The day I got engaged did not start out smoothly. I had no idea that my boyfriend, now-husband, Kevin, was planning to propose when we set off on a day trip to beautiful Estes Park, Colorado. That morning, Kevin had to open at the coffee shop where he worked, so he arrived to my house midmorning a little sleep deprived.
While preparing coffee for the road, he accidentally smacked his head on the dangling chandelier in my dining room (#tallguyproblems). I got him an ice pack, and by the time we left a few minutes later, he was getting a migraine, so I offered to drive (his newish car) so he could rest.
About halfway to our destination, a crash occurred on the highway right in front of us, causing traffic to come to a screeching halt. A few minutes later, police began directing cars to turn around and go back to the exit we had recently passed. As I was trying to do that, Kevin yelled, “Stop!”
I did and nearly missed getting sideswiped.
We finally arrived in the little mountain town. We explored, ate lunch and then Kevin told me he had a special activity planned. We drove to a large parking lot and got out of the car. That’s when I felt the sprinkles. This was the one time during the whole, challenge-laden day that Kevin showed signs of stress. He raised his hands in the air and said, “Why?!” I just thought he was being funny.
Finally a horse-drawn carriage pulled up to carry us on a romantic ride through the foothills of town where Kevin proposed to me during a walk through a beautiful glade of willow trees. What started out as a comedy of errors became one of the best days of my life.
Fast-forward about five years. We have three young children and are pulling into a hotel somewhere in Montana after midnight. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the first thing Kevin did (at the end of a 16-hour drive) was take apart two car seats and wash the pieces in the hotel laundry room. I knew my husband was exhausted, but he simply did what needed to be done with a good attitude.
In that moment, my mind flashed back to our engagement day and how he handled each challenge that day without losing his cool. His persevering tendencies and positive attitude had turned into a vital quality that contributed greatly to the happiness of our family.
When we were dating, I didn’t even know to look for someone who could persevere through stress, but that was a trait I should have been watching for. Why? Because marriage can be stressful, and raising small children only adds pressure. Studies show “there is a clear negative relationship between minor stress and relationship quality.” The inability to cope with stress is a leading contributing factor to marital dissatisfaction.
Nine years later I’m thankful I married someone who has coping skills under pressure. Here are a few traits to look for while you’re dating that show evidence of stress management skills.
Look for someone who can laugh.
Many singles would say they are looking for someone who makes them laugh, and having a similar sense of humor is a wonderful gift in marriage (and often one of the things that brings couples together in the first place). But what about looking for someone who knows when to laugh and, more importantly, can have joy when things get tough?
Proverbs 31:25 says this about the virtuous woman: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” This is a picture of someone who has levity in her life. We find in the rest of the passage that she is industrious and she prepares for the future, while also adopting an optimistic view. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a “time to weep, and a time to laugh.”
Nothing diffuses stress and worry like laughter. Proverbs 17:22 declares, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Consider whether the person you’re with will provide “good medicine” throughout your years together, especially when circumstances aren’t ideal.
Look for someone who suffers well.
Suffering is probably not something you want to think about while you’re dating; I didn’t. But two years after I married Kevin, I found myself sitting in a hospital room looking down at my infant son attached to monitors and an IV. Barely out of the newlywed phase, my husband and I were facing the hardest thing either of us had ever gone through—watching our first child experience seizures that could stunt his development.
Two years earlier, during a blissful engagement, I could not have imagined this situation. This suffering became a pressure cooker for our relationship. Kevin Thompson writes about this often overlooked area in dating:
Few people consider sickness and suffering when picking a mate. 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?
Trials are guaranteed to come and bring a ton of stress with them, so how a person suffers is important. Talk to the person you’re dating about trials they’ve already been through to gauge how they react when times get tough. Observe how they handle adversity right now. Does she turn challenges over to the Lord or react in ways that are selfish or sinful? How does he respond to the suffering of others? Does he engage with compassion and support, or shy away in discomfort?
I was so thankful that suffering drew Kevin and me closer together as we intentionally put our trust in the Lord.
Look for someone who gives worries to God.
We all have worries at times. Whether we’re suffering health issues, stressed on the job or worried about finances, Scripture invites us to cast all of our anxiety on Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
How does the person you’re dating deal with stress? Does he or she fly to unhealthy coping mechanisms? Or do you see the person making a steady effort to confront stress in healthy ways, beginning with casting worries on the Lord, who is the true source of help?
This doesn’t disqualify someone who suffers from anxiety or depression. The main point isn’t how much a person worries, but if he or she is seeking the appropriate help to calm anxiety and is regularly taking worries to God.
The Way of Wisdom
Finding someone who exhibits the above characteristics may seem like a lot to ask; after all, none of us is perfect. My husband actually handles stress a lot better than I do, and I’m thankful that God uses him to help me calm down when life gets overwhelming.
If we are honest, all of us could probably use some work in the area of stress management (see Matthew 6:25-34). And knowing how stress can negatively impact your future marriage is great motivation to work on developing healthy coping skills now.
As you’re dating, think ahead. Imagine how a person’s stress management might play out in your future relationship. If he gets stressed over minor inconveniences now, how will he respond when the baby is sick all night? If she rarely laughs now, what will the atmosphere of your home be like during times of hardship? When trials come (and they will), are you confident he or she will respond with trust in God?
As I discovered a few years into marriage, Kevin’s ability to stay calm under pressure and trust God during trials had major payoffs in marriage. Developing healthy stress-management skills now and observing how your significant other reacts to pressure is a wise investment in your future.
Copyright 2018 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.