A Happy Relationship Needs Sadness


Dear Anthony,

The way you speak about marriage, I think I can say I have never seen it in anyone’s marriage, least of all my parents. All my family’s marriages were bad, unhappy. So, how can I expect to be happy?  And please do not mention God!

Sadness is the key to being truly happy. I guess you didn’t expect me to say that.  I don’t think I would have said that myself until recently. I’m not saying that a good marriage means being unhappy.  On the contrary.  Let me share something with you I recently discovered and that I’m still considering. Maybe it will help you.  (I can’t promise not to mention God, but we’ll see how it goes.)

Sadness is the vehicle to happiness. I learned this recently from my good friend, Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen.  We were having cheesecake and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, talking about what it means to be happy, and why so many singles feel they won’t be happy until they meet someone and get married.

It’s interesting what a little cheesecake will do to a brilliant mind.  Dr. Peter, who is an expert in psychology, said (in his very inviting and charming Denmark accent), “You know, Anthony, the key to truly being happy is being allowed to feel sad.”  We both stopped eating cheesecake and looked at each other.  Then I said, “My gosh, that’s so true!”

We both realized that a profound truth was said, but weren’t sure where to go with it.

As we discussed it, it was clear to me that he was onto something.  Since we were deciding what he was going to talk about on our upcoming cruise this January, I told him that this has to be a part of it.  So I’m not going to try and pretend that I know anything definitive on the subject.  Come on the cruise in January if you want to hear more.

But here is my early take on this idea that sadness is the key to happiness.  More specifically, being permitted to be sad is the key.  How sad it is when we are not allowed to be sad.  How painful it can be something that comes so naturally to us is considered a negative that must be overcome.

We probably can’t imagine the kind of suppressed pain we harbor from the times we were made to feel guilty because we were upset over something, and someone made us feel that we should not be sad.

I think this is why you tell me not to bring God into this.  You have probably heard things like “God doesn’t want you to be sad,” or “It’s all good and all God, so be happy,” or maybe even, “Your sadness is making God sad.”

It’s very easy to say “Don’t worry, be happy,” but it’s not natural.  When we are hurt, we feel sad.  And we need to be allowed that time to cry or get through the sadness.  A person who allows you to do that is a person who makes you happy.  We don’t exactly realize this, I don’t think, but if you think about it, it’s true.

A woman who is upset and sad just wants her man to hug her, hold her, and let her get it out, without trying to fix it.  A man who is upset and sad just wants his woman to allow him to process it without being told to “be a man” or trumping his need with her own need, forcing him to be “on” when he needs a bit of time to be “off.”

The unhappy marriages in your family are likely relationships infected with lack of support, when two people don’t go through sad moments together, but rather go through it alone, without letting it out.  Unexpressed sadness creates unhappiness. It might be said that marital love is the bonding that happens through experiencing sorrows that bring you closer in solidarity, and create deep happiness.  Perhaps the enemy of marital love is happiness on-demand, where sadness is seen as a setback rather than a vehicle to happiness.

When unhappiness sets in, and there is no comfort or trust in the spouse to support you in all your emotions, then you have all kinds of problems.

There is a song by Meatloaf where he sings: “Will you love me forever…will you make me happy for the rest of my life?”  This is the expectation in modern dating, and it’s nothing short of delusional and out of proportion.

“Will you allow me to be sad when I just need to be sad or cry?”  If you can do this for the person you love, you are a vehicle to helping them be happy.  In turn, you are happy.

The lesson is this:  A happy person is one who is allowed to be sad. The person you love allows you the room and time to let you get through your sadness.  We don’t have to get the person we love to feel happy and cheerful again in order to get them back to being him or herself.  Even in times of sadness, he or she is being true to self.

Allow the people you love to be openly sad.  Allowing you to see the sadness and tears is a great trust.  Give time and foster happiness. Give permission to be sad, and be there, without judgment.  Be comfortable with sadness.

It does seem impossible to be happy (truly happy) unless we have someone we love to get through our sad moments with.  God knows something about sadness that is key to happiness.

Christ was sad.  He sighed and He wept.  He wept over Jerusalem, He wept at the death of His good friend Lazarus before raising him from the dead.  He was in agony in the garden.  St. Thomas More wrote extensively about this which you can read in the book, The Sadness of Christ.

Christ is always someone we can be sad in front of.  And He is always the source of happiness that is experienced as we are in communion with Him, particularly together through sharing His sorrowful passion.  We should take comfort in that and be imitators of Christ when someone we love needs to be sad.


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  • PrairieHawk

    I think people imagine that once they get married or achieve some other important milestone, the suffering will be gone from their life. The truth is that while God does not will suffering, He allows it because of the good He can bring out of it. Anything less would mean a God who is not omnipotent. Everyone suffers. Parents can teach their children and husbands and wives can teach each other how to suffer well. Sometimes it means being plucky and stoic, other times it means a good cry. Suffering with equanimity develops into the virtue of long-suffering, a rose with thorns that will be a beautiful addition to our crowns in heaven. We don’t always seek to escape from suffering; when it unavoidably comes our way, we embrace it with a whole heart and give thanks that God loves us so much He won’t let us take the easy way out.

  • Lydia F

    I think this and what PrairieHawk said is very wise. I just finished reading Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women
    http://www.teresatomeo.com/Books-And-Media/ and one of the gifts God gives us IS suffering. He allows us to have disappointments, health problems, family problems, etc. and through those He is able to change and mold us into the people he wants us to be. It allows us to be closer to him. A good friend of mine has a small son with severe epilepsy. They never get any sleep because he sometimes constantly has seizures. They also seem to have one crisis after another in the family – but their joy is palpable. They completely rely on God and through it have gotten to a place of peace (if not sleep!) One of the things I took from Wrapped Up was that God has gifts for you (not all difficult like suffering!) that you only have to accept. Even the pleasant gifts require you to accept them, even if you feel unworthy. Allowing sadness, as Anthony mentioned in the article, is an interesting concept because usually we don’t want anyone to be sad. We want to make all the troubles go away and really, sometimes, it is for the best if they don’t go away immediately. Like the people who say “Thank God for the Cancer because my life is so much better because of it.” God can transform the sadness into something amazing.