Romantic relationships can be found in all kinds of various shapes and sizes. People from entirely different backgrounds with wildly different upbringings and beliefs can meet and fall in love. This is also true for people of different ages.
Most couples in the United States will be born within three years of each other. This can, at least in part, be attributed to a tendency for couples to meet their partners in school or entry-level jobs.
However, the number of relationships with an age gap of 5-15 years is increasing. It’s currently estimated to be around 8.5 percent of the American population.
The vast majority of these relationships will be between an older man with a younger woman. A Canadian study has shown that age gap relationships are much more prevalent for same-sex couples, with 26 percent of male and 18 percemt of female pairs involving an age gap.
How Do Age Gap Relationships Work?
While the common saying is that “age is just a number,” it’s actually much more than that. From a biological standpoint, there is a remarkable difference between being 25 years old and 35 years old.
Any couple dealing with an age gap will have to deal with these issues relating to their age, in addition to the standard issues that will arise in a relationship. The differences in life stages can be a hard concept for couples to get through together.
For example, a man about to turn 40 will have a much different idea of a fun night out than a woman turning 25. The discussion of having children is a natural conversation that every couple will have at some point and for couples with an age gap, it could be a much harder discussion than their similarly-aged counterparts.
A younger woman may feel pressured to start having children earlier than she would prefer, or a relationship where the man is younger could result in similar feelings as well. Ultimately it would appear to be the levels of maturity in each partner that can hold together an age gap relationship.
Being able to communicate effectively and have the emotional stability and maturity to know what you want is extremely important in relationships of all ages but especially true with those featuring an age gap. These are some tips that can help to handle the challenges that an age gap can provide:
- Share your expectations. All relationships have a critical need for this, but an awareness of your partner’s expectation for the relationship can be particularly important in the event of an age gap. As early as possible in the relationship, you and your partner should discuss expectations so as to avoid messy complications down the line. Conversations involving the idea of children and finances should be held early and honestly as these are some of the biggest issues faced by couples of all ages.
- Accept your role as a possible caretaker. Sooner or later, the elder spouse will face issues relating to their age and may need long-term health care and lose the ability to do activities that you both enjoy. If you are the younger person in the relationship, then you should prepare for the eventuality of being a caretaker. This could mean you give up certain activities, will need to take on extra duties around the house, and even could end up being celibate as a result. It’s easy to think of how much fun the present is, but consider the potential conflicts in the future.
- Maturity is relative. It’s important that you view your partner as a fully grown adult and not someone that can be taught, shaped, or molded into someone else. For older partners, the tendency to feel superior due to age and wisdom may come naturally, but it’s important to be self-aware of this urge and treat your partner as an equal. Younger partners may have a tendency to write off the thoughts and views of their partner for being outdated and flawed. Age alone should not be a measure of maturity or intelligence and it’s important to remember to respect the thoughts of your partner, even if you disagree with them.
- Identify mutual interests. One of the best ways to minimize the effects of an age gap is by focusing on mutual interests. Spending time doing what you both love can be a highly effective reminder that the age gap is not the defining characteristic of your relationship. Meeting each other’s friends and socializing with different generations can be a stimulating and empowering event for both parties. Exploring each others’ worlds and trying new things, meeting new people, and being more involved with each others’ lives can go a long way toward building a healthy relationship.
- Respect the process. In the event of a series of fights, age could be a factor but is certainly not the only thing causing the trouble. Be confident that your decision to be in a relationship with someone much older or much younger and understand that just like any relationship, things can be rocky and require adjustment periods. Blaming your differences and fights on the age gap is taking the easy way out and won’t get to the real root of the problem.
What To Avoid In an Age Gap Relationship
Every relationship will have its own unique challenges to overcome in order to find a happy and healthy balance. Age-gap relationships are no different but will have a few more issues to deal with as opposed to relationships involving people of similar ages. These are a few of the most common mistakes made in an age gap relationship:
- Having too high of expectations. Some people believe that their relationship will be immune to challenges and as a result will develop a tendency to blame issues on the age difference first. It’s easy to think that because your partner may be several years older than you that they will be emotionally mature enough that the relationship won’t have problems, but this is very flawed thinking. Communication is important and often difficult for couples of all ages, and despite what you may think about your partner, it’s more important to listen to what they say.
- Not being sensitive to the particular challenges your partner faces. It may be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of your partner but it’s very important to continue to try and understand where they are going from. For example, if they are contemplating retirement, then it’s important to try to understand what that decision could feel like for them. Another example, if your partner is younger and still hasn’t chosen their career or decided on future events, it’s important to remember what that age was like for you.
- Assuming that neither of you will change over time. People can change at any point in their life. There is no cut-off for emotional growth, and it’s a common mistake the people in age gap relationships make. The goal of every relationship should be to grow and change together. Believing your partner is stuck in their ways is an awful way to view them.
- Not respecting that your partner had a life before you. The experiences that a person had before they met you are what shaped them into who they are today. Feelings of jealousy or anger are wasted and only cause trouble as nothing can be done about the past. It’s important to remember they may have lived many years without you in their life.
- Not respecting different tastes. People that are born in different eras will have grown up with very different cultural preferences. It’s important to keep this in mind and to understand that your partner may have a very different taste in movies, music, and other forms of entertainment. Constantly mocking the things that they like will have a very negative impact on the relationship.
- Not being able to handle judgement. Humans are, unfortunately, very judgmental creatures and have a tendency to get involved in things that are not their business. If you are in an age gap relationship then you should expect, and be able to handle, the fact that you will be judged for it by family and friends. It’s a sad reality, but the sooner you can deal with this truth, the less the impact it will have on the relationship.
Being in an age gap relationship is a perfectly natural and totally acceptable thing for two consenting adults to engage in. There will be unique challenges for sure, but if you and your partner love each other enough and put it in the hard work, being of different ages won’t matter.
Relationships take a lot of hard work and compassion in order to work. No matter the age of the people involved, there will be periods of fighting and adjusting that will take communication and understanding to get through.
A relationship will have its own specific challenges but nothing inherently too difficult to prevent a loving relationship from being possible. Anyone having a hard time getting through these issues would be well served by using the services of a therapist and undergoing couples counseling. Talking through your problems with a licensed professional can be the help needed to get any relationship back on track.