I read an article recently about “the most overlooked characteristic of who you want to marry“. The article’s grand conclusion was:
“When choosing a mate, choose someone who suffers well and you will never be sorry.”
And I was like, “What.”
I mean, to be fair, the article made some good, valid points. But the overall message seemed slightly misguided and I’ve been stewing on it, trying to figure out why. It reminded me of this post I wrote about suffering back in the spring. As I compared the article that inspired that post with the article above, I started to isolate my issue with the above article. In short, I have two objections to this article:
1) The article’s conclusion is based on a selfish premise.
2) No one suffers well.
My argument for objection #1:
The article’s position is that you should choose your mate based on how they suffer. The main problem I see with this is, why should you be so focused on how the other person suffers? Think about the amount of pressure that brings into a relationship: “P.S. I’m evaluating our potential compatibility based on how you deal with things when your world comes crashing down completely and the pain is so bad that you’re not even sure you can get up in the morning. I’m basing my decision on whether or not I want to be with you by how you behave in incredibly difficult personal situations that have the potential to bring out THE WORST in you. No biggie.”
I, for one, would fail that evaluation 100% of the time.
The pressure to “suffer well” so as not to alienate a potential mate (and for the record, that expression “potential mate” makes me cringe. Like, what, am I shopping for health insurance or something?) would doubtless produce all kinds of psychological and emotional repercussions, all of which, I’m sure, would be detrimental to my overall health and well-being, and none of which would actually be conducive to helping me respond well to suffering.
When a person faces suffering, that is when they need grace more than ever, because that is when they are more likely than ever NOT to handle the situation gracefully.
Instead of focusing on how they suffer, you should be focusing on how you suffer and on how you respond to their suffering.
The article lists a bunch of characteristics that you would want to see in another person if you were suffering. Again, it makes the basis of evaluation all about self: Is this person someone who will take care of me when I am going through something difficult? How can they help me? What can they contribute to the situation? What do they bring to the relationship?
Here’s my take on the situation: in order to be less self-absorbed in your relationship, think more about yourself. No, that’s not a typo. What I mean is, rather than focusing so much on what the other person is bringing to the relationship, think about what you are bringing to the relationship. Theory: if each person is being mindful of how they can support the other person during hard times, then neither of them will ever need to stop and think about how they are not being supported, because it will never be an issue!
My argument for objection #2:
The article over and over reiterates the phrase “suffer well.”
I maintain that there is no such thing as suffering well.
You can respond well to suffering. But suffering is something that happens to you. You cannot control whether or not you suffer, or how you suffer. You can only control how you respond to it. And let’s be honest, most of us don’t instinctively respond well to suffering. You have to learn how to respond well. And usually the best way to learn how to respond well is by simply wading through the difficult times. That’s all you can do.
Again, it’s about grace. Showing grace to others who are suffering. Giving yourself grace in the midst of your pain. Receiving that grace from others.
You have to be able to give yourself permission to suffer, and you have to be able to give others permission to suffer as well. Otherwise, you compound your suffering, and you compound theirs. Otherwise, you push away those whom you need and who need you, rather than drawing close for support and strength. Otherwise, there will be no healing, and there will be no growth.
But there is nothing glamorous, or elegant, or even necessarily inspiring about suffering. It is not about how you suffer. It is about how you deal with it, and how you come out on the other side.
Don’t look for a partner based on whether or not they can “suffer well.” You may not even have an opportunity until later on in life to really get a sense for how they handle suffering.
Instead, be someone who seeks to respond well to the hard times – to bring grace and understanding to a difficult situation, and cling to hope and trust in the midst of the darkness.
And then look for someone who is also seeking to do the same.