Hiding Your Sin Won't Protect Your Wife
Before Dustin Renz came through the Pure Life Ministries Residential Program, he was living a double life. On the outside, he was a good Christian husband in full time ministry. But in secret, he was addicted to pornography and drugs. In this interview, he and his wife, Brittney, discuss how this duplicitous life prevented him from gaining freedom over his sin. They also share about the many problems it created in their marriage. (from Podcast Episode #462 - Husbands, It's Time to Be Honest)
Patrick: Dustin and Brittany, thank you for joining us today. Dustin, I wanted to speak with you today about what was important for you when you were rebuilding your marriage. And as we were preparing for this interview, what stood out to me about your story was how important honesty and transparency are in a marriage. So that’s what we want to talk about today. Before we get in to that, could you talk about your life before you came to the Pure Life Residential Program? Specifically, could you highlight the deception in your marriage?
Dustin: Sure. Brittany and I met in Bible school right after I graduated from Teen Challenge. I actually stayed and worked for a couple of months at Teen Challenge after I graduated the program. I had been free for 11 months or so from pornography and drugs, but I ended up working in an office with computer access and I started viewing pornography again. When I first met Brittany, I wasn't looking for a wife, but we fell in love and I knew it was the Lord. I felt like we were brought together by Him, so I told her everything. I told her my whole history and everything that I had done sexually. I just laid it all out there because she had grown up in a Christian home and had lived a completely different life than me, so I wanted her to know that this is kind of what the package of my life was. So initially I really wanted to be real and honest.
I knew I needed help with the pornography use, so I went to see a counselor at our school and started meeting with him regularly. I would meet with him and share with him my struggles and try to get help. But I kept working at Teen Challenge on the weekends and still had that access to pornography. So I would be looking at porn on the weekends and then I would go back to school and share all the things that were going on again.
I don't know what the time frame was, but eventually I started to realize that I was going to lose my relationship with Brittany if I didn’t get this thing right. But I wasn’t getting free and I didn't know when I was going to. So I decided to just deal with it between me and God and just tell Brittany and the counselor that I was doing okay. That was the worst decision I ever made, but it felt like it was all I knew to do. So basically, I lied to her and we got engaged and then we got married, and throughout all of that she had no idea about it. In the first few years of our marriage, I was expecting the marriage to fix the problem and that didn't happen.
So then, I was still dabbling with pornography and in my eyes it was like, well, things are okay other than this little area of my life that I'm dealing with. But I didn't see that I had two different lives developing. Looking back, I see it that way, but at the time I saw it as me having this struggle from my past. I thought I would break free from it eventually. Instead, it ended up being nearly 6 or 7 years where my double life became more and more evident to me. But in my delusion I didn't think I was hiding a secret life. I felt like I was being transparent to a degree with her and that I was just keeping this little secret to myself. Of course it wasn't a little one, but I saw it that way in my deceived terms.
Patrick: Did that change your perspective on Brittany or your interactions with her? Did you see that as you started to lie and hide more and more that the lack of transparency caused things to change over time?
Dustin: Yeah. Anytime you lie and manipulate, you start covering up one lie and that leads to another lie. Eventually I had so many things going on that it wasn't just the pornography. It became the drugs, the alcohol and spending money on those things. It ended up becoming out of hand to where I would allow her in to my world to a certain degree, because she knew I was struggling with some things. She kind of knew that I was having emotional issues, but I would always mask them as if I was dealing with the effects of something other than my sin. So, it's kind of like I let her into a place of seeing a little bit of my struggles, but she could never get past that place to see what was really going on.
<pull-quote>Anytime you lie and manipulate, you start covering up one lie and that leads to another lie.<pull-quote><tweet-link>TweetThis<tweet-link>
Patrick: So, Brittany, I'm happy that you were able to join us today for this interview because I think that your perspective on some of what Dustin is saying is going to help some of the men who are listening see how exactly lying and manipulating impacts others, not just themselves. So, what was your perspective on that time period that Dustin was talking about?
Brittany: So that's a little bit complicated because when somebody is lying and manipulating, they get really good at it. So, it was hard to know anything at that time, because I would get a little hint of something and then I’d talk to him about it and he would give really good answers and downplay things. When you love someone, you automatically want to trust them. So, I kind of had that in the back of my mind. I thought he must be trustworthy, especially because his answers were pretty much panning out. So, I really didn't know much and that's why when it all came out, I was so devastated because I didn't know anything, and I didn't have any hints of things. But when I look back, I could remember the hints here that I dismissed.
Patrick: Before Dustin’s sin was exposed, did you feel like you had what you had always imagined would be a good Christian marriage?
Brittany: Yes, I definitely thought at the time that we had a good Christian marriage. He was in the ministry, we did ministry at our church and we were involved in so many different aspects of Christianity. We were involved in things that outside looking in would seem like a really on-track Christian couple. Really, the only thing at that time I noticed were his bouts of depression. I would talk to him about them and try to find out what was going on and it would always just be some evasive answer that I didn't quite understand. But I kind of just accepted it because what else would I have known? I didn't know any other sins that he was hiding, but I guess that played out as depression and that was what he was willing to share with me.
Patrick: That's interesting to me, because Dustin, one of the things I asked you to help prepare for this interview was to give us one lie you used to believe that you now see is not true about how to be a good husband. What you said was that you felt like you needed to lie and hide your sin in order to protect Brittany. In some ways it sounds like that's what was happening. By hiding your sin, you kept her from being hurt. But, I'd like you to talk about how even though it seemed like you were protecting her, that wasn't really true.
Dustin: Sure. I think that was really the whole problem all along. When I decided to start lying early in the marriage and started pretending everything was okay, I created this other persona that nobody knew about except for me and the Lord. Interestingly, I remember early on in our marriage we were doing youth ministry and we were on our way out to a youth group and we were talking about somebody that we knew who had fallen into drugs. I don't remember the exact scenario, but I remember at that time Brittany saying to me, if you ever were like that again, I could never stay married to you. That was a flippant comment and she wasn't meaning for it to be anything. But all these years later, I can still remember that comment because that was the thing that made me think, “If I ever tell her, she's going to leave me.” And that was an overwhelming fear of mine.
Brittany: And at the time, I wouldn't have thought that he was doing any of that stuff. So that comment wouldn't have been even a threat. It was just an offhanded thought. I really believed that couldn’t be him and that he wouldn’t do that type of thing.
Dustin: I think the devil really used that as ammunition, because I remained with this fear that if I ever came clean, Brittany would leave me. So, I thought in a way that I was protecting her in the sense of protecting her from having to walk through all the pain.
Also, the deeper we got into ministry I knew that it was going to affect my credentials. I knew that if I confessed I would get pulled off the mission field. She felt called to missions as a child so I felt like I was the hero and was keeping her from losing everything. I felt like this was just my cross to bear. I held onto that for years and the big lie that I believed is that I couldn’t tell her now because the stakes are too high and that it would destroy our relationship.
During all that I had this fantasy that I would get free between me and the Lord. I pictured me and Brittany in our seventies or eighties sitting on rocking chairs in our house and I would say, “Hey honey, you know, back when I was in my twenties I had this issue I didn't tell you about and I just want to confess to you and let you know. But it's so far back that it's no big deal anymore.” And I kind of felt like I’d have this long track record of doing well so then she would be like, “Oh, it's no big deal. I'm glad you told me, but that was when we were young.” So that was this weird thing that was always in the back of my mind. Of course, that was a lie that allowed me to keep pursuing sin.
Patrick: It's interesting because you said that you were afraid that you would lose the relationship. You even spun that in terms of telling yourself you were protecting her, and you talked about protecting her dreams and her image. But you were afraid that you would lose your own credentials. So, in a way it sounds like there was actually a lot of selfishness that you were trying to play off as selflessness.
Dustin: I think that's really the heart of it. It was really all about me. But in my mind, to justify and rationalize what I was doing, I had to feel like my hiding was actually benefiting her in some way. Looking back, that way of thinking was total deception. But at the time it seemed to make logical sense.
Patrick: So, what was that like when it finally came out? What was the process that led up to the confession and how did that affect both of you?
Dustin: We were on the mission field and we had been there about 16 months. Initially I didn't know the language or the culture, so I wasn't able to get access to things to feed my sin. But as time went on, I learned the language and I started to figure out how to get drugs. I had actually been able to get cocaine for the first time over there and within a couple of days of using again I was up doing drugs one night while Brittany was in bed. That night I had such a conviction of needing to confess to my wife.
For years I struggled with the point that if I could just tell somebody what is going on in my life, I can find freedom. That was the internal battle that I fought, but then I would always convince myself not to do it. And that night I remember making a tangible decision in my heart to keep living this lie. I couldn't tell her. But the next morning Brittney woke up and we were in bed, and she just looked at me and asked me, “What's going on with you?”
Brittany: I asked because I could tell that something was wrong. He was just very depressed and something looked really wrong. And like many times before I asked him, “What's going on? What's wrong?” And this time he shared everything. Whereas before maybe he just gave me a real quick answer and downplayed it, this time he shared everything that he had been doing for the past several years and I was totally devastated.
I was totally blindsided because I hadn't known any of these things. When he shared, I was so upset that I almost didn't register what he was saying. But then, as I started to realize what he was really telling me and the reality of it, I was almost frightened by who he was. I was thinking, “I've been married to this man for 5 or 6 years and have no idea who he is.” Because he wasn't who I thought he was and I didn't know how things would look after this. What was going to happen now? What was going to happen with our baby because of all of this stuff that he had just spilled out?
Dustin: And for me it was like a chain reaction went off. For years I thought if I could just get this out, it'll fix it. I sort of had this expectation that it's the secret that needs to be let out and if I can just do that then maybe this will all be over. Instead, it kind of began the nightmare in some ways, because we immediately called our leaders and they came over. I showed them everything I had and three days later, we were flown back to the US and asked to resign. We ended up moving in with her parents. On top of all that, we had a baby to raise.
My expectation of this fixing the problem actually in some ways opened up the chaos. It was the first step in getting somewhere, but I was hoping that I would just feel the weight lift off my chest. Instead, bringing it out caused her to begin the process of dealing with it all and it caused a chain reaction of negative consequences that eventually led me to the Residential Program at Pure Life Ministries. But initially for about eight months we had to walk through some pretty painful consequences.
Brittany: And even though the consequences took a long time to walk through, in the long run it was better that he confessed things when he did and didn't wait even more years and pile more consequences and more effects from his sin.