Back to the garden: Growing with your spouse

Back to the garden
(left) Front row: David and Amy Ang. Back row from left to right: Emmanuel and his fiancée, Faith, Gracia and Isaac (right) David and Amy Ang

When David Ang was 24, he saw a photograph of a girl in his friend’s photo album. He was attracted to her and asked the friend for an introduction, but nothing happened. One year later, David asked his friend again and this time, the latter connected him with Amy Chiang. According to Amy, David fulfilled the one item on her eligibility checklist that was non-negotiable—he had a heart for God’s people. On David’s part, he learnt that Amy was a deeply prayerful Christian who had compassion for the least, the last and the lost. Less than two years after their first date, they got married.

From that romantic beginning, David and Amy have grown as individuals and as a couple over the years as they devoted themselves to building their marriage. They acknowledge each other’s strengths and candidly recognise how they themselves could have contributed to or harmed their relationship through their actions.

“We enter into marriage as individuals and bring into it our own experiences and assumptions,” says Amy. This can lead to a mismatch in expectations, leading to unhappiness. David and Amy encountered seasons of dissonance in their marriage because of this. They worked determinedly to strengthen their relationship and speak openly about their lessons learnt, with frequent expressions of affirmation for each other.

Today, David and Amy have been married for 28 years. They have three children, Emmanuel, 25, Isaac, 21 and Gracia, 19.

David and Amy share their hard-won lessons on building a strong marriage, speaking at marriage seminars and mentoring couples. Their seminars go “back to the garden (of Eden)”, where God created mankind in a family structure, starting with Adam and Eve. “Both male and female are critical in the family structure. I’ve met a lot of men who were good fathers and prayerful men. But they were not journeying with their wives. Many marriages were under threat because they were not paying attention to their marriages,” says David.

In addition to these seminars, David also volunteers with groups that are focused on building the family unit, such as CAC’s Family Life Board, Methodist Fathers’ Movement, Dads for Life and Elijah7000.

David and Amy share about their marriage journey with Methodist Message, the ups and downs and lessons learnt along the way.

David and Amy speaking at a marriage seminar
David and Amy speaking at their marriage workshop, Back to the Garden

David says

When I first met Amy, I found that she was very prayerful and dependent on God. We had similar aspirations for God and for family, and I knew I was serious about having her in my life. We got married inour 20s, about one and a half years after we started dating.

Career-wise, I was doing well. I became the CEO of a multinational company at a relatively young age. I had to travel a lot for work. For many years, I served in various roles in church and as a community volunteer while holding down my job as CEO.

I relied on my wife to look after things at home. I love my wife and children but the time and energy that I was giving my job and my volunteering meant that there was less time for them. We ended up being busy with our own lives. All the things that we did were of value and contributing in one way or another—my job as CEO provided for us financially and I was serving in church and the community; Amy was looking after the home and the children. But we were not working together. That communication and connection was not as strong as it could have been.

I did not realise at first that Amy was struggling singlehandedly at home because of my absences. She was and still is very capable, and is able to do many things by herself. However, as a woman, she would have appreciated her husband’s support and this was something that I overlooked.

At one point, Amy told me that she had grown more used to me being away than at home. That broke my heart.

We did have tense moments, such as when I returned from a business trip and went off again for a church meeting or community work. Amy tried to be understanding but sometimes the emotions would surface. It was important that we could be vulnerable and real to each other. We also had disagreements arising from our parenting styles. I would find her approach too harsh for my liking, and I would compensate for it, perhaps undermining her. Or I would confront an issue with the children present but do so without tact or diplomacy, making her look bad.

The turning point came when my eldest child, Emmanuel, who was 10 at that time, saw me return from a business trip on a Friday night, only to plan to attend a meeting in church the very next morning, which was when we usually scheduled family activities. He asked Amy why Daddy had “abandoned” them again. I realised then that something had to change.

My priorities shifted. I withdrew from the MBA programme that I was pursuing for work and intentionally slowed my career progression for my family’s sake. I made the decision to leave my corporate job to focus on my family. In the year following that, I worked to repair my family relationships. There was a financial impact from the loss of income, but Amy saw that she would receive more marital support if I left my job. We were prepared to live a simpler life in exchange for stronger family ties.

Amy had always been supportive of me but I knew that we did not have a very emotionally intimate relationship at the time. She would be busy with the household and I would be busy with my work, ministry and community work. It was a blindspot for me. After I quit my job at the MNC, I joined my family business. There was some income but nowhere near what I was earning as CEO. It was an extremely tough time for us financially but I had more time for my family and we built strong emotional ties with our children. I believe that my strengthened relationship with Amy contributed to our children’s emotional health.

Over the years, Amy and I attended many Christian programmes together and as we grew as a couple, we also became equipped to help others. These include Fatherheart Singapore to Dr Michelle Strydom’s teachings on healing and deliverance, among others. Together, we now minister to singles and couples who are navigating their own relationships. In the marketplace, I mentor entrepreneurs and journey with them by sharing my corporate know-how.

In 2019, Amy and I set up iPGA (International Professional Guardian Agency), a business that provides guardianship to international students. This allowed us to serve a need in the community, generate income and, more importantly, work together. Through this, I discovered that Amy has the makings of a CEO, with her strategic flair, clear thinking and organisational skills. She basically runs the show and I support her in her position as CEO.

Back to the garden2

Amy says

I was drawn to David because he is generous with his love. I came from a traditional Asian family where we were more reticent with our emotions. David, on the other hand, expresses himself unstintingly. Even after 28 years of marriage, he still lavishes me with praise, from how well I spoke during a sharing session to the way I look, and even complimenting the dinner that I prepared. This makes me feel loved and cherished.

As an extrovert, David genuinely loves to connect with people. It is a good thing but sometimes I resented it because it felt like I needed to share him with others. In the early years of our marriage, there were times when I felt like he could have  spent more time with the children and me, if only he had not given that time to others. I did not need his attention all the time but I would have appreciated practical support in parenting on some occasions. Initially, we could not find a balance and there was some conflict.

I was unable to articulate my need for support. I wanted to be a good Christian wife and support my husband, particularly when he served in church.

I did my best to raise my kids but my frustration would eventually surface. David would finally realise something was wrong and sit me down to work things out. Sometimes, I would bring up issues accumulated from a few weeks before. I learnt to voice my concerns openly and immediately. On his part, David learnt to be more sensitive to my needs and address them before it all accumulated.

Communication was one area I worked on. My parents did not express love outwardly. I assumed what worked for my parents would work for me. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mum, I was a teacher. The language I used with David was instructional rather than loving and it was a huge struggle for me to adjust because I had not heard words used lovingly when I was growing up. This caused some friction between us. Words are not my love language, but they are David’s. I would think, “You know I love you, so why do I have to say it?” But hearing those words are very important to the recipient. I have learnt that it is not enough that he knows that I love him. I have to speak his love language so that his emotional tank is filled. For his sake, even though I was not comfortable with it at first, I learnt to step out of my comfort zone and express my love with words.

David is a proactive person. If we quarrel, he will want to address it immediately and analyse why we disagreed so that the quarrel is not left unresolved. In contrast, I need time and space to process the issue, to pray so that I can talk about things in a calm way instead of saying things I regret.

I can take up to a week to think through an issue. This was a source of tension between us at first.

He thought that I was not interested in resolving the conflict to build our relationship. I thought that he did not value my opinion and was rushing me without giving me time to think. We have since learnt to compromise. David does not demand an immediate resolution to disagreements and I have learnt to speed up my thinking process. He reminds me not to take too long and I try to verbalise my thoughts so that he knows that I am still working on the issue in my head. It’s an on- going communication process between us.

Today, David and I work together on iPGA and it is fantastic working with my husband. We each have a clear role and use our respective complementary strengths to develop the business, which grew out of a ministry to international students studying in Singapore. On the ministry side of things, we team up to share about marriage and family life with other couples. He constantly encourages me to reach my potential and gives me opportunities to do so, while affirming me at the same time.

We have matured as individuals, as a couple and as parents. When we encounter roadblocks at work, we pray together. During the worst of the pandemic in 2020, the borders closed and our business suffered.  We supported each other during this tough period and our marriage grew stronger as a result. God was with us and in fact, after the pandemic, God not only restored our lost income, but gave us new business opportunities.

Janice Khoo serves in the Choir and Media & Comms Ministry at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of David Ang