Redemption and Repentance
About the Guest
Are you married to a controlling man? Are you controlling? If so, there is help for you. Ron Welch, an associate professor of counseling at Denver Seminary, and his wife, Jan, talk about the challenges their marriage faced before Ron found help for his controlling behavior.
Are you married to a controlling man? Are you controlling? Ron and Jan Welch talk about the challenges their marriage faced before Ron found help for his controlling behavior.
Redemption and Repentance
Bob: We do have to tell you—we thought, “If we’re going to bring in Ron to talk about this, we need to bring in somebody who can keep him honest”; right?
Dennis: Well, it’s their story. Ron is a professor at Denver Seminary.
Ron, in your book, you use an illustration that I really like. In fact, I’ll give you credit for it when I use it—but I will use this illustration—you say, “Marriage is a lot like Niagara Falls.”
Ron: Yes; I got that metaphor, years ago, working in the prison system, from a man named Bill Fleeman, who worked with anger control in men. I asked him—I said: “I think this is true in marriage—I think this is really what’s happening here. If you go to Niagara Falls, you see all sorts of power of the water where Niagara Falls is; but what you don’t often see is—a couple miles, upriver, it looks totally different. We spend most of our relationships dealing with each other in the middle of the falls.”
Now, there are some interesting warning signs as you get closer to the falls. There are some flashing lights. There are, maybe, some signs, out to the side.
When I was there years ago, they even had a cable over in case somebody was sitting in a barrel, thinking, “Well, I might change my mind at the last second; I’ll grab the cable.”
There are lots of ways you can get out of the process, early on; but if you wait until you are in the middle of saying those things that you can say—or giving her the look, that I have, that can say, “I don’t want you to say anything,”—or any of the intimidation or manipulation—you’re really already over the falls. You just have to settle in and watch whatever destruction and damage occurs.
I ask couples to learn: “How far back, up river, do you need to go before you can actually be aware, and control, and make different choices?”
Dennis: And dealing with issues before—
Dennis: —the destruction occurs—in the calm water, when the emotions are settled, when you are both rested. In fact, one of the things I had to smile about, as I read your book, was—you said, “Just be careful about having arguments early in the morning or late at night.”
Ron: Yes; yes.
Dennis: They’re just—they are getting close to the edge of the falls; aren’t they?
Ron: Yes; yes. It could be someone coming home from work that’s tired. It could be someone, who is having a struggle with an infant, who is having colic and is having a tough day. You can’t expect that things will go well when you already have—I’m a baseball coach—and you have two-and-a-half strikes against you. It’s kind of ridiculous to think, “Well, this is the best time to bring it up.”
Bob: Yes; we talk to couples at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways about the fact that there needs to be loving confrontation in a marriage relationship; but part of loving confrontation is thinking: “Is this the right time to say this? Is this the right setting to say this? What are the right words to use to say this?” You give some pre-thought to the conversation rather than just opening your mouth and seeing what comes out.
Ron: It also includes humility. You have to be in a state of mind that says, “I want to understand and know what she has to say to me.” If my state of mind is: “I want to tell her how she is wrong!” we’ve got a problem; because my state of mind has to be:
“I’m entering into communication with her to grow and learn what God has for me to learn from her in what she has to say,”—not for me to argue with her and win some battle.
Bob: And that was a major turning point in your relationship—when you moved from “I’m talking to tell…” to say, “I’m going to start listening.”
Bob: That humility had to grow over time—I mean, that’s something you have to cultivate. How do you coach somebody to grow in humility? What are steps you can do so that you can start listening better?
Ron: You know, one of the first things is to realize is what can happen when you don’t see yourself as the authority—who is the only one who has information to share. If I go into the communication and I say: “Wow! God’s given me this amazing woman, who seems to know me, and forgive, and accept, and love me, and all these things that I wish I could do better in my life. Wouldn’t it be nice if I’d shut up and listen to her share some wisdom and help me learn what I need to learn, rather than thinking I have some corner on the market of godly information?”
Dennis: Have you ever been to our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway?
Ron: I have not—no.
Dennis: There is a point in the conference where we challenge both husband and wife to look at their spouse and say, “She is not your enemy,” / “He is not your enemy.”
Dennis: Instead, you need to view your spouse as a gift from God to you with all kinds of new capacities, all kinds of perspectives, with all kinds of gifts and abilities. It’s like Barbara taking me to museums. She’s taking me, as a man, and exposing me to some things that I needed to know about. And she’s exposed me to a lot I didn’t know about. [Laughter] Is that what you have found in your wife, Jan, since you’ve finally dropped your guard and let her in?
Ron: Absolutely—things like you’ve mentioned—patience / acceptance.
She loves people for who they are / she doesn’t try to change them. She’s so excited when—there is a joke between us that everybody loves Jan; because I don’t think I’ve been in a social relationship where she doesn’t come away with a new friend. My guess is she is going to have seven new Facebook® friends, leaving here today. [Laughter] I mean, she’ll just—she loves people so well. I’ve learned to do that from watching her and accepting that from her.
Bob: Ron, how would you coach a wife, who is in one of these situations? She has addressed it with her husband / she has tried to draw some boundaries. He is just stubborn—he says, “You’re the problem.” He won’t listen to outside counsel / other people have come along and said—and he says: “You guys are just taking her side. You’re not listening to my side”; and he won’t go anywhere. What do you do?
Ron: I encourage wives to ask two questions—and these are not easy questions; but they are questions that a husband, who does love his wife and who, also, has a faith that says:
“You need to learn how to love; because you may not be humanly born with it, intrinsically.”
I ask them to ask the question first: “Tell me how your behavior honors, and respects, and loves me. Tell me how this shows me God’s love. If you can answer that question, I’ll shut up—I’ll say, ‘Okay; apparently, you’re being a godly man.’” No one has come close to answering that question yet. You can’t act this way and disobey God’s Word directly on the other hand.
The other question I’ll ask them to ask is for them to say: “You say you love me, and you say that you want to have a better marriage; but you say it’s my fault—I’m causing you to do this. What you are telling me, then, is that you have no personal responsibility for what you are doing. That’s interesting to me, because it seems like it would probably be both of us. I’m on my knees, telling you what things I need to change, in front of God. How come you are not on your knees asking for God to help you change yourself?”
When you ask those two questions—I don’t care how narcissistic or egotistical you are, as a man—if there is an ounce of the Spirit inside you, that’s going to convict you. You are going to be saying: “Oh my goodness! What have I done?!”
Bob: “I’ve been busted here!”—yes.
Dennis: You know, Ron, I’m listening to you, and I’m going: “It’s one thing if the guy won’t hear—
Dennis: —“refuses to hear, won’t embrace humility, won’t lower his ego and hear the truth about himself. It’s another issue, however, if the wife has had these conversations with him, and she’s now wondering if there is an emotional capacity / a mental capacity to process what she’s saying and to fit it together and to truly hear and act on it.
Bob: “Does he have psychological problems? Is there something going on here?”
Dennis: What’s she to do then?
Ron: Well, you can’t underestimate the danger of a man, who truly is not allowing God to lead his life and who has desires to really control and have power over women. He probably does that in most areas of his life. And the women, who are listening, who are in a relationship where they really fear for their safety—I have no question that that is not something you can say: “Well, you can just stay in there as long as possible. Hang in there. Maybe, he won’t hurt you,”—that’s not godly / that’s not biblical—that’s not safe in any way. There is delineation between a violent individual, who wants to harm someone else, and someone who doesn’t know any other way to live. I was one of those guys who needed to be taught.
There is no question—some guys who need to have other types of responses—like having the law involved, having domestic violence centers available, and being able to get out of that situation into a safe place. The idea is that he wants to keep it a secret. He wants to keep all of this between him and her because he can control that. My encouragement is that the more people that know the better.
Dennis: There were a number of practical tools / practices that you learned to exhibit in your relationship with Jan that made a big difference. One of them starts with Jan—and that was what you did with a concept that, I guess, you guys came up with—which was called “Learned Helplessness,” where you had grown up with the loss of love, abandonment, hurt, and betrayal.
Dennis: Explain what somebody is to do if they’ve learned how to be helpless and almost find security in that state.
Jan: At first, you’re really not aware of it—that you are using that as a crutch. I lost—as my parents divorced, we lost my dad / I lost my sister [her death]. I ended up losing my mom and both sisters. By the time I was nine, I had—not to death but through separation—had lost every member of my family. That trust is gone in a lot of ways; because “If I love you, then, something is going to happen to you.”
I think once that becomes your mantra—“I can’t do anything because of the loss,” / “I can’t achieve things,”—and then you get into a marriage, where you’re also told that—you think that 90 percent of the time; and that other 10 percent, someone else is giving it to you. So, you really must not be able to do things—you’re not smart enough / you’re not pretty enough. At some point, you have to stop saying or thinking that way; because you’re never going to move forward through God’s love / accepting God’s love—that’s what I should say. I always think I knew that; but really understanding it and accepting it are two different things and “If God loves me the way I am, then, there is something good about me.”
Dennis: So, as you began to grow in your own knowledge of the love of God—experience that personally—that made the risk of loving your husband possible.
Jan: Yes; it did.
Dennis: But at that point, you hadn’t experienced—
Jan: I had always loved him—but deeper level of love.
Dennis: Yes; that’s exactly right.
Ron, you talk about another tool you use and have learned to use with Jan called “The Kindness Filter” in how you relate to her. Tell us how you came upon this and how does it work? How do you practice it in your marriage?”
Ron: You know, the way I look at that, Dennis, is—I want to decide if what I’m going to do or going to say passes the kindness test: “If I take this action, will she end up being closer to a relationship with God that will help her feel trusted and loved?”
One of the things I found, for controlling husbands, is: “Man! This stuff gets worse if there is pressure going on.” If there is pressure at work / if there is tension going on in the family, it’s like it just multiplies it a hundred times over. That meeting that was supposedly so important I had to get to because I’m running late/ “Oh, well,”—you know, the kid who is waiting at the soccer field, because you’re supposed to pick him up/ he’s going to be mad at you for not being there—if, right now, I have to pull over on the side of the road, step out of the car, and give my wife a hug and say:
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need to phrase this differently,” or if I need to shut up and say, “I can’t respond right now because, if I do, I may say something I’m going to regret,”—that’s fine. I have to stop long enough to make certain that what I do builds her up rather than tears her down.
Bob: Okay; so, tell me about yesterday.
Ron: This is why I say, “I’m a recovering controlling husband.” [Laughter]
Bob: Right; we’ve got you.
Bob: A little reality here.
Ron: Alright; fair.
Bob: What happened?
Ron: Travel is always stressful. It started from getting up early in the morning—not necessarily having enough sleep. As I mentioned earlier, don’t have arguments—don’t have them when you don’t have enough sleep. You get a little less sleep before an early morning flight. Things happen on airlines—airlines don’t always run on time. Then, you have a situation where, for whatever reason, you’re realizing you are more and more tense, and more and more worried, and you are concerned. You’re thinking about: “What if this…? What if this…? What if this…?” And she’s been with me the entire time, living through that experience.
I want your listeners to understand—this is not some process, where you just suddenly go through and “Hey, everything is cool now.”
Ron: This is a minute-by-minute, day-by-day commitment to place the values and the welfare of your spouse above your own. That’s why I talk so much, in the book, about selflessness—that concept of thinking of the other before yourself. To me, that is such a key.
Dennis: Well, I have to believe that, while this was happening, Jan was practicing something you’ve written about in your book—
Dennis: —that you have to share with our listeners; because I think this has great takeaway value here. It’s your three rules of engagement.
Ron: You’ve heard about telling kids to take time-outs?
Dennis: Yes; for toddlers.
Ron: Well, and also, for controlling husbands. [Laughter] So, you have to accept the fact that there are times—
Dennis: [Laughter] This is what I loved about it—it’s like: “Oh, yes! Absolutely! This is going to be practical for folks.”
Bob: Wait! You’re saying a wife ought to say to her husband, “You need a time-out.” Is that what you are saying?
Ron: Well, I’m saying you have to find a way to disengage. You’ve been down the path before—we talked about Niagara Falls.
Ron: You know what’s coming.
Bob: Yes; “Been around this corner.”
Ron: Why on earth would you go over it again in the barrel?
Bob: So, let me just ask: “In the middle of this time-out—
Bob: —“’Take a time-out here for a second,’—Jan, when all of this pressure was building, could you tell, ‘We’re getting near the edge of Niagara Falls’?”
Jan: Oh, yes; it started with realizing we should have gotten up half an hour earlier.
Jan: And through the whole drive—we’re driving—he is saying that—
Bob: He’s intense—
Bob: “We should have gotten up early.”
Jan: Finally, I just said: “Babe, we didn’t. There is just nothing you can do about it.”
Dennis: So, tell the truth. Did you tell him to go sit in the restroom—
Bob: —he needs a time-out right now. [Laughter]
Dennis: —in the airplane?
Jan: We didn’t have time for the time-out. [Laughter] We wouldn’t make the flight! [Laughter]
Bob: So, Ron, what’s the second rule of engagement here?
Ron: One of the things you need to do is to make sure that time-out happens, whether the other person wants it or not. For instance, I would have had to listen to her yesterday if she said it. There were two or three times when she, in her kind way, made it clear to me: “You have complained enough. That’s….” / in essence, “I’m done.” That’s something she never would have had the voice to do before.
In order to do that, you have to be able to trust the other person when they say: “We’re going down the wrong path. We need to stop.”
So, step one is: “Identify that you’re on the wrong path.”
Ron: Step two is: “Take a time-out and get out of it.” And step three is: “You don’t just leave it there.”
A lot of wives tell me: “That’s fine. We can—but we never get back to it.” So, when you take the time-out, you sit back and say, “When do we think we can deal with this?” But you don’t assume that you’re going to have to deal with everything when you’re in the middle of Niagara Falls.
Bob: So, by the time you were airborne and at 30,000 feet, was that the time for her to say, “You know the way this went back in the car...”? Did you have that conversation?
Jan: Oh, pretty much.
Bob: And when she says to you, “You know, babe, you were a little over the edge there,” you can hear that today without going—
Dennis: Yes; good for you.
Bob: —“You just be quiet.”
Dennis: Good for you.
Ron: Not only that—but I can see that it’s going to be what she has to say because I already understand—because I can see what I’ve done. If I’m really fortunate, in the middle of the process, we’ve found a way out of that already.
Dennis: There are those listening right now who may have some friends—maybe, it’s their brother / their sister who is in a marriage, where the husband is a controlling husband. Maybe, it’s their adult child / their daughter who is in a marriage where the husband is controlling.
Dennis: What can they do?
Ron: I think that anyone, who is a friend or a relative of someone who sees this happening, can do one of two things: You can talk to the couple together, or you can talk to the individual parties separately. And you have to, I think, decide which seems to be the way people listen best.
There are times when a family member may talk to the couple together, and there is too much defensiveness on each part—they are not able to work together that way. There are other times when that works better, because they support what the other person has to say—it’s kind of a triangulation deal: “Well, yes; she’s saying this,”—he’s trying to tell her—“and she’s…” “Wait a second! If you’re not controlling, why did you just interrupt her?”—right? So, there is that process.
That’s, by the way, the reason I think counseling works well; because you have a third party that interprets and says, “Yes; that’s really what’s happening here.”
The other thing that they could try to do is say—and this is difficult—and wives, sometimes, in counseling situations, have gotten frustrated with me for saying: “There is a two-way road going on here. You can take action / set boundaries.” Sometimes, if a mother and father, for instance, see this happening in their children, the mom could talk with the daughter / the father-in-law could talk with the son and say: “I would like you to tell me how what happened at dinner the other night shows honor and respect for your wife,”—not condemning / not criticizing—but saying, “Help me understand how this works because I don’t quite see that. Can you help me?”
There was a show, a long time ago, called Columbo—I’m dating myself a little bit. Columbo would kind of answer questions by saying: “Well, I’m kind of confused. I’m not sure I understand what’s going on.” He’d be walking out of the room; and he’d say, “I’ve got one more question….” [Laughter] And then, he’d solve the murder in front of everybody; right?
Ron: Well, that’s a great technique for family members to use with a controlling husband. It just kind of puts the person at ease a bit. They can say: “Wow! I don’t know. I don’t think I can explain it. Maybe, I need some help.”
Dennis: You indicated earlier that the “Aha!” moment for you was—not when you looked in a mirror and saw yourself—but you looked at your sons and saw how they were treating their mother. You saw yourself in your sons.
Dennis: Undoubtedly, in the years that have transpired, you’ve done some training work with your sons.
Dennis: Comment on how you would coach a husband and a wife who, perhaps, have allowed this to go on too long—the kids have picked up on it, and they are replicating it.
Ron: I had a series of conversations with both my sons. I started by saying: “I need to ask you for forgiveness, because the way I’ve shown you how to be a husband and how to be a father has not been very good.
“I need to show you that I need your help to repent and to be a better dad and to be a better husband. I need you to be able to see that what I was—through God’s grace—is not who I am and that you don’t have to repeat those patterns.”
That came from a point in my heart where I believe they could see the sincerity and they could understand that I was telling them: “I know what this has done to you. I know the way I have controlled my wife is how I’ve controlled you. I need to start over and find a way for God to build us up and help me be a better dad and a better husband.”
Dennis: I think that’s great advice as well.
I really appreciate both of you, Jan and Ron, for sharing your story with our listeners. Unfortunately, there really is one more question that I have for you before we’re done, here on the broadcast. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; let me jump in before you ask the question, though, because a couple of things we need to take care of. The first is to let folks know how they can get a copy of Ron’s book, The Controlling Husband.
We have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, again, order The Controlling Husband book, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
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Dennis: Well, it has been really raw at points / honest, certainly, as you guys have shared your journey. I think you’ve brought a lot of hope to a lot of couples.
It occurred to me, Ron—over the years—you don’t know this about FamilyLife Today—but I’ve concluded a few broadcasts, over the years, where I have allowed the guest on the program to give a tribute to their mom or dad—perhaps, a parent who is gone / perhaps, a parent who is still alive. It occurred to me that your wife’s patience with you has not gone unnoticed by you.
Dennis: And I thought—you know, with just a few hundred thousand people / of your closest friends listening on, across the country—I just was wondering, “Would you like to give a tribute to Jan—
Ron: I would love to.
Dennis: —“as we close the broadcast?”
Ron: [Emotion in voice]
I want to thank you for being the kind of person that can show me God’s love and God’s acceptance through the way you’ve treated me in our marriage. I want to thank you for being able to forgive me, and I want to thank you for showing me the path to become the kind of person that you believed I was capable of being. I love you, and I am so thankful you are my wife.
Jan: And I love you too, Babe. Thank you.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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