We live together before marriage longer, yet the less we know about our spouses

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 01 Februari 2015 | 18.18

How well do you know your significant other?

Not well enough, at least according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. More and more people are apparently employing private investigators to look into the backgrounds of their fianc├ęs in order to decide whether to tie the knot.

"Investigators across the nation say business has boomed in recent years from clients who want their sweethearts investigated for potentially deal-breaking habits and secrets."

It's a little strange that this trend is taking off now. After all, we seem to know more about potential spouses now than ever before. We can use web searches and social media to find out about a person's history before we even go on a first date. (A recent survey found that information from Facebook is now being used in a third of all divorce cases, too.) We can find out about previous jobs, old flames, college sports teams and even see embarrassing photos from a party last week.

One private eye told the Journal that all this available data is actually goading people into seeking more: "What they are getting is just enough information to make them curious."

But it's not just the availability of information about a partner's past driving this trend. It's also that many of us seem to have more of a past.

"In a world where people are taking longer to get married, and accumulating more relationship baggage, I think many adults today are understandably nervous about going ahead with a major relationship commitment or engagement," says Brad Wilcox.

It is very easy to live under the same roof with someone and not have any conversations about plans for the future.

Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, notes that given this long path men and women are taking to marriage, "it's no surprise that people are hiring private detectives or other services to look into their partner's background."

Indeed, while we may think that being picky about whom to marry by trying out multiple long-term relationships will help to make us sure about the person we eventually settle down with, the opposite may be true.

The more relationships we have before marriage, the more likely we are to cheat on a spouse. In part, having all these relationships (and getting to watch on Facebook the lives of the ones who got away) makes it harder to make a decision about whom to marry.

And once we marry, it can make us less satisfied with our choice.

We crave more and more information in order to be sure we have found Mr. or Mrs. Right, but how do we not have enough already to judge whether our partner is the one? After all, two-thirds of couples who got married in 2012 lived together for more than two years before they walked down the aisle. We can find out our partner's preferences when it comes to everything from toothpaste brand to sexual positions. What's left?

A lot, it turns out. I was first struck by this fact a few years ago while researching a book on interfaith marriage. I was floored to learn that more than half of couples in interfaith marriages don't talk about how they want to raise their kids before they seal the deal (and that was just among the ones who had kids).

How is it possible that in all the deep, late-night conversations that led you to believe this person was your soulmate you never got around to faith and family?

Photo: Shutterstock

It's not just religion. It's also money.

In her book, "The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony," Pamela Paul wrote about couples who failed to reveal to each other major financial debts. One woman neglected to tell her husband that her father had been significantly subsidizing her life for years beforehand. Another didn't reveal his dream of becoming a missionary in Africa. Oops.

How does this kind of information just slip through the cracks in long-term relationships?

For one thing, we are often not getting the input of our family and community when it comes to significant others. Paul reports that "all the divorcees interviewed said their parents gave them no direction about marriage beyond telling them upon their engagement that 'as long as you're happy,' they supported it."

As much as we might think living together is the ultimate test for whether a relationship will succeed, the truth of the matter is different. It is very easy to live under the same roof with someone and not have any conversations about plans for the future.

You can chat endlessly about whether they leave dirty laundry on the floor or whether they've ever mopped a kitchen floor but having those serious chats about finances or children don't get any easier just because you both collapse on the same couch at the end of the day.

Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, recently told the Atlantic that "Living together doesn't charm or doom you; it is not whether you live with your partner as much as how you live with your partner."

She added, "I am not against living together, but I am for young adults being more aware that it is an arrangement that has upsides and downsides."

One of the downsides is surely that cohabitation often gives people the illusion of true intimacy while allowing partners to keep to themselves the most important pieces of information.


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