How To Handle Challenges In Age Gap Relationships
Updated December 20, 2018
Reviewer Christy B.
Better known as May-December loves, age gap relationships can be rewarding but also trying for those involved. Though age might be 'just a number', some challenges come along with age differences. This doesn't mean that age gap relationships are doomed, but they may take more work. If you're part of a May-December romance, one of the best ways to make sure your love lasts is to prepare for challenges and come up with possible solutions for any trials you're already facing/are likely to face.
A Question For The Ages
Just check any early U.S. census records, and you will find something quite taboo today was once commonplace. Twenty-year age differences in marriages were once the norm, with much older men traditionally taking younger wives. Now they account for just 1% of all U.S. relationships.
Statistics show that married couples in their 20s on average have an age gap of three years. With coupes in their forties, the average rises to seven years. Still, even a seven-year stretch is a far cry from the twenty-year age gap relationships that are often a hot-button topic.
For years, relationship analysts have searched to find the so-called "perfect age-gap." The jury is still out on an exact number. But what researchers did see is that age gap relationships have a much higher rate of divorce. The numbers are so staggering that they're difficult to fathom. The stats:
- Couples with a five-year age gap are 18% more likely to break-up than same age couples.
- A 10-year age gap pushes the likelihood of calling it quits up to 39%.
- Couples with a 20 year or greater gap are 95% more likely to separate.
Though the study does provide some defeating statistics for those with May-December love, what it doesn't do is address why age gap relationships tend to fizzle out. It is through examining this "why" that couples with differences in age can figure out how to make their love last.
Age Gap Challenges And Solutions
Every relationship has strengths and strains. Partners in age gap relationships must tackle a unique set of challenges that couples with smaller windows of age will probably never face.
Challenge #1: Family Concerns
One of these first challenges to arise is family concerns about the relationship. Although you may be head over heels in love with your partner, one or both of your families may not be accepting of your relationship. Unfortunately, lack of family support is fairly common, especially in 20-year age gap relationships.
This was the case for 19-year-old Liz. Her father, Don was a construction worker for a local company. Liz's boyfriend, 40-year-old Clint, worked there as well. Even though Liz was convinced that Clint was the man for her, her father had serious concerns.
For one, Clint was closer to Don's age than he was his Liz's! Plus, Clint had a teenage daughter himself. The whole thing just didn't sit well with Dad, and when the lovebirds started planning a wedding, he blew his top!
In the end, Liz's father attended her wedding. But when she and Clint divorced a few years later, Don was waiting to say, "I told you so."
Sarah and Ben went through a similar struggle when they got engaged five years ago. Although Sarah is only nine years older than Ben, his family refused to accept her as his future wife. In many African cultures, marrying someone much younger is taboo, especially when a woman is marrying a younger man. Ben's family put on so much pressure that the couple decided to end their relationship altogether.
While these two couples let family concerns bring an end to their bonds, that doesn't have to be the case with your relationship.
The first thing to do in this type of situation is to hear out your family and friends' concerns. Although it might be difficult, do your best to listen carefully and respond calmly. Don't meet them with criticism with or defensiveness.
Next, ask yourself this tough question: are any of their concerns valid? Even if you don't think so, it's important to make sure your loved ones feel heard. Respond to their questions, provide clarity, and express your feelings (sadness, anger, etc.) as well as your need for support going forward.
Knowing that you've listened to what they had to say might help your family/friends be more accepting of your choices. If not, you may have to take a step back from those relationships/friendships for a while.
Challenge #2: Blending Families
Another common issue for people in age gap relationships is figuring out how to blend already established families into one happy clan. This is a challenge that many couples face, even those without age gaps, but significant differences in age can make it even more difficult. This is especially true of couples who have children from previous marriages/relationships that are close to the age of the new spouse.
Let's take another look at Liz's situation. Liz came into her marriage with a two-year-old son. Her husband's daughter was already fourteen. Because they were only five years apart, Liz's stepdaughter didn't respect her as a mother figure. Forming a friendship was difficult as well since Liz felt it was important to enforce curfews and rules. Her stepdaughter constantly pushed the boundaries, refusing to take orders from someone she saw as her equal. Clint never knew whose side to take and their home was a constant battleground.
There are a million different blended family scenarios that can come into play when one partner is much older than the other, but the solutions work regardless.
The first step is to work on a solid understanding of the situation with your spouse. Unless you two are on the same page when it comes to children, boundaries, rules, and consequences, true blending will never take place.
Then be realistic with yourself and others limit your expectations as best you can. You can't expect to fall in love with your partner's children overnight, and the children may never fall in love with you! The same goes for your partner and your children. Although this might be a "tough pill to swallow," it's a reality many couples face after the dust has settled and the honeymoon is over.
The key is to remain civil and connected.
Don't give or accept ultimatums, communicate often, and insist on respect. Find the time to do things that will help you bond as a family. This will help close the blended family breach that many age gap relationships struggle to close.
You might also consider counseling since having a professional can help struggling families put aside their differences for the greater good of the family unit. Betterhelp has counselors that specialize in these types of challenges and can help you get on the right track once you get started.
Challenge #3: Having More Children
Some questions should be asked before tying the knot. "Do we plan to have more children?" is a major one. Though this may seem like a question that can be sorted out down the road, it can also end otherwise loving marriages.
The subject of having more children is one that can come up in any marriage, even those that don't have big differences in age. But the conversation can become more difficult in age gap relationships, especially when one partner has already raised a family and the other hasn't had that chance yet.
TLC airs a show called 90 Day Fiancé. Through the documentary, couples with one partner who lives outside of the U.S. air their struggles to process VISA paperwork and decide whether or not to marry-all within 90 days. Many of these couples have differences in race, culture, and even age.
One such couple, Mark and Nikki, met in the Philippines and decided to marry in spite of their almost forty year age difference (he's 58, and she's 19.) One of the main points of constant conversation for Mark was his lack of desire to have more children. In fact, he was adamant that he never wanted to have more children. Though Nikki seemed to be okay with it at the time, Mark sensed that it would be a point of contention down the road.
Although there's no way to know how things will turn out for Mark and Nikki down the road, Mark did the right thing by discussing the issue upfront. It's important for both partners to consider not only their willingness to have children but also their ability to have more kids. In age gap relationships where the woman is the older partner, having children naturally might not be an option. In some cases, children might be on the table if alternative routes (IVF, surrogacy, adoption, etc.) are acceptable by both partners.
What's important here is that you never assume. Ask, discuss, and decide if the situation is one that you can live with long-term. If not, a compromise might be necessary.
Money issues are one of the most common causes of discord between couples of any age. With age gap relationships, there tend to be unique financial situations that wouldn't be common in other types of marriages.
When one couple is much older than the other, it increases the likelihood that one partner would have an established career, be more financially stable, own property, and have investments. Although this isn't always the case, when it is, special care has to be taken to make sure both parties enter the marriage on the same page about "who owns what" and what will happen financially if things don't work out. Couples must also consider how things will change when the older partner has to retire (sometimes years before) the other spouse.
With money matters, simply "talking it out" isn't a likely solution. Instead, couples should sit down with a financial planner and come up with a plan for the future. Just like Betterhelp's professional therapists can help you deal with personal and family issues, a financial guru can help you solve money matters.
As the Balance explains a financial planner's goal will be to help you do the following:
"A financial planner can help you organize your finances, projects the results of your savings and investments so you can see how well prepared you are for retirement, and helps you make decisions with your money that will help you reach your financial goals as efficiently as possible."
Many spouses are opposed to these types of meetings because they fear the conversation will lead to mention of the dreaded "prenup" or "postnup," but that's not always the case. Most of the time, both partners will leave the meeting feeling empowered and protected with a solid plan for their future in place.
Challenge #5: Growing Apart
Irreconcilable differences: this is divorce talk for "we just couldn't make it." More than any of the other challenges that come along with age gap relationships, growing apart ranks as the number one reason for divorce. These changes can be physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, or just plain personal.
Many couples with large age differences come to impasses where one partner is ready to do X, and the other spouse is still focused on Y. Neither is wrong for the way they feel, but no one knows who should give in. When one spouse is in a different stage in their life than you are, you can begin to feel alienated and alone. If these feelings are rising in you, your partner likely feels the same.
If you find that you and your spouse are beginning to drift apart, don't wait until the gap is too far to close to ask for help. Instead, seek relationship advice from a Betterhelp professional who can offer personalized assistance.
Just like any relationship, a May-December love will take work and commitment. Knowing what challenges you are likely to face is the first step to building a strong foundation. Now, when a difficult situation comes along, you won't feel sucker punched with surprise. Instead, you'll be prepared and strapped with possible solutions.