Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
As a new bride, I had no idea I’d have to protect my one flesh union from well-meaning family and friends. Cultivating and strengthening my marital oneness was not something that even occurred to me. That is, until one day when my marriage became under attack from a close family member.
In order for my marital relationship to truly be my first priority and not mere lip service, I needed to take action. This meant me making the hard decision to confront those I loved while having to defend my guy. It meant me making a deliberate proclamation that my loyalty was to him before all others.
Once I established that my allegiance was to my husband, then I had to go one step further and establish boundaries to protect this allegiance.
Marital oneness under attack? Really? It never crossed my mind.
But now after 17 years of marriage, it’s really a rather common threat. And as followers of Christ, we shouldn’t be surprised by it. After all, the enemy will use whatever means necessary to separate what God has brought together.
“So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matt. 19:6
In today’s episode of, The Marriage Mentor, my man and I are diving deeper into this crucial topic as we address a question from one of my readers.
My wife and I both subscribe to your site and I love when your husband gives a man’s point of view. I was wondering if you could speak to wives about defending their husbands from her family. And setting boundaries and what would be appropriate?
JOLENE ENGLE: Today’s message reads “Hi Jolene, My wife and I both subscribe to your site and I love when your husband gives a man’s point of view. I was wondering if you could speak to wives about defending their husbands from her family. And setting boundaries and what would be appropriate? Thanks, Jim.” So, he’d like your point of view, but would like for me to share with wives. So I’m assuming that the wife is defending her husband from her family.
ERIC ENGLE: Ok, ok. So they don’t like him, they think he’s a jerk.
JOLENE: Or the mother-in-law is meddling?
ERIC: So, here’s the deal. He’s looking for his wife to step up and to be the man. Now obviously, she has a relationship with her family. And yes, I would agree that she should stand up to them and defend her husband because the two are one. But if the two are one, he should have license or freedom to defend himself and defend them, because if they’re acting like one…
JOLENE: That’s the key.
ERIC: …then there shouldn’t be an issue. If they’re not acting like one then it’s, ‘Oh, you need to defend me in front of your family’. The problem he says is that he needs to be defended, but I think the problem might be that they need to become one, first. Then when that happens, the defense is a non-issue.
JOLENE: I understand that. So, I go back to being a young bride married for, gosh, what? Three years maybe?
ERIC: Those were good times weren’t they? (Laughs)
JOLENE: I was pregnant, had a toddler, and was very ill, so for me it wasn’t good times. And I had family that attacked my husband.
ERIC: Was I there or was I not there?
JOLENE: You were not there. You weren’t well. They didn’t even want me to marry you, so yeah that was not nice. Come March 14th you were going to be my husband whether they were there or not. But anyway, my point is, I don’t know if this is a young bride not knowing how to figure out, ‘Hey mom, you’re stepping into areas that you shouldn’t be stepping in to.’ And I remember how I was when they were slinging mud at you; I was just like ‘Hey you need to back up’. I’m speaking to a family of non-believers, so I want to handle it with truth but also grace, and I’m lacking both. All I know is they’re coming at you, they’re attacking you and in my mind it’s just like, I’m not okay with this. How do I draw the line? How do I make sure they don’t keep doing this and undermining our marriage?
ERIC: So this is how it went: I gave you some freedom with your family.
JOLENE: Right. And I appreciated that, I really appreciated that. I was able to go to my family and say, “This is unacceptable and it needs to stop”. I had to lovingly confront my family and basically tell them, here are my boundaries – and asking them to respect them. The wife in this scenario would have to go to her family and say, ‘Here are my boundaries; you can’t say these things about my husband.’ Because what’s happening is, if they’re tearing down your husband, they’re tearing you down, as well. They’re tearing down your marriage and the oneness God wants you to develop. A wife should to go to her family and say ‘Please, stop’ – hopefully that’s the end of the conversation. Hopefully they’re able to be mature enough to heed your warnings. Now, that was not the case in my family.
ERIC: First of all, let’s talk about where her loyalty is. If her loyalty is to her husband and they are one, then that’s really not such a big problem. Maybe she can’t stand up to her family.
JOLENE: Which is where the problem will be, because some women will turn to their family for more emotional support than their husband. Some mothers and mother-in-laws are meddling and they’re causing a crack in the marriage, and so you as a wife have to decide: Am I going to be a people pleaser to my mom or my mother-in-law or am I going to be a God pleaser, which will pull me closer to my husband? God doesn’t want a separation in your marriage. Bottom line is: you’re not going to be living out your life with your mom or your mother-in-law in your bed; it’s going to be your husband! Which relationship do you want to develop the most?
ERIC: And in our situation, after it got to be too much for you, then what happened? Remember?
JOLENE: Oh, absolutely, and this went on for years. The boundary wasn’t respected, they kept stepping over the lines – after I got off the phone I was always in tears. Your heart is being pulled because you want your family to know Jesus and you know that you’re an example and a witness, but they don’t get to come in and stomp all over your marital union. At one point Eric said, “Ok, you’re done, I’m going to be dealing with your family from now on.” And I really appreciated that, but I appreciated both sides. I appreciated Eric saying, “Go do your thing, and I’ll deal with them.” I think you probably did that because you saw that I was standing for you. You saw that I was standing for the marriage and what God would honor.
ERIC: I wanted you to have the opportunity to deal with them. I had no problem dealing with them myself, if I needed to. But when it got too heavy for you, that was it, because we are one. Then when they’d call, you’d hand me the phone.
JOLENE: It was so easy for me to hand you the phone! My family was livid, they thought I was being brainwashed, but really I was being washed by the Word of God. I’m good, my husband is here as my protector, speak to him. And they didn’t like that; they didn’t understand the Bible. But anyway, we did the best we could to protect our marriage in the midst of our extended family. Whether your extended family are believers or not, they could still come in and meddle. What I think is very wise, initially, is for the husband to say ‘Hey, go deal with your family’, because it’s always best for me to go to my family first if there’s issues, and for Eric to go to his family first if there’s issues. It’s just better received. If a wife were not doing that, if she’s not standing for her husband, I’d ask why?
ERIC: You said a key point, which is – protect your marriage. I don’t think many people at all understand what that means. Ultimately they think, ‘It’s me and it’s him’ or ‘it’s me and it’s her and we’re both on the same team’. They’re missing it all together. If you’re a ‘one’, then you stand together. I see us back to back, with our swords out – it’s basically us against the world. Now it doesn’t mean that we think everyone is coming at us, but it’s us protecting our marriage. We’re both standing for the same thing.
JOLENE: I think a lot of it too is in that oneness. We don’t fully grasp that idea of oneness; we think ‘oh I had sex with you, so we’re one’. It’s so much more than that! There’s the spiritual connectedness, emotional, mental, and obviously physical connectedness.
ERIC: And there’s a commitment to be one and the loyalty to be one. That’s really key, because a lot of times there isn’t that commitment. I get married, but I’m still loyal to my family.
JOLENE: Right, but you have to choose. I go back to the scriptures and in Genesis 2:24 it says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” I call it the leaving and cleaving principle, because I’m cleaving to my husband. I’m going to do whatever it takes to cultivate the oneness and cultivate the loyalty and the allegiance in our marriage – to truly walk out that oneness. I am concerned about whether or not my husband is going to be received by my family and he should be concerned about whether or not I am going to be received by his family. Now, each family has a choice and we have a choice. We’re going to choose each other and the loyalty and cultivating the oneness before we make sure that mom’s happy and the thanksgiving potatoes and yams are all taken care of. We are not putting them first. My family knows that we are not putting them first – my husband is going to come first. And that’s hard, because it is so divisive! Matthew 10:26 – “Mother will be against daughter, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, father against son…” I should know that one by heart now. There is some division when you live soldout for Christ. Seven months pregnant, when a bunch of this went down with my family and I went into preterm labor, I remember in that moment, in tears, hearing what was being said about you, about our situation – I remember thinking ‘What am I going to do with what was just said to me? Am I going to tell you ‘Oh Hun, it’s no big deal if they said this, just pretend to ignore it and let’s just keep going back to family gatherings as if everything is okay.’
ERIC: Well, and by the way, I believe you were more offended about what they said about me than I was.
JOLENE: Yes, I was completely offended by it.
ERIC: Which would be the same way on the other side.
JOLENE: Right, right. You, as a wife, you have to choose your husband. If you want that thriving, Christ-centered marriage, you’ve got to choose your husband over your extended family.
ERIC: If you don’t, then go back and live with them. Go marry your mother!
JOLENE: When the proposal was given, you knew I’m going to be this guy’s wife. My destination is getting to the altar and saying ‘I Do’. And that is a simple destination; we know what it looks like. But then walking it out, from there on out, how do you protect the oneness? How do you protect and cultivate being on the same page, moving together, and considering one another? I have to look at everything else around me saying, if I make this choice, will it build up my husband, will it build up our marriage? Or will it tear it down?
ERIC: That’s a great question, I’ll tell you how I answer that, and it goes like this: No mother or father, no brother or sister, no friend or well-wisher, no one is going to come between me and my wife. No one. No child, no dog, no friend, no mailman, I don’t care who it is! No one is going to come between my relationship with me and my wife. If married people, believers, would just understand that and abide by that, what a fantastic marriage they would have! And what commitment they would have by their spouse because of the commitment they’re giving.
JOLENE: There’s an allegiance and loyalty there. Your guy wants a wife that he could safely trust in. That’s a Proverbs 31 woman, there – the passage opens up with finding a wife whom he could safely trust. Can your guy trust you when you go to momma’s house? Are you going to be talking smack about him? Never go to your momma’s house and talk smack about your husband. Momma is always going to stand to your defense. Even when you make peace with your husband and everything is fine, mom is always going to look at that husband thinking ‘that man hurt my daughter’. So you would be a very wise wife to not take it to mom if you’re having issues in your marriage, because mom can’t see you in any other way than her daughter.
ERIC: Well, and in general, women tend to hold on to some of those things a litter longer than men.
JOLENE: Oh yeah, we so do. I mean it really takes an act of God for us to let go of stuff. Our emotions are running wild and we’re hurt, we’re betrayed. We’re the people that the relationship matters greatly to, not to say that men aren’t relational, we’re just more so. We’re more nurturing, we’re more sensitive, we’re more emotional, and guys are just kind of like ‘what’s going on?’ If your wife is not giving you that loyalty, I’d ask: what can I do to strengthen our loyalty? Or maybe she just doesn’t know how to shift from being mom’s gal to being your gal.
ERIC: Well, and it starts with conversation, because so many couples, they don’t even talk about this kind of stuff.
JOLENE: But that’s why we have The Marriage Mentor! (Laughs)
ERIC: That’s right! So that’s all I have to say about that, you got anything to add?
JOLENE: Nope, that’s all I have to say. So, go back to Genesis 2:24, the ‘Leave and Cleave’ principle. If you put God first and your husband second, that ultimately will begin strengthening your marriage.
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