Communication is a key foundation to building good relationships, taught Kong Hee and Sun Ho in the first instalment of the Relationship Builder series.
The weekend of Mar 5 and 6 marked the first time City Harvest Church founders, Kong Hee and Sun Ho, preached together from the pulpit. They build great relationships with one another in a new series Relationship Builders.
In the inaugural sermon of this series, Kong and Ho, who have been married for 23 years, laid the groundwork for healthy, happy relationships, before sharing the first key to building a good relationship: communication.
Kong first note that while he and his wife used the context of marriage for this series as it’s the most complex of relationships, the lessons taught are applicable to other types of relationships as well for instance, between friends or between parent and child.
“The principles of love and relationships are universal,” he said. “We are to love one another as Jesus loves us.”
EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING IS THE BEDROCK
Memories affect a person deeply and they shape his personality and character over time. Painful memories of trauma or abuse can cause a person to react both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly, he or she may put up emotional walls to protect him or herself from being hurt again. These walls may ultimately get so thick and so high that they become unable to feel or receive love from others. Inwardly, he may choose to numb that hurt by choosing not to feel anything. Unfortunately, the heart functions as one organ, and he cannot choose which emotions to block. Eventually, he might end up not being able to love or have other feelings and become emotionally shut down.
“If someone is unable to feel love, he is unable to find, receive, or give love,” said Ho. Kong agreed, “For happy relationships, you need to be as emotionally healthy as you can be.”
Sharing from his past, Kong said that he grew up in a family with challenges–both financially and in relationships. “When I turned 6, not one day passed where there was no shouting or abuse at home.” At the age of 14, he made an inner vow that he would never allow himself to be hurt by his family again.
The inner vow worked—he could blithely ignore the fights at home. Kong thought it was great until he started his own family. “Whenever Sun and I had an argument, or whenever there was tension at home, I would suddenly feel like heading to the room to sleep or leaving the house for a long drive,” he said.
Ho shared how Kong went straight to sleep after an intense argument once. She was furious with him but the Holy Spirit spoke to her and told her to find a chance to ask him about his family.
One night, Ho cooked Kong a sumptuous meal and after that got him to talk about his childhood. Kong realized then that he could not remember anything from when he was 6 and younger.
“At that point, I was stuck. I tried, but I really couldn’t remember. It was like a part of my memory had been completely forgotten. That was when the Holy Spirit came in right there, into our living room, carrying a key. It opened a door in my mind, a door marked ‘6-years-old’ and then all the memories that I thought had disappeared forever came flooding back.”
The Holy Spirit healed Kong that night. Soon, Kong reconciled with his parents and even brought them to church. Today, they are “one of the most loving couples I know”.
“After this, I realized that I was not scared of tension or arguments any more,” said Kong. “I felt like I could finally engage in a real married relationship.”
Moving on, Ho explained that being in a relationship is not just finding the right partner, but also striving to be the right partner. She encouraged those who are still single to be a good friend and engage with others in a meaningful way. Love is like a magnifying glass, she said. It brings up old hurts that need healing and helps people to open up and connect with one another.
“I want to encourage you to be as healthy emotionally as you can,” said Kong.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION
Divorce rates are climbing both inside and outside the church. Kong and Ho suggested that the main reason for this is a lack of communication.
Communication is the key not just to marriages, but to other relationships as well. In Greek, it translates to koinonia, or “fellowship”.
One of the main ways that people communicate is through words. Words have creative power–God created the world–and its effect can last a long time. It also has the power to either build up or destroy a relationship, Kong said. The quality of a marriage can be based on the words said, the lack of words and even the choice of words used. In a heated moment, words said can end friendships and marriages, but words said in love can also bring healing and life to the relationship.
Besides words, people also communicate through gestures and the spirits. When people argue, often their gestures send the real message. Kong and Ho demonstrated how a person could use the words “I love you”, but your face showed otherwise. Furthermore, a person’s attitude can reveal how he feels as well. Saying words with an attitude of gratitude is very different from words said with an attitude of disappointment.
Kong and Ho also explained how negative emotions that are not dealt with can affect the way a person communicates with his loved ones. Sometimes, one partner does not want to talk anymore. They feel that there is no point in talking if the other party would not listen. Or, they choose not to talk directly, resorting to speak through third parties, which often is their children.
“Imagine the mother saying, ‘Tell your dad if he keeps behaving like a baby, I won’t go with him to the company dinner’,” Sun said. “This only makes things worse, how do you expect the child to say, ‘Dad, Mom says you’re a baby and she won’t go out with you.’”
Other times, both parties simply stop talking to each other. This happens when problems are so huge and entrenched that neither party can see it ever being resolved. At this point, they give up, and stop trying to understand and be understood.
“It takes work to make a marriage work,” Ho said. “We need to communicate heart to heart, sharing our thoughts and our feelings with honesty.”
Kong agreed, “The deeper you can share your feelings, the closer you’ll become as a couple. Sharing your lives means sharing your heart, mind and soul–the same way we love God with all our heart, mind and soul.”
“Without this sharing, the marriage dies,” Ho added.
Opening up to each other exposes oneself to ridicule and rejection, but if a person cannot reveal his real self to his spouse, how can they be soul mates? To be soul mates, honesty is not just the best policy; it is the only policy.
How then can communication be revived in a relationship?
First, there is a need to identify the hurts and failures that hinder communication. Hurts can cause a person to lose faith in relationships, while failures eat on the conscience, weighing people down with guilt. When a person holds on to hurts and failures, he would always be afraid that others will find out about him. He would eventually stop communicating with others because he does not want his old wounds to be opened up. However, love always brings hurt and failures out so that a person can receive healing. Ho encouraged the congregants not to be afraid to deal with their issues.
The second step is to confess and repent. “When we confess, we agree with God that we are wrong to cause pain to our husbands or wives. When we repent, we decide to act differently from now on, and ask God for the strength to do so,” Ho explained.
One Valentine’s Day many years ago, Kong bought Ho a huge Snoopy soft toy and a card with a beautiful poem on it. She was so touched that she ran into his office once she saw it. “Where did you get it from?” she asked. The look of confusion and surprise on his face said it all. It dawned on her that he had asked his staff to source for the gift. “What about the card? And the poem?” she asked her husband.
“You should have seen the guilt on his face. That Valentine’s Day ended badly,” Ho said to a laughing congregation.
Ho was so disappointed that she started to convince herself that if he could not even get her a gift personally, he did not love her.
“I thought, What if he doesn’t think of me as his wife, but just as another co-worker?” Ho said. “It got to the point where, whenever we fought, I would say, ‘Okay, we can do it your way. After all, you’re the boss and I’m just your co-worker.'”
Kong eventually convinced her otherwise.
“It helped that I truly repented,” he said. “I wrote her a card every week for the whole of the next year. That’s 52 cards!”
The third step to revive communication is forgiveness. In Colossians 3:31, apostle Paul charged the church to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Forgiveness is a choice and an act of will. It does not mean the hurt is forgotten, it simply means that the person is willing to let the offender go and choose to love instead. The essence of love is forgiveness.
The message had many, couples and singles alike, nodding in agreement. “Sun is right,” said Dorothy Koh, 28, a pharmacist. “In our relationship, we spend a lot of time talking about logistics—what to buy from the supermarket—but not enough time talking about our feelings.”