Realizing There’s a Problem
About the Guest
What is the underlying reason for controlling behavior? Fundamentally, it's insecurity. Ron Welch describes the psychological profiles of a controlling husband and his wife. Ron and his wife, Jan, explain how the truth of the gospel is healing their marriage.
Ron Welch describes the psychological profiles of a controlling husband and his wife. Ron and his wife, Jan, explain how the truth of the gospel is healing their marriage.
Realizing There’s a Problem
Bob: Ron Welch describes himself as a controlling husband. He and his wife Jan say one of the ways that has manifested itself in their marriage is that Ron has sometimes insisted that Jan make his priorities number one in her life.
Jan: I would really be caught in a situation where I wanted to help somebody; but if I helped them, then it is going to anger my husband because: “Why are you putting—going out of your way to do something?”
Ron: Then, “What would happen if I had something I needed done or wanted done at the same time?” It was an obvious choice. She was like, “Well, I don’t want to rock the boat; so, I guess I’m not going to be the person I want to be.” That’s what ended up happening rather than doing what I believe we’re called to do—to build our wives up to become the women God intended them to be—I was putting every barrier and wall between her and God that I could.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What do you do when you start to recognize controlling tendencies in your marriage?
How can you get help? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You’ve had the occasion to talk to husbands and wives, over the years, who have been in a marriage where they didn’t want the marriage to end; but they didn’t know what else to do. They felt trapped and without any hope for how this marriage could ever be what it was supposed to be; right?
Dennis: Yes; and they’ve repeatedly tried to get it out of the ditch; but in that state of hopelessness, have truly lost faith.
Bob: Yes; the tires just keep spinning, and you don’t get anywhere.
Dennis: Yes. We’ve got a couple with us today who have experienced that, but the good news is they got out of the ditch—not only that—but they have a wrecker service. [Laughter] They are pulling couples out all over the country. Jan and Ron Welch join us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast.
Jan: Thank you.
Ron: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Dennis: Ron has written a book called The Controlling Husband. It’s subtitled What Every Woman Needs to Know. Ron’s a professor at Denver Seminary. Jan is a school teacher. They have two sons.
As we get started talking about a controlling husband, I want you to do a profile on two different people. Number one, what’s the profile of a controlling husband? And secondly, what’s the profile of the woman who married him?
Ron: The controlling husband would look like a man who thinks he pretty well has things under control on the surface; yet underneath, is a scared little boy. He’s not nearly as confident as he wants you to think; but he has to spend a lot of time convincing you, because he’s talking to himself. He has tendencies that work toward the anxious kind of experience: “I’m kind of not certain things are going to work out well, and I’d like to change that. I’d like to see if I can prevent bad things from happening.”
In addition, he is what we call narcissistic. He might have that temperament that says: “If I could only let them know how okay I was—man, things would be really good. So, I’ve got to work hard to make sure they know that.”
Dennis: You know, you’re describing yourself here because you wrote the book—
Dennis: —about your story.
Ron: Yes; indeed.
Dennis: That was taking place in your marriage; right?
Ron: Every year, over and over again.
Dennis: Alright—just a little confession on the frontend, because that’s one of the things I really appreciate about your book. You got raw and honest about how you were a controlling husband in your marriage.
Now, talk about what the profile is of a wife who marries a controlling man.
Ron: Let me make one comment first. You said I was a controlling husband. I think it’s fair to say, “I’m a recovering controlling husband.” [Laughter] That’s a little more honest, because this is a daily battle. Let’s be clear about that!
The controlling husband’s wife is the kind of woman who may have not had a lot of confidence in herself before the relationship started.
She might have had some difficulty in her family of origin—maybe with a dad who was kind of controlling—or maybe previous relationships / boyfriends who have been controlling. She might have gotten to think, “This is kind of how it’s supposed to be.” She may have a very strong devotion to biblical principles and think: “The Bible says, ‘Submit.’ When I think of submit, the way I understand it is I’m supposed to do what I am told.” She may think: “I want to have a voice, but I’m certain that a strong Christian man will understand that. He won’t step on me. He’ll let my voice be heard.”
And then, she may also be the kind of person who really wants other people to be okay—to please them / to make them happy—because she thinks servanthood and serving others is really important. All great qualities; but when matched with someone, who is more than happy to take, now you have a taker and a giver. The combination can be incredibly destructive.
Bob: Your pattern in your marriage—where you were exercising control / where Jan was isolated and was being controlled—did it last a decade?
Ron: I would say 12 to 14/15 years.
Bob: You said there was a point in your marriage where you started to notice your sons were being controlling of their mother. You thought, “They learned it from me.”
Bob: Was that enough of a realization to cause you to go, “Okay, something has got to be changed here,” or was that just one of those things that you noticed and thought, “This is not good, but I don’t know what to do about it”?
Ron: No; it was ground-shaking for me. It was the realization that—not only was I treating her that way, but I was teaching my sons how to behave that way as well. I started thinking about the people who talked about how much I like to be in control or I always had to be right. I started realizing that I had been mainly a kind of a cognitive Christian most of my life—I had said all the right things / done all the right things—I followed all the appropriate descriptions of what Christian men were supposed to be. But the relationship in my heart with Christ that would transform me, from the inside out, was really not there. I wasn’t submitting myself to anyone, including God.
Jan: In my mind, if you are a Christian, there is something very special about, not only being a Christian, but how you act and how you treat other people. To be honest, I think I treated other people better and was more compassionate. I could tell you an example. A friend would need something—I would have to change my whole schedule, but I could do it. Ron would be like: “Why are you doing that? You don’t need to do that. They don’t do anything for you.” But in my heart and in my mind was: “I want to help those people. I feel better when I can help other people.”
I would really be caught in a situation where I wanted to help somebody; but if I helped them, then it is going to anger my husband because, “Why are you going out of your way to do something?” Yet, your heart is saying, “I want to help this person.” And my husband is saying: “You don’t need to do that. I don’t know why you’re…”
Bob: Yes; “Focus on me instead.”
Jan: “Focus on me”; yes.
Ron: And then, “What would happen if I had something I needed done or wanted done at the same time?” Then, she had to choose between; and it was an obvious choice: “Well, I don’t want to rock the boat. So I guess I’m not going be the person I want to be.”
That’s what ended up happening rather than doing what I believe we are called to do—to build our wives up to become the women God intended them to be—I was putting every barrier and wall between her and God that I could.
Dennis: —and tearing her down in the process.
Ron: —and tearing her down in the process.
Jan: Yes; and that’s a hard thing to overcome, especially like for me, because my childhood was very much like that. My self-esteem was yards behind me. Marriage was a dream—getting away from this situation—being married / being loved unconditionally. There were all these conditions—and it just floored me—and there was no one I could talk to / there was no one I could turn to. I just tried to get through it the best way that I could, because I really loved him. I saw so much good in him, but what I felt was just very empty.
Bob: Ron, if I had been with you at the time—ten years into your marriage—and I had said to you, “Do you experience love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and gentleness, and faithfulness, and self-control”—
--these things that should be flourishing in the life of a believer—would you have said, “Yes; I do”? Or would you have realized that, “Well, maybe there is something wrong here”—do you think?
Ron: No; I wouldn’t have called myself content, or peaceful, or satisfied. I was constantly unhappy—I was just generally an unhappy person.
Bob: And you have a PhD in what?
Ron: A doctoral degree in psychology—yes; clinical psychology.
Dennis: That you had at that point?
Ron: Yes; I did. [Laughter] I get it; I get it.
Bob: There’s a verse in the Bible—
Jan: —ten years after we were married—he didn’t come in with it.
Bob: I know. But there’s this verse in the Bible that says, “Physician, heal thyself.”
Bob: Do you know that verse?
Ron: Unfortunately; yes.
Bob: I’m just thinking, “Didn’t you—in any of your class work or in any of your PhD studies—start to go: “Oh, wait! Maybe there’s some stuff in my own life”?
Ron: You know what’s hard?—is when your heart is closed to other possibilities God can open for you, then you tend to make very certain that all of the things He’s throwing at you to get you to listen are not attended to.
Dennis: You had a hearing problem.
Ron: Very selective; very selective. It wasn’t like she was the only one—she was the one that I was hurting the most. I could teach all the right things in classes—I could read 2 Peter 1—I could read about goodness, and godliness, and kindness, and perseverance, and all this stuff that I’m supposed to be, as a person.
Here is what it would look like—I wouldn’t ask her where she wanted to go for dinner, because I wanted to know where she wanted to go for dinner. I asked her, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” so I could start a conversation about the barbeque I wanted to have.
Ron: Does that make sense?
Ron: So it wasn’t a process of opening up to listen to her. I wouldn’t listen, even to everything she had to say—I would, partway through her sentences—I would be thinking of how I would respond so I could correct her. That’s how bad it was.
Dennis: I can just see how this would destroy a marriage relationship.
So you saw this behavior in your sons. It was like looking at a mirror—you go: “That’s me!
Dennis: “That’s the way I’m treating her.”
Walk us through the process that you began to engage in becoming a recovering controlling husband.
Ron: The first thing I had to do—the first skill I had to pay attention to--was how to shut up, because I found that the biggest problem I have is a really big mouth. If I can just start by saying—yes; I know you get this [Laughter]. If I can just start by being quiet—and my first thought is: “How is she going to be affected by the words that come out of my mouth?” and “How proud is God going to be of the thing I have to say right now? How much is this going to build her up?”—now, I will admit—I have spent a lot of time being quiet and I had to be silent. I had to wait to understand what God wanted me to say. I had never done that in my life—
—waiting on God / trusting Him to tell me how to communicate with my wife was a brand-new skill!
Dennis: I have to believe, at this point, you have just jumped past something that I know you must have done; but you just moved to a practical fix-it solution, so typical of us, as men.
Ron: Yes; yes.
Dennis: Tell us about your repentance with God—and how it dawned on you what you had sown in your marriage—and your repentance to Jan.
Ron: It was at about the same time that I was in the process of working in the federal prison system as a psychologist. I was in the midst of a very, very difficult environment. There was a lot of evil around me. I was realizing how much of that I was bringing home. I would be just as helpless at work—I would try to control things.
What ended up happening, in terms of repentance, Dennis, was—there was a period of probably one to two years, where I started realizing—that I had not only not had a relationship with my wife as I wanted—
I largely had no relationship with Christ at all. I was telling Him what to do too! I had a whole set of emails I would send to God, saying: “This is the plan. Let’s go with this!” Knowing God as I do now, He tended to kind of look at that and said, “Oh, you have so little idea of what you are missing.”
I spent a lot of nights crying. I spent a lot of time with Jan, in a posture of saying: “I know I can’t take away what I’ve done, but is there any way you could learn to forgive me? Is there any chance that I could start somewhere and try to make up for what I’ve done?” Most of the next couple of years, I felt like I had to act certain ways in order to make up for what I had done. I’ll be honest—it felt like she was just waiting for me to go back to the guy I was. In her eyes, I could just see: “Now, wait, it’s just going to be a matter of time. You’re going to be the guy I know you are.” She was believing in me, but she was still questioning—she wasn’t certain that God could actually do that kind of a miracle.
Bob: And she’d had 15 years—
Bob: —of conditioned response to your control.
Bob: So, this—she was having to unlearn patterns and say, “Can I step out here and really trust that the foundation is going to hold?”
Dennis: Yes; and you are regaining trust too—let’s just be honest. You don’t build distrust over a period of 15 years without needing to bring forth the fruits of repentance so that Jan can learn to believe again.
Do you remember when your heart was beginning to move toward believing him again and it felt really risky?—it was like, “I’m not sure about this.”
Jan: You know, I had heard it before to a certain point. It is like: “Okay; yes,”
“Alright; sure, “Yes; okay.” It still happens—not as much—but stress—
Ron: It happened yesterday!
Jan: Yes, while travelling. His students have nicknamed me “The Calminator”; because I’ve learned over the years: “It is okay. It’s going to be fine.”
Bob: The Calminator?
Jan: The Calminator.
Bob: Got it; okay.
Bob: That’s right.
Jan: Yes; Calminator.
When Ron teaches at Denver Seminary a family and marriage class, I get to come at the end, before they take their exam. We talk about our marriage. Someone had mentioned that to him—that I was the Calminator.
Bob: But you are saying—over the years, he’d get angry; and then he’d say: “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten angry.” But you had no hope that anything was going to change.
Jan: Hope was there, but it was kind of very well-hidden. You always have to be hopeful, no matter what situation you’re in. I think, in some ways, I kind of made peace with: “This is my life. This is the road I chose / this is the man I chose.” My happiness is really on other people—if they are happy, I’m happy.
Jan: And so, yes; there were times—conversations we would have—and he’s like: “I’m really trying. I’m really trying.” I would say, “Yes; I know you’re really trying,” but little things would still flare. As time went on, those became less and less. I think, also, I found my voice.
He gave me the opportunity to start saying—and he would say, “Please tell me when I’m doing this!” Now, when you are in the middle of an episode, you really don’t want to stoke that fire and say, “Oh, you’re doing it now.”
Jan: So, a few minutes after whatever passed—maybe 20 minutes or whatever—I’d go back and say, “You know, during that situation, this is how it came across to me.” He would: “Oh! Okay; I’m so sorry.” And even now, I think, if it was happening, I can pretty much do it. Each time, it got a little quicker.
Bob: But you had to notice a difference—
Bob: —in the fact that he was inviting you to speak into his behavior.
Jan: Yes; definitely.
Bob: I mean, the first time he came to you and said, “I realize I’ve been doing this, and I do want to be different,” I’m sure you thought, “Well, we’ll see how long this lasts.”
Jan: Yes; at first, I think so too. Also, when someone is hurting like he was hurting, the last thing you want to do is add more to that—
Jan: —to really say: “You know, the way you made me feel—no one should have to feel this way.” I would keep silent about that.
I think, more recently, we’ve really been able—especially, through writing this book—we went to some really bad places. He would be writing late at night—he would look over, and he’d talk about something. I would say: “Okay. This is to help other people. This is so they don’t have to go through this.”
Dennis: As I was reading your book, I tweeted one of the quotes that you had. This one is at the beginning of Chapter 3, and it’s a Swedish proverb. It’s really describing what you were doing and what he needed. The proverb reads, “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.”
And you think about marriage—what is it but two imperfect people who desperately need to be loved in the midst of raw life?
I mean, it’s not as simple as a Hollywood movie wants to make it. It has mountaintops, and valleys, and, as you just described, dark places.
Dennis: But that began to change your life as she began to respond to you and became a safe person—where you could blow it, and yet, you knew she wasn’t going to go anywhere.
Ron: Another thing I did, at that same time, was—I went to other men that I knew. I started saying: “I see in you the kind of husband I’d like to be. Can you please help me figure out how I missed the boat?”
Dennis: So you broke the silence.
Dennis: Cool. I mean, really, really cool. That had to be one of the most courageous things you’ve ever done in your entire life.
Ron: I know I remember crying a lot.
Dennis: Think about it for a moment. For a man to go to another man—that really is the mark of a repentant man—
Jan: Very much so.
Dennis: —to say: “I’ve blown it. I need help. Would you teach me? Would you train me? Would you mentor me?”
I mean, now, we are getting serious, at this point.
Bob: Jan, you have just, in the last few years,—
Jan: —few years / yes; literally.
Bob: —started to get a picture of what the reality of a relationship with Christ looks like.
Jan: That God loves me—He loves me if I’m overweight / He loves me when I’m having a bad day—when I do something wrong. Why would God love me when I didn’t feel like my dad did? And, in some ways, my husband—because of all these imperfections—I could just lay them out: “Why would anyone love me, because I’m so imperfect?”
Bob: Ron, is there anything Jan could have said to you or done in the first ten years of your marriage that would have caused you to wake up sooner than you did; do you think?
Ron: I do. We’ve talked about this. I think that this process—and I think it is important for your listeners to know—I think this is a two-way process. There were definitely places where she could have said, “This is the line.” But I want the wives out there to know that we’re not talking about men who enjoy hurting them.
I realize you’ve done radio broadcasts on domestic violence, and people who are more antisocial and really have serious problems in terms of enjoying it.
Most of the men that I’ve worked with would give anything to find a way for God and their family to help them become the kind of guy that could be so connected to their Lord that they would believe: “It is okay. He’s got our back,” and that they wouldn’t have to act this way.
Dennis: I guess I want that man, who is wanting out right now, to hear clearly what you did. You went to God and cried out in your brokenness—
Dennis: “I’ve sinned. I have not loved my wife as You have commanded me to.”
Dennis: You went to her / confessed that. You went to some other men and, not only confessed that, but kind of flipped the coin over and said: “Mentor me.
Dennis: “Coach me. Train me.” And then, you began to listen—
Dennis: —and began to honor your wife and began to nourish and cherish her.
As you’ve found life in Christ, who has taught you to love, how to forgive, and how to let go—you’ve been able to do that, because your wife is nodding right now. She’s smiling, and her head is nodding. It’s not like you are perfect, but you’re on the right road. And I hope a lot of men, listening, will take this as a wake-up call.
Bob: Yes; and you hope that they would have the courage to say, “Maybe I need to read the book.” I mean, that takes some guts for a guy to say, “This may be me.” A lot of guys, who are like you, are going to say: “No; that’s not me. That’s some…” It takes some courage for a guy to say, “I’m going to get a copy of this and read it.”
Dennis: And I just want to say a word to the wife, who looks over across the bed—and beside the bed on the table—sees the book, The Controlling Husband.
Bob: —and she didn’t put it there.
Dennis: —and she didn’t put it there.
Dennis: Resist the urge to say: “What are you learning? Are you getting it yet?!” [Laughter]
Just let the Spirit of God go to work and see what he says to you. Expect God to work.
Bob: Because that’s ultimately, if it’s going to work, got to be a spiritual transformation in somebody’s life, as you described. We do have copies of the book, The Controlling Husband, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We have talked, on other programs, about the fact that it can be the wife who’s the controller in a relationship. In this situation, Ron, you were the one who was controlling the relationship and holding your wife hostage in the process.
But, honestly, I think what you’ve written about here works both ways, whether it’s the husband or the wife who is the one who is the controller. I think couples would be helped by getting a copy of this book, which, again, we have, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us on our website if you’d like. Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and order by phone.
Go to the web at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FLTODAY to get a copy of Ron Welch’s book, The Controlling Husband.
You know, our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to help couples avoid some of the pitfalls that can be common in marriage and family relationships—and when we fall into those traps, which all of us, inevitably, wind up with either patterns or isolated incidences, where we hurt one another—sometimes unintentionally / sometimes intentionally. Here, at FamilyLife, our goal is to provide people with practical biblical help and hope so that couples can do the repair work necessary for their relationships—not just to survive—but to thrive; and for husbands and wives to find joy in their relationship and joy as they raise their children.
We are very much indebted to those of you who are, not just listeners to FamilyLife Today, but those of you who have joined with us and become partners and said, “We want to see the things that you guys are talking about reach more people.” Every time you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, that’s what you’re making possible.
You’re helping us reach more people more often with what God’s Word has to say about marriages and families. We’re grateful for those of you who do partner with us, either as monthly Legacy Partners, or those who give a gift, from time to time, as God prompts you to do so. We appreciate that.
You can donate easily, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or if it’s easier for you, you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
By the way, when you do get in touch with us to make a donation, there are resources we have available to help you pray for one another in marriage and to help you find some fresh ways to have fun together, as a couple. You can request those resources when you donate, and we’re happy to get them to you.
And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how you break the cycle. If somebody is a controller in marriage, what can you do so that that pattern doesn’t just keep repeating itself? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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