Then why is it that a year later, or two years later, these same couples come in and sit at opposite ends of the couch in my office? They don't make eye contact with each other, they don't talk to each other (they talk to me about each other) and they obviously have some HUGE resentments going. What's with that?
Part of the problem, at least, is that these two have not fully understood what it is to "cleave" to each other. They have gone out into a world that is actively opposed to strong marriages, and they have been poorly prepared. As soon as a couple says, "I do" there are forces trying to tear them apart. Other relationships get in the way. His family, her family, friends of all stripes, work, recreation, different goals, different spending habits, different recreation habits, different movie preferences, different ideas about who does what around the house ... there are literally hundreds of subtle differences that can worm their way in between a couple and shred their marriage.
Worse yet, each of them brings a whole host of wounds and assumptions and judgments that affect how they see marriage, what they expect from their spouse, and how they express and receive affection. These are internal factors that may or may not be visible to each of them -- but they have a huge effect on the marriage.
"Cleaving" means that we create a bubble at the core of the marriage that is a "safe zone." It is a secure core to the marriage, and only three people are allowed in the bubble: him, and her, and God. No one else is allowed inside. Kids, parents, siblings, friends, all belong in their appropriate relationships, but a strong marriage has a safe bubble at its core with only three occupants. Anything that threatens that safe place must be excluded from the core of the marriage. This includes habits. Maybe one day he realizes that what he thought was playful joking is really painful sarcasm, and it needs to stop, because it's threatening the bubble and hurting his wife. Maybe she sees that her spending on a few little items here and there is causing her husband tremendous tension when he sees the bills each month. Each one brings their habits to death for the sake of the marriage.
The tricky part is that when he recognizes that he has not only habits he can see, but also wounds, assumptions, or judgments that are less visible. If these threaten his wife, he needs to bring them to God for healing -- because they are endangering the bubble at the core of his marriage. And he needs to let his wife know what's going on so that she's in on the process of his healing. In the same way, when she sees that there are things in her life that compromise her marriage or threaten the bubble at its core, she needs to bring those things to the cross so they might die. The old fashioned term for this is repentance. There is huge vulnerability in recognizing that there may be attitudes in me that need to die for my wife's sake. There's huge humility in going to her and saying, "I need you to pray for me that I could get past this, because I see that it is hurting our marriage." But if they cannot exclude from their marriage everything that threatens its survival, it will begin to die. There is no room for self-protection in this bubble.
Cleaving is about two things: 1) Commitment and 2) Time. Each one brings a commitment to honor that safe bubble. Each one recognizes that the death of those old attitudes may take a long time. We are in this bubble, the three of us, for the long haul. We cleave to each other -- all three of us -- taking hold of the Bible's promise that "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Two alone are not enough. It takes him, and her, and God, all cleaving together, in that bubble of safety at the core of the marriage.