How to Deal With a Controlling Spouse – Dr. Ron & Jan Welch


Dr. Ron Welch was a non-violent, controlling husband for many years, often driven by his own anxiety of potential worst-case scenarios in his life. Thus, he learned to control everything as much as possible, often through manipulation and other subtle means. Jan Welch was raised by a domineering father and learned how to become more compliant as a result, but she often felt unheard, isolated, and frustrated in her marriage. In this interview, Ron and Jan describe how too much control can damage a marriage and family, and then they share how Ron began to change and learned how to think of Jan first rather than meeting his own needs all the time.



he’s stifling me, I can’t live this way anymore. No matter what I do, it’s never good enough for her, he’s a loving husband and a good dad. As long as we do everything his way. Welcome to the focus on the family. Broadcast, helping families thrive. Those comments reflect a really significant problem in marriages today. When a husband or wife is controlling their spouse in unhealthy ways today. On focus on the family with jim daly, we’re going to be examining the problems of too much control in marriage and how couples can find better, more godly ways to support each other and interact with each other. Thanks for joining us today. I’m john fuller, john, I’m sure people hear about this topic and they immediately think of that stereotype, you know, the loud abusive husband who’s a steam roller in his marriage. Maybe always angry, always barking orders. Certainly thinking the world revolves around him. And if you’re saying, wow, that’s cutting pretty close to home, I think today’s program will be for you. And to be honest, there’s some truth to that. Um, some men will intimidate their wives through anger abuse, both verbally and physically. And if that’s your spouse, I want to urge you to get to a safe place. We’re talking about nonviolent control today, not where there’s abuse in the relationship in in a physical form and we’ve got to make sure that you hear me clearly that if you’re in that situation get help call focus. We’ll get you pointed in a direction you can go. But today it’ll be the hope of your marriage in the future, being better than it is today when your husband is controlling angry manipulative. Yeah. And sometimes it’s kind of subtle in the way it plays out, but it’s felt and the spouse feels frustrated and powerless and kind of alone in the marriage. So as you clarify, jim this is a this is not abuse in the traditional sense, it might be you’re married to a perfectionist who has to have things a certain way. And there’s a lot of anxiety in that kind of a home and that’s what we’ll be addressing today. That’s exactly right. And we have two great folks joining us who have been here before Dr Ron Welch and his wife, Jan Ron is a clinical psychologist who also serves as a professor at Denver Seminary. And Jan is a special needs teacher and tutor Ron. And Jan let me say welcome back to focus on the family. Thank you. It’s great to be here. You’ve written this great book. The controlling husband. It’s a hard subject though, Ron, I know we’re going to get into your background and I appreciate the vulnerability in which you approach this subject because it’s to help people. Let me ask you for the men listening or the wives who are married to men like you were and uh that controlling narcissistic temperament. Um what was going on in your head. I mean, was this a place that you felt through control. You could feel better about yourself? I mean, I’m not even sure how to ask that question. What were you feeling? Being controlling? Trying my best to not be out of control if that makes sense? Because you feared it or what? Because I I grew up in a family where, I mean, my mom, God bless her. She was a wonderful woman. But the glass wasn’t just half full, It was draining rapidly and you could see the bad things coming around the corner and she taught me to prepare for those. So I became very anxious, very nervous and the control allowed me to try to prevent bad things from happening. Now, you gotta understand at this point, I wasn’t trusting other people. I didn’t trust God, I needed to make sure things were okay. And so in my marriage and my relationships in my work, um early in my life, I was working in the federal prison system. So I was aware of what dominant males look like. And I wasn’t that guy, I wasn’t the guy who enjoyed hurting women. I never have been and I’ve never hurt Jan physically in any way. But man, I wanted to have things go the way I wanted them to go because I was scared to death of what would happen if I didn’t have control, right? That’s really fascinating because when you look at the culture today and if what I’m hearing you say is fear of having things in order. The way you wanted them drove you to that kind of compulsive behavior, controlling behavior. When you look at the amount of fear in the culture today, wow, how many people are moving in that direction out of a protection modality to want to or need to control their environment, How many areas of your life can you not control? Your boss is going to tell you what to do. The government or the laws and the restrictions in certain areas will tell you what to do the pandemic covid. It’s like, go here wear a mask, here do that. And then suddenly you’re in this relationship where it’s like, oh she’s scared of me and she’ll she’ll do what I say. And then it’s easier. And then suddenly that that’s selfish. Internal pride kicks in and maybe some people listening don’t quite understand that or that doesn’t feel like who they are. But there’s a lot of ways people control mine was was manipulation and intimidation. What did that look like? Just so we can get a picture of it. Um so here’s the kind of situation when I would ask her what she wanted for dinner, I wasn’t really asking her what she wanted for dinner. I wanted to start a conversation about barbecue so that I could help her understand why barbecue is the right thing to have for dinner. That sounds pretty manipulative, right? It sounds exhausting. It is and I’m sure it was just terribly frustrating knowing because she knew what I was doing but her story is that she was okay with that and went along with. That sounds pretty simplistic though. Yeah. If you if you if I chose what I wanted it would be miserable because you would go there and your partner would be like, the service is horrible, but this food is just so you start learning if I have a choice, I don’t really have a choice because it’s gonna make it, well it makes it awful for you because you chose this place and they’re complaining the whole time. Why would you put yourself through that again? I mean they start loading the guilt. Why did you pick this place? The service is terrible. You learn after the first time I’m not going to choose because if I choose wrong then I’m gonna. But then I do wanna come back to your romance, you’re you’re meeting run and and it was a whirlwind experience. I mean in some ways, were there red flags or did you just blow by them and describe your courtship and how long it lasted? Well within the first four days we were looking at wedding rings on the, I think the fifth day, That’s pretty fast. That’s pretty fast. Did anybody in your sphere say jan you may want to slow this down a little bit. Not really because my family was in texas and we didn’t have cell phones and those kind of communicated things but we were in a class at D. U. And um we did a project together, next thing I know we were going out and by the time we came back to that once a week class we were engaged. Yeah, so that was fast. That was very well to be fair this is an example of one of those warning signs. She she had been flirting me with me during the class, so I said well I need to get those points back. I was taken down points while she was flirting and I said you know if we go out that I’ll get the points back. But I went out to the hallway and asked her for a quarter and she’s like why do you need a quarter? Was two quarters and phones back then and I said I gotta call somebody if I was going to go out with her on thursday I had to move the girl that I already had to another day. So I was trying to call that girl to move that with her quarter, with her there with her quarter. So I don’t look real good in that kind of story but that that would be a red flag to say wait a second, you know and she looked up at me because I was gonna go to a movie with the other girl and the line was busy and so we sat down and I was asking who are you calling? And it was Tuesday. So the dollar night back then. And and he told me and I was like, I thought he was a nice guy. And then I looked up and I go, I like movies and we’ve never been apart. Oh my goodness. I mean, yeah, but you stepped into their thank you very much fast lane in that relationship. The flip side to that, that isn’t the good part is that I was so anxious to get married because I knew if she got to know me, there was no chance of her marrying me. And I say that with all honesty, I just, I knew as the longer it took, she was going to see how poor husband choice I was and she wouldn’t want me. Um, and so I I wish there was a different story to that. But I was just so insecure and we’re gonna continue your story. Obviously I do want to get to some of the concepts in the book and we’ll pick up, you know, kind of where you went as a couple. But you Ron described in your book, the controlling husband, how men tend to be like wolves, uh, speak to that. I mean obviously there’s things in nature that we can identify with. But what were you getting at? Well we’re alpha’s right, It’s theirs from the day one. It’s it’s in T ball, we have competitive teams and people are being like drafted at age 10 in baseball teams, you know, and, and you have violent kind of a strong aggressive physical behavior leads you to be the best player on the team or whatever, uh, in work environments. It’s, it’s the person who takes the initiative and does well, that gets rewarded with the promotions, um, in, in church organizations. If you’re active and you’re out there and you’re getting things done, then you’re seen as a, as a godly man who’s moving things forward. But that’s the exact opposite of the kind of selfless other focused man God calls us to be. And so the wolf is the concept of the idea that you’re going to try to be in charge and in control because that’s what society teaches you you need to be. Unfortunately, I don’t think our societal structures are bringing men up very well. And honestly, I’m not sure in many ways that the church is not participating in some of those structures. Yeah, we want to explore those things. But also you do talk about this idea that some women can also dominate and control. And I want to make sure that people here that we’re not man bashing. The point is, here’s the point, there’s no bashing of anything. It’s just the idea of what is crippling you in your marriage? That’s the concept here. How can you do better if you claim christ as your savior were, we must do better and we’ve got to grow every day and that’s one area, reading your book, I’m so proud of the two of you. You didn’t give up on your marriage. You kept fighting even though it took years. But you stuck with it. And again, there was no physical abuse. You had to whether that Jan you had to endure that for years and we’ll get into that. But I just think we speak to the idea that some women too can be those manipulators, those, those controllers. It’s not a one gender only area. Sure. It’s personality style, Right? I mean, all of us have different ways that we gain control. Some people do it passively. Some people do it very in the front door kind of knocked down the front door. But there’s a number of ways people can control. And in some cases in my practice over the years, I’ve seen every imaginable type of control from people withholding sexual interactions to people, um, refusing to talk giving the silent treatment. There’s lots of ways that you can be the dominant partner regardless of what gender you are? Let me ask this though as a clarifying point, Are there some things that you should control for good reasons and Godly reasons? I mean, I would think that you just can’t be, you know, a mat that people walk on. You know, there’s that whole learned helplessness concept. Jan and I talked about this a lot where I’ve tried rocking the boat and it’s not working? So in the areas where you feel it’s part of the principle and character of who you are, those areas, you should control. If you want to be a provider in the household as a man, then you should work your tail off at work and provide and do a really good job as God expects you to do. But if that’s gonna mean, you’re working 80 hours and you’re not home for your family and you’re never around and when you are your attitude, and your your countenance is mean and frustrated, and tired. then man, you gotta look yourself in the mirror and say, is this job worth it the way I am, that’s, that’s not okay and something I think um when you’re in a controlling relationship, it starts off very slowly as it moves on, you’re kind of used to, and then you get smaller and smaller and it’s just okay, this is the way my life is gonna go, it’s not, you know, banging you on the head and then taking control like a caveman in our relationship, It was gradually like um giving up friends isolation. Those are some of the earlier signs I think to be aware of, did you become that doormat that jim was talking about? Pretty much Yeah, I mean, it was more fear as well because if I didn’t do something the right way, then, You know, he’d get upset and I didn’t want him to get upset? So you try and do everything he can so he doesn’t get upset Jenn how how long was that struggle though? How many years did you we disagree mind is longer than his. We’re gonna give you the benefit of the doubt, say 16, 16 years. Alright. So I need to ask that question that some women who might be living with that kind of husband is saying right now there maybe even contemplating divorcing and they’re saying to you, I can’t believe it jan why would you do that for 16 years? Because they’re not always that way. There’s a, there’s so many wonderful, great quality glimpses of hope. Yes, that was my kind of motto. If you had to say anything, hope, hope and faith for my motto, um, I really believe God put us in this relationship for a reason and maybe it wasn’t perfect now, but my kids were happy. I’m from a divorced family. That was not an option. And I would have, I mean, I was unhappy for a really long time, but as long as those people around me were happy, I was willing to don’t say sacrifice. But I was okay with that. Is there something there Ron? And I, what I mean is clinically when you have a woman who’s willing to absorb a lot. I mean spiritually it’s Angelique, I mean you’re taking all of this, But is there a line where a person needs to advocate for themselves and and not just roll over hoping that you might send a morsel her way. You know, this is it’s hard to hear her talk because when I think about the number of years that I put her through that it’s my largest regret of anything in my life, but the the reality is that she was used to that from some pretty controlling strong father figure images and interactions and from my perspective as a therapist, I look at that and I say there is going to be a point where you may be the last person to see it because it feels so familiar and even if it’s not healthy, it feels kind of like what, you know, that’s to your conditioning point a moment ago. It is. And so I think that’s where if I had been living my life the way God called me to be, I would be that that partner that’s trying to help bring her closer to God and build her up. And I would have been saying, oh this is not okay, look at how she’s feeling, look how miserable she is. I wasn’t mature enough and I was still um very, very unable to deal with my own needs, let alone take care of her. Well if we’re talking about something that’s cutting close to home, then please know that, focus on the family is here to help. We have caring christian counselors, We’d be very happy to set up a time for you to have a consultation with them. Our number is 800 a family or click the link on your screen for more details. Ron I’m sure some people are still struggling to understand, you know, what are, what are the descriptors for me? Because you don’t know you’re doing it necessarily, you feel comfortable controlling because it’s reducing the fear level in you and that’s you know, that’s good but that’s not healthy. Um what were some of those indicators again that really began you begin to notice what was true and what was false? I think one of the best indicators is how are decisions made when something comes up in a discussion who wins, is it a win lose situation or do you really try to Find door number three and come up with an awesome compromise or is it yeah, I need to prove my point. And any time a guy or even a woman, whoever is controlling in the relationship feels like I’m trying to win the battle boy. You got to check yourself because that’s a huge warning sign. Another is if the partner comes away from the conversation less than or belittled or depressed or sad, you got to look at yourself and say, okay, so the sum total of that conversation with my wife feels like I don’t love her. Well that didn’t work. Also, you know, some of these signals can come up in really different ways. There was a humorous story in your book where you talked about moving to colorado and I think your son who was really young at the time, three or so you had, which I actually thought, what a brilliant system. You had all your moving boxes and you put stick colored stickers for each room, like kitchen bedroom, living room by the way, way to go. I think that’s great. But your three year old son had a different plan for that, right? What happened? Yes, it was hilarious. We um, he actually had a two systems. So we had a double double system was a double code. And so my three year old was following him and I was watching and he was taking he put them on, he’d take him off, he’d put them on himself, he put in another box, the whole house and then he came back and he was like, why is this color? It’s the wrong color? And Brevin comes around the corner, would you like another dot Brevin? That’s a great name too, by the way. But that is also a subtle way to see where you’re at and what’s happening in your life? Think of the opportunity to be a joyful participant in this wonderful family experience. How did you respond to him? I was a jerk, I was I was angry and I was intense and I was mad at Jan for laughing and why are you? So and of course at that point she was so far into hilarity, she couldn’t stop. But I just, I looked back and I think, and this was not a single episode. This is the kind of way I reacted because it threatened my control and that’s just sad in retrospect. Well, yeah, but these are the signals that need to wake us up to these triggers that are going on Jan when you’re growing up, you had an experience. I think your parents gave you a doll to replace another doll. Tell us about it. I had a raggedy Andy and it was a musical one where you can slide them on your feet and dance with him. Um, and so for my sixth, I think six or something birthday, um I got a bigger raggedy Andy and unfortunately they didn’t tell me they were taking the other one and giving it to family, which is fine now, but at that age you didn’t want that. Well, in fact, you looked around to introduce the two of them and he was gone and which is your best friend when I was a child. And eventually I did find it in my father’s closet and what my mother up and she said, no, we’re giving them away. So she let me have one more last dance with him. And as a 5 to 6 year old, I still remember that and so I kind of learned really young that sometimes things change and you don’t have control, jen, let me dig in a bit on your side of the story and I want to hear the emotion of what you’re going through the rationalization help us better understand that because I just want to know your heart better that way. You have such tenderness and you’re, you know, you’re wanting and this is so true of women that I have found, and certainly my wife is this person, they’re so concerned about everybody around them that they’re willing to sacrifice themselves. They’re willing to sacrifice their joy, their happiness for others because they have this innate desire to do so, I think it’s, you know, that mothering instinct, right, I’ll probably get crit on that. But yeah, so how are you managing all that emotion? Am I in a good place because I’m giving of myself Lord, are you happy with me? Because I’m acting in a selfless way. There’s a lot of spiritual messiness in this. I I think so as well, I’ve had kind of a challenging relationship with God because I I don’t feel, I don’t didn’t feel worthy. And so why would God love me when I don’t feel love? I don’t feel like I’m lovable. And so I think part of that was by trying to give so much that maybe I would become something lovable and when you’re in a really, yeah, it’s kind of like motivated in that way, Yes, you want to help others. And I think that whether you’re a man or a woman. Um and and I didn’t understand a lot behind his controlling, but I was so in love with him that if I could do things that would make his life better, and therefore I wouldn’t have to have the fear or the being. Because there’s always somebody in a relationship that brings up conflict. I am not that person, I’m burying my head in the sand. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to acknowledge. Yeah. And he was more like, if something wasn’t working, he would have no problem bringing up things. And I’m like, I don’t want to deal with this. Um so, I think part of it was trying to avoid those times, if I could just get everything done right the first time, and when you have Children, you want them to be happy. So it’s very easy to put your spouse and your Children, your community, your church ahead of things. And I was okay with that. But now I’m not. So in some ways, it’s not it’s not a good thing. It’s the source. It sounds like the source from which that comes from Exactly if it’s low self esteem, I can become more worthy because I can do these things that’s unhealthy. And if you’re doing it in a healthy fashion. It’s because God calls me to do these things. Sacrificial. E and you are then willing and giving out of that, that’s a healthier perspective, we are right near the end here and I do want to get into the healing perspective. I mean, again, 16 years. Okay, Ron How long did you think it took? Right? No, she’s right. I mean, it took it took a long, long time because each time I started to think, I remember very clearly a point where I saw my son starting to talk to her the way I did and telling her, why weren’t you here at this time? And I gave him the dad talk about, you know, don’t talk to your mother that way. And God just slapped me across the face and said, who do you think is teaching these principles to your sons. And I thought about generational sin. And I thought about, you know, how many, how many further generations of our family are going to treat women that way. And at that point I started realizing that I was so out of line with where God wanted me to be, but that wasn’t just about my relationship with Janet was my relationship with other people with God. I just wanted so badly to be in the driver’s seat. So how did that? You know, you look at that some people, even in their salvation with jesus, it’s a, it’s a moment they could point to it, they can tell you the time and then with others, it’s almost like a rolling situation where it was drops of water over a long period of time. That then on one day, boom, it made sense to me and I gave my life to the Lord. I would think even in the cleansing of our bad habits, it’s very similar. Some people will have an epiphany. I’ve heard of people alcoholics that just gave it up in one day, it was done and then others who it was, I might say like a rolling epiphany. It took time and it sounds like that was true for you. And then how did you get up when you stumbled when you were back into the control saying Lord, why am I doing that? How how do you manage that process to hopefully end up in a better place? You know what’s great about God is he takes your attempts to try and become the man he wants you to be and he says, you’re, you’re giving it your best shot. Let me make it a little easier the next time. Let me remind you how you felt the last time. I would see the look in her eyes that was different and it wasn’t like she believed me after maybe three or four times. It was probably five or six years after those 16 years. She talked about where I believe she started thinking I could actually change. That wasn’t very quick. It took a long time for her to believe that I was capable of change. And jan right here at the end, I want to get that perspective from you. Uh the skepticism, you may have had the hope, you had the back to skepticism. The hope women are living in that right now with their husbands. Exactly. And it’s now that we’re on the far side of it. You can look back and you can see those attempts, but when you’re still in it it takes you back to all of the other times that you were in that situation. Um I wish I could say that. I was like, yay and I believe this and um now I do because I have seen that, but it’s really hard at the time to be like and stay encouraged. But that was so it’s such a beautiful thing around the way you said, you could look into Jan’s eyes and her face and see as a barometer and you don’t forget you don’t forget the way she used to look at me and I don’t forget the fear and the sadness and how I reminded her of past experiences. So there’s something about being able to move toward the way God wants you to be, that your soul just lifts and it’s like, oh I could be that guy and then you start realizing it feels so much better to let God handle the control and the fear than trying to deal with it yourself well. And the Biblical mandates in marriage are pretty amazing and I know that in this culture today, You know, they seem controversial, but actually they’re quite amazing and they work well when both people are functioning in a healthy way, husbands husbands laying their lives down for their wives and wives are respecting their husbands. I mean it’s the right formula. It’s God’s D. N. A. It’s his plan in us spiritually. And when we apply it it works well. And if you’re in that spot where you’re screaming at me right now, even hearing that you need to get ahold of us, let’s talk about it. Talk to one of our caring christian counselors. Um get the book by Ron welch the controlling husband. That’s gonna give you many more ideas on things you can do. And if you’re the controlling wife, I’m sure you haven’t written that book yet, Ron. But I’m sure those concepts will apply to you. And of course if you can make a gift to focus of any amount, we’ll send it as our way of saying thank you. If you can’t afford it, it’s not about that, it’s about asking you to join us administering to other people that need help. If you can’t do that right now, we get that and you need the book, let us know, we’ll trust others will cover the cost of it. It’s not about the financial transactions about giving you help and hope. Ron and Janet again, I want to say thank you for all that you’ve done. And you know, just exposing this to people. It’s it’s very courageous to do that. To take your weakest elements of your relationship. Thank the Lord behind you. But to still lay those out there on the table for others to see it says a lot about your heart to want to help others as a councilor Ron and Jan certainly as his spouse um you walk it all the time and people are going to talk to you about it. But thank you for that vulnerability and thank you for putting in the time to write this great book. The controlling husband which takes a lot of humility Ron to lay it out there. So thank you to be fair. I tell my students at Denver Seminary, if I’m going to ask them to be honest, I’ve got to share my life and my journey. So hopefully sharing it with you all lets people learn and grow in their relationship with the Lord man. You’ve come a long way still on a journey. I consider myself a recovering controlling husband and thank you for joining us today for focus on the family, on behalf of jim daly and the entire team here plan to join us next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in christ

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