Spouse > Parents

One of my summer reading pleasures this year has been The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller, who serves as pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  Keller is one of my favorite authors and leaders and there is a lot to learn in this book.

One thing Keller shared in the book I found to ring especially true

…right in the midst of these patriarchal cultures, and in the face of these realities, God says, “I didn’t put a parent and a child in the Garden, I put a husband and a wife.  When you marry your spouse, that must supersede all other relationships, even the parental relationship.  Your spouse and your marriage must be the number one priority in your life.”

Your marriage must be more important than anything else.  No other human being should get more of your love, energy, industry, and commitment than your spouse. God asks that a man leave his father and mother, as powerful as that relationship may have been, to forge a new union that must be an even more important and powerful force in his life.

Well said, and very challenging.

How does a married person live this out effectively?  What must a husband or a wife do to clearly and substantially make his or her spouse the “number one priority” in life?  The list is likely long, but let me share three simple keys.

1. Count the cost and be willing to pay the price.  Putting your spouse first, ahead of your parents, can cause anxiety for some newly married folks (and for some who’ve been married a very long time).  True enough.  Nobody said this would be easy.  It can be hard.  I encourage newly- or soon-to-be-married couples to face the fact that cutting the cord with mom and dad is going to be hard.  Welcome to marriage, a relationship that requires hard work.  If you don’t want to difficult things, then don’t get married (or endeavor much of anything else in life).

Admit that that choosing your spouse over your parents is going to be a challenge.  Admit that your parents might be hurt, even angry.  Whatever the topic, admit to yourself that your parents might be right (and your spouse wrong), that you might agree with your parents (and not your spouse), and/or that taking sides with your spouse may make you look like a fool.  Admit these realities and then choose your spouse over your parents anyway.

2. Look for the early win.  When my wife and I first married, we moved into a humble house that we called ‘home.’  When my parents first came to see our new home, I met them in the driveway and walked them to the front door.  Before going in, I said, “I’m really glad you came by, but before I let you in, I want you to know something.  You are welcome to come by anytime you’d like, and we value your visits.  However, this is our home, and so your opinions are not welcome; please leave those at your house.  If that’s a problem, I’d prefer you stay home with your opinions.”  My wife was a bit mortified at my boldness, but my parents appreciated the strong stand and have honored it for the nearly twenty years I’ve been married.

Taking a stand for your spouse will not get any easier than it is at the beginning of your marriage.  Siding with your spouse in a strong, visible, and potent way early (even before the wedding) will set the tone for the new kind of relationship you have with your parents.

3. Don’t apologize for your spouse.  I’ve counseled too many married men who apologize for siding with their wife.  Doing so usually sounds something like, “You know, I would prefer X, but my wife really wants Y.  Sorry.  I’m sure Y is not the best thing, but I should go with her wishes, otherwise there’ll be hell to pay.”  What a wimp!

When we treasure our spouse and honor our vows to “be one” with her, we cannot and do not offer apologies for siding with her.  We make no apologies for putting her first.  And we never air spousal disagreements with others (including our own parents).  One of the core parenting principles is that parents should always present a unified front in childrearing.  The same principle is no less true when relating to our parents.  If you disagree with your spouse, tell her, not your parents.  It dishonors your spouse and drives a harmful wedge between the two of you—whether she learns of your apology or not.

There are many other keys to a great marriage, but the way we relate to parents is especially important because it demonstrates the lengths to which we will go to put our spouse first.  What about you?  To what lengths will you go?  To what lengths are you going?  Where are you coming up short?




About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.