Dr Robi Sonderegger shares with City News readers the keys to building a strong marriage and family life.
By Dawn Seow
Dr Robi Sonderegger is a renowned clinical psychologist who specializes in the psychology of marriage; he is also an advocate of strong family relationships. His passion leads him to deliver hundreds of keynote presentations and workshops to thousands of individuals each year.
This Australian has had a surprising career: in the last 15 years he has gone from being a celebrity snowboard instructor to Europe’s high society (among his students were Prince Charles and Prince Harry of Wales) to a Pride of Australia Medal finalist for his work as a humanitarian activist for child soldiers and sex slaves. He is married with three children.
On the first weekend of February, City Harvest Church will be meeting this dynamic and entertaining presenter for the first time, when he speaks at the church’s Relationship Seminar (Feb. 3-5). Together with CHC’s senior pastor, Kong Hee, Sonderegger will be speaking on building strong relationships in marriages, families and also workplace issues.
In this interview with City News, the good doctor reveals his inspiration and how his faith in Christ and psychological training work in tandem.
City News: Your passion lies in promoting strong marriages and strengthening families. What sparked your passion in this area? Was there a particular incident that inspired you to make a difference in marriages?
Robi Sonderegger: Working as a clinical psychologist has opened my eyes to the crumbling state of many marriages and families. Behind the pleasant smiles we put on for one another, there is often a silent desperation. There are very effective ways to build, repair or even salvage relationships. The Bible tells us why sustaining relationships is important, and research tells us how to go about doing it. I am passionate about bringing a message of hope: to tell my audience what Scripture and science have to say about love and living life to the full.
What are some common psychological reasons that drive men and women to give up on their marriage?
Beyond the common themes of betrayal, frustration and un-forgiveness lies a much more sinister influence called “popular culture”. Our modern throw-away culture says, “If it’s defective in some way, cash it in and get an upgraded model.” As such we give up at the first sign of difficulty because that’s the norm, we are told. The truth is, some of the best marriages we see have survived the very worst disasters. I believe that with God, all things are possible. What the enemy intends for evil, He will turn around for good, if you let Him.
How do your role as a psychologist and your faith as a Christian work together?
My faith tells me what and why I need to do what I do and my profession is the passionate pursuit of understanding how to do it well. Both theology and psychology tell us that we humans are designed for relationships, and (both) offer practical instruction as to how we can nurture, protect and repair our relationships. I love that modern science seems to continually validate what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years.
As a Christian, what do you believe is God’s will for husbands and wives, as well as for families?
The institution of “marriage” and “family” is God’s idea. He has designed us to live in relationship with one another and He has given us the Word of God as instructions for healthy living and strong relationships. The Bible is like a big therapy manual outlining God’s will for us to live in unity and harmony. When we do, He commands a blessing and when the going gets tough, Jesus is described as our Almighty Counselor who specializes in redemption, repair, rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration!
Having counseled many couples and families, what is a common trend you see in broken families?
We live in a self-centered, pleasure-driven era where the institutions of marriage and family are under attack from many fronts, ranging from the common busyness of life and not having enough time for one another, to prolific consumption of internet pornography and sexual misconduct. People’s lack of priorities and selfish pursuit of pleasure is often coupled with mental health difficulties like anger, anxiety, depression, addiction and so on, which makes matter worst and eventually causes families to fall apart.
What were some lessons you learned from watching your parents, as a child, which you have applied in your own marriage and family?
Unconditional love, serving one another, emotional stability, looking out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others are some of the tips I get from my parents to maintain a healthy relationship.
In your course of ministry, what was one significant/memorable incident that has left a deep impact in the way you do ministry?
In 2008, I was listening to Pastor Brian Houston from Hillsong Church address an audience in Kampala, Uganda. He reminded us that Jesus said “I will build my church”, not “I will build my humanitarian organization”. These words flew off the stage and hit me with full force. There and then I realized that God was going to use my skills and profession to help equip and empower the Church to mend the broken-hearted and proclaim freedom for the captives.
You travel widely to teach. What are some of the most interesting countries and churches you have been to or interesting cultures you have experienced?
I love teaching in developing nations (from Africa to Central America) because the people are so hungry to learn. I love going to Eastern Europe because a ray of light is beginning to break the darkness, and people who find God are learning to smile again. However, I have to say my most unique church experience in the past 12 months was in Konstanz, Germany—out of the cracks of spiritually dead concrete grow the most delicate, beautiful Spirit-filled flowers! In this next season, I am so excited because Asia is calling! It has been a longheld desire and prophetic dream (of mine) to go there—and where better to start 2012 than in spectacular Singapore. God is going to do amazing things!