At two workshop sessions last Saturday, City Harvest members—single and married—learned the finer points of successful romantic relationships.
By Jamie Lim and Jonathan Teo
Last weekend—Feb. 3 to 5—had all of City Harvest Church in a mood for good relationships. The church’s first Relationship Seminar series featured guest speaker Dr. Robi Sonderegger, a clinical psychologist and trauma specialist from Australia.
At the three main services, Sonderegger discussed root problems faced by people in relationships. There were also two workshops on the Saturday afternoon. Senior pastor of the church, Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho spoke at the first workshop titled “Sense and Sensibilities” which targeted the young adults in the church.
Kong began by saying that marriage is the first institution, or relationship structure, in the Bible, yet most people are taking longer and longer to tie the knot. “In Singapore, the median age for men to enter their first marriage has risen to 30 for men and 27.7 for women,” Kong stated. He went on to share five reasons why people should consider early marriages.
One, humans are created for early marriage.
Studies show that testosterone (the hormone that produces sex drive) production for men peaks when they are 22 and starts to decline rapidly from the age of 30. Likewise, women are the most fertile when they are between 20 and 24, and less fertile from 30 onwards.
“As such, our body is basically created to experience sex and produce babies at young adulthood,” Kong said. “And if so, it shows that marrying early is really God’s reproductive design for us.”
Although both the male and female fertility peak in the early 20s, peak in sexual performance is in fact in their mid-30s. Studies show it takes 10 years of practice to become good at sex, so our bodies are actually designed to desire to mate much earlier in young adulthood.
But having said all these, Kong reminded the congregation that pre-marital sex is deemed as sin, and therefore, he is encouraging early marriage, not early sex.
Many people are concerned that they will struggle financially if they marry young. “But what is wrong with that?” asked Kong, pointing out that “good marriages grow through struggles, and that includes financial struggles.”
In this society where weddings are seen as an expression of status, financial considerations have often stopped people from getting wed early. However, “a wedding lasts for a day, but a marriage lasts for a lifetime,” said Kong.
Another concern young people and their parents may have is that they are too immature for marriage. But marriage, Kong explained, is meant to help one develop into a fuller and better person; even God considered Adam’s marriage part of his formation process.
Moreover, psychologists have found that one’s character solidifies at the age of 30. After 30, it becomes harder and harder for the couple to knit themselves into unity. Thus, a young husband and wife are more flexible to fit themselves into each other’s life compared to an older couple whose individual preferences and habits have already been ingrained.
A fourth consideration people have is this: “What if I have not found the right person?”
In the age of online dating, many people are caught up with looking for their “perfect match”, forgetting that sometimes opposite attract and complement each other too. Kong reminded the congregation that a successful marriage is less about right personalities and more about right practices. Every marriage requires much effort to sustain. A successful marriage is built upon an unwavering loyalty to each other in a committed covenant. People’s personalities change, but a commitment never changes.
What about the belief that the longer a couple waits, the more perfect the marriage will be? Kong declared that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. A good marriage is learned just as communication, parenting, or love-making is learned. The earlier a couple gets married, the sooner they can start learning how to make marriage better!
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 7:9 (The Message), “But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually-tortured life as a single.” The longer a couple delays marriage, the more they expose themselves to temptations in the relationship.
To start the now-prepped audience on the right foot, Kong’s wife Sun took over from Kong to teach the ladies how to be more appealing to men. She covered five enlightening and highly entertaining points:
1) Lighten up!
When a man does something wrong, the usual reaction of a woman is to get upset and angry—but this is actually a huge turnoff to men! According to Ho, men are “not so smart and not so fast,” hence it is important to not be overly serious with them. Taking a light-hearted approach may let a woman get her message across better to her man, at the same time remain attractive to him.
2) Keep a youthful attitude
Men are always attracted to the inner youthfulness in women. However, youthfulness refers to “child-likeness,” and not “childishness.” Despite the many obligations and responsibilities, choose to always be willing to participate, curious and excited about things.
3) No lashing out your frustration
Most women accumulate all the negative emotions they have experienced throughout the day or week and lash out at their partner when they do the slightest thing to annoy them. “Never treat your spouse or partner as a trash bin!” Ho advised.
4) Have an attractive body language
Communication is 55 percent body language, 38 percent vocal tone and seven percent actual words. That is why women who talk and behave like men are never attractive to men.
Men find smiling women very attractive and surveys has shown that men like a woman’s smile more than her figure! Ho advised the ladies in the congregation to think happy thoughts to make their smile genuine.
“That said, it does not mean that you have to be the life of the party all the time. Men love a little mystery in women,” Sun pointed out. “It is a huge turn-off if you act like a man’s best friend after knowing him for just five minutes!”
5) Be loving
Ho encouraged the ladies to “be a ‘JOY’ by loving Jesus, Others, and Yourself last”. Having both a healthy self-esteem (how you feel about yourself), and self-respect (what you think about yourself) contributes to your attractiveness as well.
“Most importantly, to be attractive you need to be yourself and have a revelation of who you are in God,” Ho said in conclusion.
Through the story of a typical couple Wendy and Wong, Sonderegger demonstrated to the congregation how a couple goes through difficult times in their marriage, but ultimately overcome their issues when they learn important principles through a Bible study class. The principles were drawn from Ephesians 5:21-27 and could be summarized as “Submit to one another.”
Sonderegger took the congregation to the book of Colossians 3:12-14 where Paul talked to the Christians about clothing themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“Above everything, put on love. Love is an action, but it is conditional,” said the clinical psychologist. “The Bible describes love as patient, kind, and it is an all-consuming passion. To love is a decision we need to make every day. So love is not something we fall in and out of, it is something we need to engage in and in a right way to taste the goodness of it.”
Sonderegger went on to say that while good communication skills and good conflict management skills are essential in making good marriages, they are not the foundation of a good marriage. Science has found the five essential keys for a successful marriage and they are the exact five things found in the verse he shared earlier: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and kindness.
A scientist accidentally discovered mirror neurons, which is the neuron that fires both when a person acts and when the person observes the same action performed by someone he has a relationship with. The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer was acting himself. That is why yawning is contagious.
“If I am experiencing empathy, my brain is synchronized with your brain which brings a whole new spin on the verse ‘the two shall become one’,” Sonderegger explained. When one is grieving, the master of successful relationships would grieve with that person instead of trying to cheer him up—that is what empathy is.
Sonderegger picked out a story from the Bible to demonstrate how Jesus showed compassion. Instead of healing the boy who was demon possessed immediately, Jesus spoke with the father of the boy, asked about his condition and, from there, gained the empathy to intervene in the situation.
“Instead of cheering someone up, sometimes it’s more necessary to just sit there and cry with them,” suggested Sonderegger. Research has shown that when a person is allowed to grieve, he recovers faster.
A research study found that there are two groups of people: “marriage masters” and “marriage disasters.” The research results showed that couples who on average communicate an equal number of positive and negative messages wound up divorced 94 percent of the time. In conflict, “marriage masters” communicate five times as many positive messages than negative messages and in normal circumstances; they communicate 20 positive messages to one negative message.
The Bible teaches us to look for the good things in our spouses and communicate them through edification and building up—that is how passion is built in marriages.
“Marriage masters will tell you that their marriage is much more functional today than when they first fell in love. Marriages improve so long as we can remain humble.” Sonderegger encouraged couples to do so by pointing out their partner’s best instead of pointing out their worst.
He reminded the congregation that even when God extends grace to us, it is only when we are humble.
Gentleness is like holding a bar of soap—the moment one applies too much pressure, it will slip away. Likewise in relationships, when one person comes to another with humility and gentleness, it denotes understanding.
“No argument is about the topic, it is always about the emotion behind the topic,” said Sonderegger. “When we are having a difficult conversation, it is always about nurturing the other party’s emotion. If you can identify the key emotional concern behind this topic and solve that problem, you can solve every argument you have.”
Neuroscience has shown that every time one loses patience and gets angry, the anger does not go away but gets reinforced. The next time he gets triggered by something, he will get even angrier and lose patience faster.
James 1: 19 tell us to be slow to speak and slow to anger but quick in listening. When a person is compassionate, kind and gentle, it shows that he has been listening to the other party.
Wrapping up, Sonderegger encouraged the congregation to take up God’s battle plan against the enemy. The plan is found in the verse read previously, Colossians 3:12-14 which teaches Christians to do the above five keys, bear with one another and forgive one another.
The sessions left attendees sated with new knowledge yet hungry for more. Some came to the realization that the Bible was more relevant than they thought.
Student Germaine Ong, 20, said, “I feel that the workshop given by Pastor Kong and Sun was very refreshing because it is not every day that you have a pastor who will openly approach such a sensitive topic. And I was reminded by Sun that guys are not meant to be trash bins for our emotions—I’ve always felt that they should be the one to listen and bear with my ranting,”
Jasmine Lim, 26, a sales executive, shared that “the session really changed my perspective on marriage as I’ve always thought a couple should be financially stable before considering marriage.”
Ong Weiren, 29, felt that Ho’s advice was very beneficial to women, “and I think the tips to be attractive should be extended to men in the church as well. Many guys need to learn the art of presenting themselves well, how to approach the girls they like, and so on,” he said.
Freelance copywriter, Amanda Faith Yun, 24, found the Relationship Revolution workshop informative and helpful. She felt that the advice given by Sonderegger was practical and simple. “The solutions to our problems are in the Bible and they can really be applied in our lives today. They are not that difficult to do once when we get our priorities right,” Yun said.
Both the sessions were an eye-opening and enriching experience as members of the church gained new perspectives towards marriage, and practical tips to becoming more attractive.