 years old, so she had 24 years practice caring for me as her son.  But what she was doing was rushing in to care for me, and, you know, in future conversations with my mom, that mistake that Barbara made, for two or three years, would be brought up by her.  And I learned a very valuable lesson – be very careful, as a couple, of what you share with your parents of how your spouse has disappointed you or hurt you.  Your parents do not have near the grace to give your spouse that you have.  And, in essence, because you are their son or their daughter, they will naturally move to protect.  They've been trained to do that for years. 

 And I don't condemn my mom for her protective instincts.  Indeed, I just recognize that they're there.  But I realized at that point I couldn't share those disappointments with my mom.  It would simply play to a weakness in her life, and I think set Barbara up to be a failure in my own mom's eyes.

Bob: So you're saying that in this idea of leaving emotionally, we've got to be on guard against a natural tendency our parents will have to continue to try to be our parents.

Dennis: Yes, and if your parents are trying to manipulate you emotionally, what you have to do is ask your spouse to help you get beyond this.  Build some boundaries around your lives, around the holidays, determine how long you're going to go and when you're going to go and whose house you're going to go to for that first Christmas or that second Christmas or successive Christmases.  Use the marriage relationship that God has given you to protect one another from being manipulated or being taken advantage of or from emotionally being clobbered by parents.

 I think your spouse ought to be that person you cleave to and depend upon to really help you get free of your parents and establish your own identity as a couple.

Bob: Okay, we have to see if we have left emotionally – are there other areas?

Dennis: I think the financial area is one where parents can try to exert power or control over us.  I remember early in our marriage, I had invested some money in a small land deal near Dallas, Texas, and this was back in the real estate growth of the '70s near Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  It was a small amount of money for me, as a single man in ministry, but it was an investment.  I was kind of proud of myself that I'd made the investment and you know what, Bob, it turned over and sold real quickly, and I made a nice little profit.  So I thought, "Hey, I think I'll put the profits in another investment."

 So after we had gotten married, Barbara and I together decided we would invest in this second investment.  And just as the first investment, Bob, had been really good, this investment was …

Bob: … equally bad.

Dennis: Equally bad – and we lost it all.  At the point when the bill came due, because of the nature of the investment, I had a choice of either making the investment and continuing on, putting good money after bad, or I could totally walk away from my equity and …

Bob: … cut your losses …

Dennis: … cut my losses and be gone and, really, I fulfilled my obligations.  At that point, the temptation was to call daddy.  Now, I use the word "daddy" there specifically because it wasn't calling "Dad."  It would be calling "Daddy."  And, for me, as a young man, this situation became an opportunity for me to squarely face my obligations as a young man with a wife.  And I had to realize that I had to let my yes be yes and my no, no.  And if I'd made a dumb choice and a bad investment that, within reason, I needed to ride that on out and bear the loss that came with that.

 In a very unusual way, Bob, I feel like that choice of me describing to stick with my bad investment and to take my losses and not run home to my dad to bail us out as a couple was a very important step in becoming financially independent and becoming responsible, as a man, to provide for my wife and be responsible for my own financial decisions.  Now, I'm not saying it would be wrong to ask parents to help you out in a situation. 

It turned out, later on, that my dad ended up giving us some money to help us with a down payment on our first home.  But, you know, that felt different, getting that down payment, had I gone home to dad and asked him to bail us out of a difficult situation.  And I think what happens today with many young couples is they're trying to live on a higher level than they ought to be living, and they're going home to mom or dad to bail them out of that situation, and it's creating a dependence upon parents, because where money goes, there can be – not every time – but there can be control; there can be manipulation; there can be a payback.

It's interesting that when my dad did help us with the house, later on, I felt absolutely no control by him or by my mom, even though they did help us establish that first home.  And I think here is the wisdom for the parents who are listening – if you do help your kids financially, make sure you're doing it in such a way that it doesn't exert control or influence, and it really divides this couple who were meant to be cleaving toward one another.

Bob: Well, how can I tell whether an offer of financial help from my parents is coming with strings attached or not?

Dennis: That's a great question.  I would look at the track record of the parents.  Do they have a track record of using other things in your life, as a single person, to control you, manipulate you, or seek power over you?  If they have, I'll tell you, I wouldn't accept money.  I really wouldn't.

Bob: Now, wait – if we're looking at the down payment on a house, and you really want to be in the house …

Dennis: … I'm telling you, there is no house worth the emotional cost that you're going to have to pay.  And there are a lot of married folks right now that just nodded their heads looking at their radios and, "Boy, did you say that right, brother.  I wish I'd heard that when we first got married."  It really isn't worth it, Bob.  The leaving and the cleaving needs to be away from your parents and a cleaving to your spouse.  And if you allow money to control you, you're going to be pulled back when you need to be stepping forward towards your spouse.

Bob: Okay.  We've talked about emotionally leaving, we've talked about financially leaving – is there another area?

Dennis: Yes, decision-making, and this could include the spiritual dimension of life as well.  Just getting advice from parents.  Now, parents need to give advice, and I think we need to go back to them for counsel and for wisdom, but the decision needs to be yours as a couple.  You need to share the weight of that decision together as a couple, praying together as a couple, and making your decision as a couple.  Don't make the decision on the basis of what your parents advise you to do.

 That doesn't mean you wouldn't do what they say, necessarily.  It just means that you can't give them power over your lives at that point.  Illustration in point – I know a grown man today who is stuck in a dead church, and he takes his entire family there every Sunday – Sunday after Sunday, he has been going there for 15 years with his kids.  His kids are now teenagers.  He knows he's in a dead church.  Just down the road there is a church that preaches the word, it's got a great youth group.  Do you know who is really controlling this decision -- both sets of parents. 

 Both of those parents go to that church, and they are keeping them in this liberal, dead church, and this guy will not assume the responsibility that he has to lead his family spiritually by taking them to a place where they'll be nurtured; where they will receive spiritual encouragement to grow.  And you know what?  It's going to cost him, and it's going to cost him big time in his family as his children move on to maturity.

Bob: You talk a lot about the concept of honoring our parents, and I'm sure for this man the idea of moving on to another church feels like it would be bringing great dishonor on both sets of parents.

Dennis: Well, this is taking place in a small community, so the pressure is big time intense.  I mean, the whole town would know if this man moved his family from that church.  But, at that point, you've got to look at that man and say, "Do what's spiritually best for your wife and your family."  In this particular situation, the wife wants to move.  The kids would like to move.  Everyone in his family wants to make the move to the other church, but he is afraid of what it will cost him.  And you know what?  He needs to be a man of conviction.  He needs to lead his family spiritually.

Bob: It might help him if he got ready to talk with his parents about his plans.  It might help if he would read Tim Kimmel's book on how to deal with powerful personalities, because it sounds like that's one of the things that's going on here.  He's got his parents, who are working to subtly manipulate or control him in this situation, and Tim's book helps us know how to deal with that kind of a situation. 

 We've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and he ought to contact us and get a copy.  In fact, Dr. Dan Allender's book, "Intimate Allies," would be another great resource for him, because in that book Dan talks about the importance of leaving father and mother and about some of the subtle tendencies there can be on the part of our parents to continue to try to control us, even after we're married.  We've got both books available, and I would encourage any of our listeners – this issue of leaving father and other is so critical to a healthy marriage.  If you need help in this area, get a copy of both of these books.  We'll send you, at no additional cost, either the CD audio or the cassette audio of this series on God's plan for marriage.

 You can ask for the books when you call us at 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can go online to order at and, again, you get both books, and we'll send the CD or cassette audio, your choice, at no additional cost.

 And then it would probably be a good idea for a husband and wife in this situation to get away for a weekend together at one of our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conferences.  Over the course of two-and-a-half days, we try to help couples have a great time, it's a lot of fun, it's refreshing, it's relaxing, but it's also an opportunity to think deeply about what the Bible has to say about God's purpose for marriage, God's plan for marriage, some of the key issues that couples face in a marriage relationship like communication, sexual intimacy, resolving conflict, the core responsibilities we have with each other has husbands and as wives, as moms and dads.  There have been hundreds of thousands of couples over the years who have attended one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.  It has always had an unconditional money-back guarantee.  So if, for any reason, you want your money back, we'll refund the registration price, no questions asked.  All you have to do is write us and let us know that you'd like your money back.  And we don't get a lot of requests for refunds, because couples really enjoy this conference.

 If you'd like more information or if you'd like to make reservations to attend one of our Weekend to Remember conferences, go to our website at  There's a complete list of the upcoming conferences, the cities we're going to be in and what weekends we'll be there on our website.  Or call for more information at 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 And, finally, when you do get in touch with us, if you are able to help with a financial contribution to FamilyLife Today here during the month of August, that would be greatly appreciated.  We've got an initiative – we're partnering with the Wilberforce Forum to try to make happen here in the next couple of weeks – we're trying to encourage churches all across the country to get involved in the National Preaching Initiative to preach on God's design for marriage sometime during September or October – preach for one Sunday or for a couple of Sundays, for four Sundays, and we're hoping thousands of churches will join together and will affirm together what the Scriptures have to say about God's design for marriage being between one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for a lifetime.  It's especially critical that that issue be addressed in our culture in this day.

 And I mention that, because that's just one of many initiatives that we are hoping to move forward with in the weeks and months ahead here at FamilyLife.  All of those initiatives are dependent on your financial participation with us.  We couldn't do what we're doing here at FamilyLife if folks like you weren't helping us financially make that happen. 

 You can donate to FamilyLife Today online at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation.  Those donations are tax deductible, and we hope to hear from you, especially here at the end of the summer, here in the last few days of August.  It's a critical time for us, and if you can make a donation of any amount, give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at and do that, all right?  Dennis.

Dennis: Well, we've been talking on the broadcast today about leaving our parents emotionally, leaving them financially, and then leaving them in the process of making a decision, and I've got three quick thoughts for you as you really evaluate as a couple – what have you done in leaving your father and mother? 

 First of all, I would encourage you to discuss, as a couple, have you left?  Each of you – have you left emotionally, financially, and for direction or decision-making.  Secondly, if you have got some problems there, I would encourage you to pray together, as a couple, for a solution.  And, third, honor your parents but take action.  Set a course for your marriage and take control of the future by making some decisions that will create health and spiritual vitality in your marriage.  You will never regret it.

Bob: We'll talk more tomorrow about what some of those steps might be specifically, and I hope our listeners can join us for that. 

 I want to thank our engineer, Mark Whitlock.  Our host is Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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