Cleave to Your Mate

Sage biblical advice for making your marriage stick

The English word cleave is quirky. Webster’s defines it, “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly.” But it also defines it exactly the opposite: “to divide by or as if by a cutting blow.”

One of the first biblical commands regarding marriage is found in 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.” A husband and wife must cleave—in the first sense, that is. Because if we don’t, then in effect we cleave our marriage in the opposite way.

What does God mean when He tells us to cleave? The Hebrew word is dabaq, which means to cling or adhere, or to catch by pursuit. Elsewhere in the Bible, it is translated abide fast, follow close, be joined, pursue hard and stick.

In the midst of life’s hubbub, actively cleaving to your spouse in love doesn’t happen accidentally. God, children, work, church, friends, chores, errands, bills, diversions—so many concerns can compete for your attention. How often, at the end of the day, do you crash the moment your head hits the pillow and neglect spending time cleaving to your spouse—not just physically, but spiritually, mentally and emotionally?

It doesn’t take much neglect to go from cleaving to merely coexisting.

“One flesh” is what God wants in marriage. Oneness in sharing your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, bodies and the physical things in life.

After the work day, outside responsibilities and interests can continue to pull you away from each other if you’re not careful. Television or other entertainment typically shuts down communication and can end up being a crutch that gives an illusion of togetherness but actually cleaves your marriage—the wrong way.

Husbands: Is your heart at home with your wife? Is that where your primary interest lies? The answer to that question can help you determine how well you are cleaving to her. Remaining truly faithful to your wife requires deep mental, emotional and psychological attachment.

Spend time cleaving. Share your life! Read together, listen to music together, take walks together, talk together, do things together, study the Bible together. Rekindle the flames of romance that drew you together. Court each other! Get a babysitter for your children and go out for a date, and not too infrequently. With planning and effort, you may even be able to take short trips alone—two to three days long, two to three times a year.

How is your communication? A couple should have more to talk about together the longer their marriage lasts. If you’re making a vigorous effort to cleave, then your common interests and your ability to relate will grow with time. You’ll feel close emotionally, and your shared understanding and affection will make your marriage a joy.

Sadly, for many marriages, a mountain of mutual effort is required to restore the relationship to a truly healthy state. If the idea of cleaving in this way seems overwhelming, that is a good indication you and your mate would benefit from some marital counseling.

A happy marriage is not only one of life’s greatest blessings, it does much to help us overcome our selfishness and to learn the great joy of living the give way of life. Investing abundantly in your marriage isn’t just a nice way to pass the time.

So practice the art of cleaving—in the right sense. Become a cleaver!