I will never get the image out of my mind. Sitting in that hospital room looking down at my infant son attached to monitors and an IV. Not even two years into marriage, my husband and I were facing the hardest thing either of us had ever gone through — watching our son experience seizures that could stop his brain from developing. Kevin stood next to the crib, eyes closed and head down. I put a hand on his shoulder but had no words. I prayed silently that God would hold us both.
Just two years earlier, during a blissful engagement, we could not have imagined this scenario. A friend of mine lost her dad during her first two years of marriage. She and I have talked. And these hardships can be like a pressure cooker for marriage.
In his article “The Most Overlooked Characteristic of Who You Want to Marry,” Kevin Thompson points out that few people consider suffering when choosing a mate. He writes:
“They consider how the other person might look in the morning or what bad habits they might have.
They consider what offspring they could produce or what extended family they might bring to the reunion.
Yet few people ever consider what is a vital question—can I suffer with this person?
It sounds like the beginning of another marriage joke, but it’s not.
It’s a real question and one which should be explored by every dating couple.
Suffering is a part of life.
And the older a person gets, the more we realize that suffering is not a rare occurrence, but is a common aspect of our lives.
Sorrow comes in many forms, yet it is guaranteed to come.”
My son’s seizures (which responded well to treatment and have mainly caused only developmental delays) were not the only suffering we experienced during our first several years of marriage. Three of my four grandparents passed away, my dad went through a debilitating mystery illness and our son was hospitalized again (at Christmas time) for a different condition. Kevin and I have experienced our fair share of suffering, and, yet, I know others who have seen far worse.
So obviously it’s important to think about how your future spouse may handle trials. But unless you experience trials while you’re dating (we didn’t), how can you know for sure? Here are three ways to think it through ahead of time:
1. Watch how your significant other responds to adversity — large or small. He didn’t get the promotion at work. She deals with a chronic health issue. How do they respond to the hard things in their lives? Are they quick to turn them over to the Lord? Do they demonstrate perseverance? Or do they react in ways that are selfish or even sinful?
2. Talk about the suffering the two of you have already been through. I remember having good conversations with Kevin about some of the biggest pains we’d each experienced in life. I was confident in his character when I heard about how he had handled past suffering. I also saw how suffering had pushed him closer to God in the past.
3. Gauge compassion. Someone who does not demonstrate compassion for the sufferings of others may not suffer well himself. You can watch how your significant other responds when others suffer. Does she notice? Does he want to reach out and help? Consider serving together those who suffer. Take a meal to someone who is sick or provide babysitting for a couple going through a hard time.
While you may never know exactly how someone will respond to suffering until it is happening, it’s easy to spot the signs of someone who is on track to suffer well — or not. I’m thankful that suffering drew Kevin and me closer together as we focused on the Lord to be our strength and hope. Though we didn’t know what we would face as a married couple, we did go into marriage confident of one another’s character and our mutual trust in the Lord.