About six months before I started dating my fiancé, I was pretty fed up with guys. My recent dates had not quite been up to scratch. So I wrote a list of what I was looking for – corny, I know – but something that helped me to get the frustration out and remind myself of what I deserved.

Generous, honest, a hard worker, confident – the list certainly wasn’t shallow. But there was one thing that I probably missed: could I suffer with them?

This week I read a great article on how the most overlooked characteristic we look for in a mate is whether we can suffer with them. At the beginning of a relationship, it’s normal to focus on the positive side of things, especially as everything is exciting and the future seems to have a rose-tinged glow, full of possibility. But the fact of the matter is – life is tough. You want to find a spouse who sticks it out; who doesn’t leave when it all gets too much.

“In good times and in bad” – it’s certainly a nice poetic-sounding line. But I have to wonder how many couples, when standing at the altar, realise what they’re committing to or have even thought about what it means. Every marriage I can think of has had its tough moments. My father suffered viral encephalistis back in 2001 and could have been left with brain damage – and mum had to deal with that plus seven kids at the time. That’s not the future she would have been thinking of on her wedding day, but when it happened she stuck through it, suffered a lot, but came out stronger.

So how do you know whether you can suffer with a person, especially if you haven’t faced hard times with each other just yet? I can think of a few indicators. Look at how they’ve dealt with hardship in the past – whether they’ve come out stronger and whether they were supportive to those around them. Think about whether they’re willing to work at their relationships with family and friends, even when the others haven’t been putting in much effort.

You could observe how they deal with the little sufferings of each day – do they try to cheer you up when you’re down, do they look for solutions and try to make the most of a bad situation? Do they still come to your important presentation even when they’re tired, and make the time to socialise with that friend of yours that they find a bit annoying? Think about whether, after a bad day, you can feel comfort in their presence and security in their support. Are they selfless – are they happy to serve others and put their needs last? And on a lighter note, make sure you can have a good laugh with them – we can’t underestimate how much that helps in the hard times.

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.