The Secret Sadness

by Andy Wood on December 3, 2008

in Insight, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, Protecting Your Investment

This just in… modern newlyweds are increasingly dealing with “the bridal blues.”  Doctors report that the expectations of newlyweds are so high, and married life such a letdown after all the planning and excitement of the big day, that an increasing number of brides are suffering post-nuptial depression.  The feelgood factor fades so fast that up to 10 per cent of couples suffer enough remorse, sadness or frustration to seek counseling.

Wow.  You mean it wasn’t whispy clouds and fairy dust as you lived happily ever after?  And Franck Eggelhoffer isn’t there to plan the details of your marriage like he did your wedding?  And Daddy’s not there to pay your bills?  And sex doesn’t cure everything, or come with an orchestra in your bedroom?  And to add insult to injury, you find yourself married to a sometimes-sweaty, stinky boy, who leaves socks and underwear on the floor?  Or to a woman, who – get this – ain’t yo’ mamma, your maid, or your madame?  She’s no Cinderella, and you’re not exactly Prince Charming.

Those expectations take you for a ride sometimes, don’t they?

Dr. Terry Eagan has a name for post-wedding depression. He calls it the secret sadness.  Why? Because the women who suffer from it are often too embarrassed to tell anybody. And men simply bottle up their feelings.

The Secret Sadness is real.  And it isn’t limited to newlyweds. It’s the domain of anybody who’s expected to be happy, content, or “over it” – but on the inside they’re screaming, “Is this all there is?!

Eddie remembers the days he and Mary, his wife, used to repeat, “If only we could get a windfall somehow, to get out of this money pit.”  Then it happened:  Mary’s mother died and left them a surprisingly large inheritance.  Everything got bigger – the house, the car, the “friends,” the disappointment… and the arguments.  The money created as many problems as it solved.

Nancy found the Secret Sadness with motherhood.  All her life, her greatest desire was to be a wife and mother.  She adored her husband and the life they had together.  And she assumed that baby Jordan would be a natural extension of that.  But pregnancy wasn’t the enchanting experience she’d imagined.  Hard to feel enchanted when you’re hugging the porcelain goddess every morning.  And she’s too humiliated to admit that motherhood is more of a disappointment than a delight.  She smiles along with everybody who coos and makes goofy faces at Jordan.  But inside she’s dying.  She loves her baby, but now hates her life.  Is this how it will feel forever?

Lisa had a miscarriage.  It was early on, and the doctor was encouraging about her future prospects for having children.  But after several months, she still was haunted by the Secret Sadness for her lost baby.  There had been no funeral and little closure.  Encouragement from Jay, her husband, felt hollow.  Advice from friends was grating.  (Note:  If somebody you care about has a miscarriage, and you haven’t been through that experience, you get to use two – and only two – words:  “I’m sorry.”  Anything beyond that, and you’re about to say something really stupid and useless.  If you have experienced it, all you have to say is, “We’ve been there.”  Advice is reserved for people who ask for it.  In the mean time, shut up and pray.)

The Secret Sadness haunts “successful” people.  How in the world could Britney, Halle, or Owen feel depressed or suicidal?  Why would somebody at the pinnacle of their careers – making more money, higher up the ladder – also be the most miserable?  Because they’re getting what they wanted, longed for, worked for.  And it’s never enough.  Or they feel like a fraud.  Or they’re angry about what they lost to get there.

The Secret Sadness even mocks pastors.  Never a Sunday passes by that I don’t see someone who needed more ministry than I have given them.  There is always someone I should have called, someone I should have prayed for, someone else I should have followed-up on.  There is always some birthday I wanted to remember, somebody’s relative I wanted to check on when I was at the hospital, some pain somebody is carrying that I overlook.  Periodically someone will smile at me and say, “I’m doing a lot better!” and I have forgotten or never heard what the original problem was.  Hardly a night passes when I don’t lay my head on my pillow and list mentally the things I should have done that day – phone calls, administrative duties, visits, prayer time, study, planning, counseling, letters to write or return.  This is all very normal.  But sometimes it’s also very saddening to hear those words hissed in the recesses of my heart:  “Never enough.”

What do you do if you find yourself living with the Secret Sadness?  Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Hold your expectations loosely.
Know them.  Define them.  Talk to God about them.  But in the end, be willing to lay them down for a higher relationship or a greater good.

2.  Practice ridiculous gratitude.
The Secret Sadness feeds on a whining, complaining spirit.  Lavishly thank God for His blessings and thank people for the contributions they’ve made to your life.

3.  Talk about your feelings.
Gotta love that Charlie Brown.  He may have appeared to have a permanent cloud over his head, but he sure talked it out.  At least he discovered what Christmas was all about.  Establish trust relationships with somebody who can advise, somebody who can sympathize, and somebody who can kick your butt when necessary.  Killing the “secret” part of the Secret Sadness robs it of its power.

4.  Reframe the discussion.
There are life-affirming questions and life-draining ones.  Most life-draining questions begin with “Why?”  Instead, ask “How?” or “What?”

5.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Be clear about your expectations and fears.  Be appropriately open about your disappointments, as well as your joys.  Listen – it’s the wellspring of all communication.  Get teachable.  Be willing to apologize.  Express patience and forgiveness.

6.  Eat something nourishing, and get some sleep.
It worked wonders for Elijah.

7.  Keep your emotions near an “open window.”
Feelings are fleeting.  Don’t assume you’re stuck with them forever.

Maybe nobody ever told you there’d be days like this.  There will be.  But the Secret Sadness is ultimately a liar.  It doesn’t have to define your life.  And you’re not required to give it a bedroom in your house.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew R. Roeder December 4, 2008 at 11:14 am

I think that’s the first time I’ve ever read anyone’s writing about the subject. I also think the “secret sadness” is going to become an epidemic in the future because we’re all filled with false high expectations of how are lives are going to turn into a fantastic experience, only to wrestle with the reality that life is extremely hard at best most of the time. From an early age, we’re all led to believe (on the television or by those in authority ove us) that we’re special, even royalty, only to find out that we’re not. We’ve all – it seems got to develop a sense of gratitude for simple existence to combat the false expectations for life thrust upon us by Hollywood and the media. If we don’t, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Andy Wood December 4, 2008 at 11:21 am

You are so right, my friend. I appreciate the reference to “a sense of gratitude for simple existence.” When we feel like we have to have more and more to be truly thankful, we’re missing the point and setting ourselves up for some pian.

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