Relationship Advice: Overcoming The Challenges Of An Age Gap
Finding the person you love can be a beautiful thing. For some couples, that person may be significantly older or significantly younger. Age-gap relationships can bring joy and excitement but might also present unique challenges.
Read on to learn strategies to help overcome challenges in age-gap relationships.
What are age gap relationships?
When the partners in a romantic relationship have 10 or more years difference in their ages, it might be considered an age gap relationship. However, many successful relationships occur between partners with significant age gaps, even decades between birth dates.
U.S. age gap relationship statistics
Here are statistics surrounding age gap relationships in the U.S., according to the BGCU American Community Survey from 2019:
- Remarried couples showed the highest average age gap between partners—7.4 years for same-sex couples and 5.6 years for heterosexual couples
- The smallest age gap was seen among first-time marriages, with an average age gap of 2.9 years for heterosexual couples and 5.8 years for same-sex couples
- The mean age difference for same-sex couples was substantially higher (6.3 years) than for heterosexual couples (3.9 years)
This article examines relationships between consenting adults, not adults with adolescents or youth. If you’re under the age of consent and an adult's behavior makes you uncomfortable, resources are available to help.
- Reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 for support at 800-656-4673
- StopItNow! has a helpline at 888-773-8368 and various online resources
Common challenges for age gap relationships
In addition to the typical challenges most relationships face, many couples with an age gap may face stigma judgment, and negative stereotypes from the outside world. Younger people might be thought to be after a partner’s money, while people may think an older partner is predatory or showing poor judgment.
Stereotypical language can also add to stigma. For example, younger women dating older men could be labeled “gold diggers”, or older women dating younger men could be referred to as a “cougar”. These stereotypes can be harmful and can make navigating a relationship with someone older or younger than your own age more difficult.
Research from Psychology of Women Quarterly has also shown the experiences of a female partner in an age gap relationship can differ significantly from a woman who is in a similarly-aged relationship.
According to research, many couples where one partner is significantly older use three strategies to manage the stigma they face in their relationship and to potentially gain social support. They include:
- Passing: One partner actively works to look and feel closer in age to the other
- Lampooning: Using humor to deflect any threat stigma poses
- Dismissing: Both partners agree to ignore the judgment as if it doesn’t exist
Addressing concerns and disapproval from family
It can be easy to feel like age is just a number when you're in love. However, even though you see the beautiful aspects of your relationship, friends and family may not always react with joy when you tell them.
Loved ones on both sides might question whether your relationship is valid or healthy. What do you want the main takeaway to be after the revelation? Do you want them to know you’re loved and happy, understand your plans for the future, or see how well your partner treats you?
You might want to listen to their concerns and do your best to respond calmly with logical answers. If their questions cross boundaries, you can respectfully tell them you aren't ready to discuss the topic.
Working to blend families
Falling in love with someone significantly older than you may mean your new relationship comes with a built-in family. Even without the concern of children, building connections with your partner's family can be beneficial. If your partner is decades older, they may have children close to your age, which might cause contention when you tell them about the relationship.
Discussing plans for future children
When delving into an age-gap relationship, it might help to discuss whether you want children together. If you skip this step, you could end up in a relationship with someone who has different fundamental life goals than you.
For example, if your partner is older, already has children, and doesn’t want more, will that affect the long-term vision for your life?
Merging financial matters
When one partner is substantially older than the other, there may be differences in life experience, life stages, and financial stability. Money issues, monetary hardship, and differing economic security factors can be a source of conflict in many relationships, but particularly in age-gap relationships. It could also create unfair power dynamics between partners with age differences.
An older partner might be in a different place financially, with an established career, property ownership, or investments. Some couples may consider a pre- or post-nuptial agreement to clarify money matters. Financial concerns may be a primary judgment your relationship faces, but you can work past them with effective communication.
Maintaining emotional intimacy
Building a strong connection with your partner can be challenging in any relationship. Couples with an age gap may face increased struggles with emotional intimacy because they may have vastly different life experiences and circumstances.
Emotional intimacy may fade without effort from both partners, allowing distance to grow between you. Here are some tips for staying connected:
- Focus your attention on your love story and continue making it a priority
- Communicate openly with each other regularly
- Accept your differences and find ways to complement each other
- Make plans for your future
- Remember that maturity is relative, and accept your partner as they are
- Be patient and flexible if you come across age-related conflicts
- Prioritize time with your partner. Schedule regular date nights and make time for each other
- Attend couples therapy if you have trouble working past conflicts in the relationship
- Prepare to face uncertainty as you encounter new issues and work to overcome them together
Handling health problems
Health issues may become a more frequent obstacle in some age-gap relationships. If one partner is significantly older, age-related health issues may complicate things. You might want to consider the possibility of becoming a caretaker if unexpected health issues put you in that role.
Finding a healthy power balance
When one partner has substantially more power, wealth, or experience, it can create an uneven power dynamic, with the younger partner relying on the older one for advice and support.
Finding healthy ways to balance the power in your relationship can be essential so both partners feel equally valued and important, increasing relationship satisfaction.
Accounting for differences in maturity
Dating someone whose age is vastly different than yours can lead to drastic variations in maturity level. Find things you have in common and make a place to fit your partner into your life.
Facing stigma and judgment
People sometimes judge what they don’t understand, and that narrow view may extend to your relationship. Individuals may see you together and feel they can comment on who you choose to love or make assumptions about you and your partner.
Reach out for help
If you feel like the emotional connection between yourself and your partner is weakening or you experience struggles you can’t work past, consider speaking with a licensed couples therapist. Licensed mental health professionals can help facilitate productive communication and conflict resolution with the support of a mental health professional.
How couples therapy can help overcome age gap challenges
While age-gap relationships face additional unique problems, help is available to build healthy lines of communication so you can work through things with your partner. Working with a licensed therapist through online platforms like BetterHelp puts treatment just a few clicks away. Flexible appointment formats through phone, video call, or online chat make it simple to fit couples therapy into your busy schedule.
Recent studies indicate that online couples therapy can be as effective as face-to-face sessions. Explore the issues affecting your relationship with professional support.
“I enjoyed my sessions with Dr. Anstadt. He helped me see how one issue was affecting multiple aspects of my life. He has greatly improved my relationships with the people I’m closest to and even the way I approach work. I have seen a huge difference in my relationships already, and I have several tools to help me manage the issues I started seeking therapy for. I cannot express how thankful I am to Dr. I Anstadt!”
“She has been a great listening ear, and given me some great suggestions to improving my relationship.”
Want to work with a trained mental health professional to learn more? Take the first step with BetterHelp to get started.
How does an age gap affect a relationship?
While each relationship tends to be unique, some research from Psychology of Women Quarterly shows that those in age gap relationships with older women and younger men may experience increased relationship satisfaction, trust, and commitment, as well as lower levels of jealousy. Meanwhile, older men dating younger women tend to have similar levels of relationship satisfaction as men dating women of a similar age.
Do age gaps matter in relationships?
Whether or not an age gap matters in a relationship (as long as both parties are adults) can vary depending on the people involved. For some, an age gap may not matter, and for others, it may contribute to certain challenges, such as differences in maturity, being in different stages of life, and experiencing judgment from others. For example, a couple with a man dating a significantly younger female partner may be met with stigma due to going against cultural norms.
How much of an age gap is acceptable between couples?
Most couples have an age gap of about one to three years. People typically choose partners who are close to their own age. However, as long as both partners are adults, any age gap may be considered acceptable, although larger age gaps may be met with judgment from others. In general, although women tend to choose partners of a similar age, women dating younger men may experience higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
What is the disadvantage of an age gap relationship?
Disadvantages of age gap relationships may include:
- Stigma due to negative stereotypes
- Differing life stages
- Challenging power dynamics
What are the benefits of age gap relationships?
For the younger person, the benefits of an age gap relationship may include economic security (especially if the younger partner was previously facing monetary hardship), social support, and maturity, as well as exposure to different perspectives. For the older partner, advantages may include having a caretaker as they age, enjoying potentially enhanced satisfaction with the relationship, and benefiting from their partner’s youthful energy and perspective.
How do you deal with differences in a relationship?
Respect and good communication can go a long way when it comes to differences in relationships. If you’re having trouble coping with differences between yourself and your partner, couples therapy may be helpful.
Does age matter in anything?
Age tends to matter in certain areas of life, but once a person reaches adulthood, age doesn’t necessarily matter in most domains.
Why do we care so much about age gap relationships?
Age gap relationships with significant age differences tend to be less common and can even be considered taboo. Because many people wouldn’t choose to date or marry someone much older or younger than them, they may be curious about why others would make that choice.
Is 18 and 24 a big age difference?
While both the 18-year-old and the 24-year-old would be adults, they would likely have very different maturity levels and be at different stages of life, which could potentially contribute to power imbalances and other challenges in a romantic relationship.
What is the average age gap in relationships worldwide?
On average, men are usually about 4.2 years older than their female partners in romantic relationships.
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