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September 26, 2012
A happy relationship needs sadness
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

Dear Anthony,

The way you speak about marriage, I think I can say I have never see 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’m 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 boy 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 girl 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 themselves.  In their times of sadness, they are very much themselves.

Allow the people you love to be openly sad.  Their sadness and tears in front of you is a great trust.  Give them their time and foster happiness.  Give them your permission to be sad, and be there with them, 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.

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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