FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The High Cost of Controlling Behavior: Tim Kimmel

with Tim Kimmel | February 20, 2023
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Why is high control so dangerous? Author Tim Kimmel exposes various types and causes of controlling behavior, from passive manipulation to aggressive control.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Why is high control so dangerous? Author Tim Kimmel exposes various types and causes of controlling behavior, from passive manipulation to aggressive control.

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The High Cost of Controlling Behavior: Tim Kimmel

With Tim Kimmel
February 20, 2023
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Tim: The Bible makes it real clear. We are not supposed to control our children. We’re supposed to keep them under control. There’s a big difference. [Laughter] If I’m in a management or leadership position and I’ve got to keep people under control, I can do that graciously, keeping everybody’s uniqueness and identity and safety and allowing them to be vulnerable. But when I want to control, it’s a selfish agenda.

Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.

Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at or on the FamilyLife app.

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: All right, 30 plus years ago we started speaking for the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® Marriage Getaways-

Ann: Yes.

Dave: -and my very first one was with the guy sitting in the studio today, Tim Kimmel.

Ann: I remember when you came home from this conference.

Dave: It was incredible. You weren’t with me on that one.

Ann: No

Dave: I was solo.

Tim: Uh oh

Dave:  But Tim you probably don’t remember this but my next one was with you as well-

Tim: Oh no.

Dave: –in Orlando, where we are right now.

Tim: Wow.

Dave: You’ll never remember this but you called me beforehand and said, oh and by the way welcome Tim Kimmel to FamilyLife Today. [Laughter]

Ann: And mind you, you’re 32 years old at this time when you started speaking.

Dave: Yes, 32. We’d been married about 10, 12 years -10 years.

Ann: 10 years.

Dave: 10 years. Anyway you called and said, “Hey, I just got to ask you a question,” you know you’re an author, Little House on the Freeway had been out and a known personality-

Ann: and you had your ministry going which is called-

Tim: –at that time Family Matters, now called Grace Based Families.

Dave: Yes, it was Family Matters then. And you probably don’t remember this, but you said, “Hey, just want to give you a heads up we’ve got a camera crew that would like to film some of the stuff I’m doing at the Weekend to Remember.

Tim: Oh that’s right.

Dave: And I just want to make sure you’re okay with that. Because they’re going to be there and they’re even going to film our sessions and then film people in the lobby.”  And I’m like, “Oh, that’d be great.” So I get there - [Laughter]

Tim: Oh no.

Dave: –and you do the first session and then I’m going to come up after you and do the second session.

Tim: Oh, I remember.

Dave: You walk up on stage and three huge cameras are set up in the room.

Ann: Lights are on.

Dave: Guys get up behind them, lights come on, camera goes on and you go on [Laughter] and the whole room is like, “Wow. Who is this guy?  This guy is important because look at all this stuff.”  [Laugher]  And then you take a five, ten minute break and then I walk up. No lights. The camera  [Laughter] guys leave,

Tim: They’re gone.

Dave: Cameras are just sitting in the room and the whole audience is like, “This guy is nobody.” [Laughter]

Ann: You know what I remember about that conference Tim, is Dave came home and said, “This guy is one of the most phenomenal speakers I’ve ever heard in my life. And he could be a comedian.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: But the content that he’s delivering is amazing, and his walk with God is even more inspiring.

Tim: Well, thank you. It’s fun to circle back with people that I’ve known so long and even though we might not talk for months, even years at a gap, you just pick up right where we left off.

Ann: Yes

Dave: Yes

Tim: Being a speaker for the Weekend to Remember, I would always come home and think, “Oh Lord, I needed that. I needed that.

Ann: Yes.

Tim: If the only reason you put me on here is justfor the accountability to my own marriage, my own relationship with Darcy, thank you.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: But it was fun to make the friends and team with people like you.

Ann: Tim, how many years have you and Darcy been married?

Tim: We just celebrated our 50th anniversary.

Ann: What?

Tim: Boom!

Ann: Congratulations!

Tim: Yes 50

Ann: How many kids, grandkids?

Tim: We have four kids and ten grandkids. But you know when I see the picture of all of us together, by the way as  you know, the more grandkids you get as the kids get married, it’s harder to gather them all together and have them all smiling in the same direction [Laughter] at the same time. But as I look at that I remember when it was just Darcy and I in that picture.

I have in my office a picture of my family, the kids and Darcy, and individual things. And on the left I have a picture of the Jameson Memorial Hospital in New Castle, Pennsylvania. That’s where I was born.

Tim: And then on the right is the obelisk in the middle of Graceland Cemetery. It says ‘Kimmel’ on it. And that’s where my ancestors and all and there is room for me if we so choose. And, and when I look at that I think, “Here’s where you came in. Here’s where you’re checking out. But don’t forget for a second this is the biggest reason you’re here.” It doesn’t mean we can’t do other things. It doesn’t mean we worship our family. It doesn’t mean we get enmeshed or anything like that. Every, everybody has their space but this is where we’ll make the biggest difference. And we can do that well, or we can do that poorly. We write so much of the script of their future, so that’s why I think it’s really important that we make sure that God’s grace is in the driver’s seat. Otherwise we become nightmares, high controllers, that eave too many regrets behind. We don’t need to do that.

Dave: Yes, which is what we’re going to talk about today.

Tim: Yes.

Dave: Because you wrote a book decades ago-

Tim: Yes.

Dave: –about doing it right and not doing it wrong.

Ann: You’ve written 16 books and you and Darcy have impacted Dave and I so much -

Tim: Well, thank you.

Ann: –so many people. But this book is pretty amazing, that’s why we wanted to bring it back out.

Dave: I don’t know if you remember it. It’s been so long ago but it’s called The High Cost of High Control: How to Deal with Powerful Personalities. So let’s talk about it-

Tim: Yes.

Dave: –because it there’s anything none of us want to be and we don’t even like being around people like that, high control people. What are the attributes of high control people?

Tim: Here’s how I would define high control. It’s when I leverage the strength of my personality, or my position, against your weaknesses in order to get you to meet my selfish agenda.

For instance, let’s say you parent a child. We have to talk about authority and the position. We are the parents, right? But the Bible makes it real clear we’re not supposed to control our children. We’re supposed to keep them under control. There’s a big difference. [Laughter] And see if I’m in a management or leadership position and I’ve got to keep people under control, I can do that graciously, keeping everybody’s uniqueness and identity, and safety and allowing them to be vulnerable. But when I want to control them, it’s a selfish agenda. Here’s what I think for our discussion, for people listening. I think all of us would do better when it comes to this discussion on high control is to assume going in that we all have some degree of it.

Ann: You’re saying for that listener that it’s like, “I’m super laid back. I don’t feel like I’m controlling at all.”  You’re saying, “No, it’s, it’s in there.”

Tim: Well I think all of us have that tendency to slip over that thin line in relationships, and make decisions or impose our wishes on people that aren’t really ours to do.

Ann: But we want to do it, Tim.

Tim: Yes.

Ann: But I’m good at it.

Tim: Exactly and so a lot of it is really just self protection. You know if you figure, “Hey if I don’t look out after myself, nobody else will.”  And some people are in that situation where they clearly feel bad.

But we all have that tendency. And here’s the other thing. I think all of us clearly can think of somebody. And I’d like to say you’re either looking down the barrel of a high controller or you’re looking down the sights. [Laughter]  But one way or the other, this is just a human problem. Obviously extreme high controllers can be very toxic to relationships

Dave: Right.

Tim: But there’s a mild view of it though that I think can still be like that slow leak in a relationship. We were on a family vacation one time and we had a blowout on the freeway. So I had to change the tire. Took it in the next day to the place and said, “Yes, had a big blowout,” and he said, “You had a slow leak in here.”  “No, I had a blowout,  [Laughter] not a slow leak.”  It blew out the sides of the car. This was on a trip we’re going up from Phoenix to San Francisco. He said, “Can I ask you a question?  Before you left, was that tire low?” [Laughter] “Yes.”  “And you put some air in it didn’t you?” “Yes.”  “You have a nail in it.”  And when we see relationships just blow up, marriages just blow up, parent child thing, it just kind of came out of nowhere. No.

Ann: It had a slow leak.

Tim: It had a slow leak for some time. Mild high control can steal so much joy out of relationships. And it doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to split up or get divorced. And you might have a decent highlight reel, but you had nothing remotely close to the kind of love story you could have written.

Dave: Well, how do we know?  I mean when you said “you might be looking down the sights,” in other words you might be the one that has high control and you don’t realize it.

Tim: Let me throw out three questions. This can set the stage for us figuring out the different types of control. How would you answer these?  I feel like I’m responsible for the outcomes of the lives around me. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes


Dave: Okay, that’s a parent isn’t it? [Laughter]

Tim: –Yes, Yes. But when those kids are teenagers and they’re already on a trajectory toward independenceand we continue to want to manage, micromanage, make all the decisions for them. Boom!

Ann: Yes, I think as moms especially we’re feeling like this is my–these kids are my responsibility. We feel it.

Tim: Yes. How about this one?  The only way to get something done right is do it myself. [Laughter] There’s one more.

Dave: Okay you can just stop.

Ann: Wait, now I want to hear them.

Dave: He just got me.

Tim: If I don’t help someone make a right decision, do the right thing, go the right place, who will? [Laughter]

Ann: Isn’t that my God given role [Laughter] and responsibility?

Tim: Okay, obviously we have a responsibility. If you want to put this in the parent child relationship, let me give you a little idea on that. I kind of look at the parent child relationship as when we’re parents we have two basic dynamics, two big jobs we have. We have to protect our kids.

Dave: Right.

Tim: And then we have to prepare them to be on their own. Two different things. Now obviously when they’re first born, this is clearly the age of protection

Ann: Right.

Tim: Because they can’t do anything. They’re helpless.

Dave: So you have high control.

Tim: We’re controlling so many of the things, where they eat, what they eat, when they sleep, all that stuff, who they’re with. But here’s what's interesting is that as they get about six years old you want to start really backing down that protection.

Ann: At six?

Tim: At six. Between six and twelve you want to start a nose dive on that.

Dave: Now most parents would think, “Now wait, wait, wait, wait! Maybe at 12, but at 6?

Tim: Let me tell you why. Because between 6 and 12, we mature the fastest. Physically, neurologically, emotionally, intellectually, everything. They’re growing really fast. What you want to do is as they are starting to mature faster, to hand more life over to them.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: And then when they get out into about 12, 13 years old, you’re hardly making any of the big decisions in their life. And that brings up the age of preparation.They’re now at boot camp for adult life and they’re now going to go through the teenage years and they’re running–making a lot of decisions in their lives. Now here’s what I can guarantee you parent. If you give your teenager the option to make a lot of decisions, as a teenager, they’re going to make some lousy ones. [Laughter]  Okay, don’t panic. Just don’t circumvent any of the consequences. Let them learn from all their mistakes and you keep moving on. Here’s the problem I think a lot of parents make, especially high control parents, is we start the age of protection and we maintain it all the way as long as they’re under our roof.

Ann: But Tim, do you see the world that we’re living in?

Tim: Yes, Yes

Ann: Isn’t it my responsibility -

Tim: Yes.

Ann: –to protect them?

Tim: Well if you want to raise a nice, safe kid that’s the way you do it. And you also send a wimp into the future. [Laughter]  You send a pushover. So we protect them all the way and then we send them off to pagan state university [Laughter] and they drink beer by the keg. And we say, “What happened?” Well, we didn’t bring them up to speed. Listen, if my kids, if your kids, any of our listener’s kids are going to struggle and work through some tough stuff, wouldn’t you rather them do that under your roof?

Dave: Yes.

Ann: For sure.

Dave: I always said that.

Tim: Yes.

Dave: And other parents would look at me like I was crazy.

Tim: No.

Dave: They’re going to sin -

Tim: Yes.

Dave: –and I sort of want them while they’re still here.

Ann: –We want them to help them.

Tim: Yes. We love them. We’re going to get you through this.

Dave: To be part of the recovery.

Tim: Right.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: Right. Here’s the good news. See if you raise a safe kid as I said, you might get a very safe kid and also very passive -

Ann: –fearful

Tim: –fearful kid.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: If you raise a strong kid you, you usually get a safe one thrown in.

Dave: –hmm

Tim: It causes them to default to the things that they know they can count on more.

Ann: And just started thinking for themselves -

Tim: Yes.

Ann: Taking it to Jesus-

Tim: Thinking for themselves.

Ann: Give us an example of what that could have looked like for you guys.

Tim: Our youngest son went in cold. When our son came home from college, he graduated from college, and I let him use our green Jeep Grand Cherokee while he was off at college. He came home and for his graduation gift we got him a new car and he was launching you know. So I gave those keys to that green Jeep Grand Cherokee to Colt, who was in high school. And I said, “Here, you can use this for the duration of high school.”  I gave them to him on a Thursday morning and I took them away from him Thursday night. [Laughter]

Dave: Didn’t even last 24 hours.

Tim: Yes and by the way this is my–our son graduated in December, Christmas was coming up and the kids were all out with their friends, and Darcy was wrapping gifts and I was up, I think I was paying some bills online at the bank and the doorbell rang. There were two Phoenix Police officers at the front door.

Ann: Oh no.

Tim: Now you’ve got to understand that the first question they ask you, “Do you own a green Jeep Grand Cherokee?”

Dave: You’re thinking -

Tim: You know, oh, has it been in a horrible accident?

Dave: Yes.

Tim: What’s wrong? And she’d called me down and Yes. He said, “Well, apparently some kids were out taking some yard decorations for some people and rearranging them in disgusting ways and running on their roof and all, and your car was the getaway car.” [Laughter]  I said, “Well I know the driver. Hang on.”  So I called up Colt. I said, “Colt, two of Phoenix finest are at our front door. They need to talk to you. You need to get home.”  And so we sat there and visited with them and then they kind of pulled, one of them motioned to the other to go down to the end of our sidewalk to talk. They came back and said, “Look, we are going to let you two handle this one.”  I said, “He’s on his way home. He’ll be here any second.”  “We’ve got a lot on our plate. We’re going to let you handle this one.” [Laughter]  They took off one direction. He came the other direction. I said, “Well, apparently you’re having fun at someone else’s expense and they called the cops on you. We’re going to have to go talk to them.”  So we went over  to their house and it was an elderly couple. He was a big, thick, barrel chested man. She was a little, tiny waif, a sized zero lady and they had accents. They were from Eastern Europe. I rapped on the door and they came. There was a screen door there and I said, “Hi, I’m Tim Kimmel, this is my–our car and my son that was here earlier this evening messing with your stuff in your yard.”  And then I looked up and Colt, he’s taller than me and it was his turn. [Laughter]  We went over and looked at the thing and said, “Hi, my name’s Colt Kimmel, and I’m an idiot.” [Laughter]  Well what was funny, honestly what happened next, I would have paid her to do this. She did it for free. That little tiny waif of a lady came out and got in my son’s grill and just let him have it. [Laughter]  He said, “Ma’am, I am so sorry. There is no excuse for this. I am absolutely a hundred percent…” by the way there were three other people in the car, but he was doing exactly what I’d expect of my son to do, take full responsibility.

Dave: Good for him.

Tim: And he did. We went home and I said, “Give me the keys. You’ll see them in a month.”

Ann: But that wasn’t controlling, Tim you’re saying.-

Tim: No. No, it was over.

Ann: Yes it was the consequences.

Tim: Right. There’s three types of controllers. There’s aggressive controllers. There’s passive controllers, and then there’s a combination of the two, passive-aggressive controllers.

Ann: Oh Tim, go to the second one that passive controller. What does that look like?

Tim: Well, I’ll give you an example. In the book I give names to each one of them that start with an ‘M’, the Masked Controller. They don’t tell the people up close to them the truth about them. They have a family past. They have some deep dark secret and all that stuff. But that doesn’t come out in the open, but that’s holding them hostage.

Ann: –hmm

Tim: As a result they’re doing a lot of things and manipulating to try and keep you from knowing that, that make them into controllers. They’re not being forthright and all that about the things they’ve dealt with. How about the Miser? The Miser is a person who uses money and things to manipulate people’s behavior. Now they might be generous, but there’s always strings attached.

Ann: –hmm

Tim: Another way a Miser can work in a marriage is sex. They can dish it out when they want something in return.

Ann: I think parents can do that, especially with adult kids.

Tim: Yes.

Ann: “Hey, I’m going to give you this money,” but there’s all these strings attached.

Tim: Right. Yes. The Magnifier is another type of passive controller. You know if we took–if we wrote a little note on the side of a balloon, then we blow the balloon up, the thing gets much bigger than it originally was. Well, a Magnifier is a person that they magnify a situation way beyond what it is in order till you ultimately just back away from it. They use the expression, “Yes, but, however, you didn’t consider; it’s not that simple.”  Because they’re not wanting to–by the way this is common in a marriage, especially-

Ann: Sure

Tim: –an adventurous person marries a person that is careful.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: It’s our marriage, my marriage with Darcy. [Laughter]

Dave: I wonder who’s the adventurous one Tim? I’m not sure- [Laughter]

Tim: –and if you’ve had a lot of fears, you would easily fall in this category of taking something that really is not that big of a threat or an issue and magnifying it, so that ultimately I don’t even have to try and take this risk.

Dave: I mean how do you, how do you balance that out?  Because in some ways I was too adventurous with the boys.

Tim: Right

Dave: Ann, she did a great job but she had fears.

Ann: I at first was super controlling.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: Yes. Once again here–let’s go back to our definition-

Ann: Yes.

Tim: –because that’s, that’s safest. High control is when I live to use my personality or position against your weaknesses in order to get you to meet my selfish agenda. It’s not a selfish agenda if you’re taking the kids skydiving when they’re eight years old and she’s saying, “I think this is a bad idea.”

Dave: Yes.

Tim: Okay [Laughter] for the amusement, I’m exaggerating to make a point.

Ann: But it’s not far.

Dave: But [Laughter]  I wouldn’t do it at eight, maybe nine.

Tim: But it could well be that it is just some selfish things that I just don’t like my, my schedule messed up. I don’t want to be disrupted. I would rather not have to deal with the aftermath of this adventure of yours - which means I have a lot more work to do when the kids get home and all that stuff. That’s controlling.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: A marshmallow controller and some of the nicest people I know are some of the most effective passive controllers.

Ann: –hmm

Tim: They’re sensitive; they’re sweet; they’re compassionate; they’re loyal; about as understanding as anyone could be. But they can play a situation to their liking. sometimes by refusing to do anything when it’s time to do something. You know they’re all real nice but they won’t make that move. And these are forms of control because once again they have a selfish desire and are using their lack of action to ultimately get the person to say, “I’ll do it. I’ll just do it. You won’t have to mess with this or worry. We won’t do it.”

Dave: So, if a person is listening and they’re thinking, “Maybe, maybe I have some of these.”

Tim: –mmm hmm

Dave: How do they discover if they’re truly a high control and it’s too much out of control?

Tim: Well, let’s go back to something I said at the beginning. I think we’re all better off, if we all just come at this subject assuming we struggle with it. Because that puts us in a best position, first of all to be open to learn and to figure out ways we do it. And also to keep in check. You know AA is a very effective system. If a person is an alcoholic and they go to an AA meeting, they stand up the very first thing they’d better say is their name and that they’re an alcoholic

Ann: hmm

Tim: Why is that so profound that they say? Stop kidding yourself.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: Assume this is the reality.

Dave: Yes, Yes

Tim: Because now we’re in a position, “Okay, Yes I’m this. I’m going to do something about it.”

Ann: So you’re saying that I should say, “I’m Ann Wilson and I’m controlling.”

Tim: Yes

Ann: Every person could say that.

Tim: Yes

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Tim Kimmel on FamilyLife Today. You know Tim’s got a really good reason why we shouldn’t be controlling and in fact it’s probably the biggest reason why. He’s going to share that in just a minute. But first we really believe here at FamilyLife that a relationship with God is the ultimate desire that sits at the center of every human being. What we always need is connection with God. And when you partner with us to make every home a godly home you’re literally advancing the work of taking the gospel that makes that connection possible to homes across the world. So would you consider partnering with us at FamilyLife to see the gospel work come to fruition?  When you do, we'd love to send you a copy of Tim Kimmel’s book The High Cost of High Control. It’s our thanks to you when you partner financially with us today. You can give online at or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800, “F” as in family, “L’’ as in life and the word TODAY. Alright, here’s Tim Kimmel with why we shouldn’t be controlling, as tempting as that might be.

Tim: Think about it. Does God control us? The answer is, “No,”

Ann: No.

Tim: Could God control us?

Ann: Yes.

Tim: Absolutely.

Dave: Yes.

Tim: Does He have the right to control us? Absolutely. He could make us automatons, but He doesn’t. What He does is gives us good reason to trust Him, to follow Him, to live for Him.

Ann: His love compels us.

Tim: Yes. But He does not muscle down on us and say, “You’re going to do this or I’m going to make your life absolutely miserable if you don’t do it my way,”  I mean we read in the–Isaiah, Jeremiah that talk about why is it some of these people that are so despicable have some of the best lives out there? [Laughter] And here’s these people trying to do it and they’re struggling. Well that’s, that’s life.

Ann: –mmm

Tim: But God doesn’t control us and we shouldn’t control each other.

Ann: hmm

Shelby: So maybe some of today’s show kind of hit home or felt a little bit familiar. Well, maybe you’re thinking, “So why do they treat you like this?”  Well listen tomorrow because Dave and Ann are back with Tim Kimmel to tell us where controlling behavior actually originates. We’ll hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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