What do Beyoncé, Blake Lively, and Amal Clooney have in common? Besides being wildly famous, successful, and impeccably dressed, they are all also married to men who are at least ten years their senior. While age gaps in relationships may have been a big deal thirty years ago, they are much more socially acceptable now (especially with A-list celebrities).
Still, even if you aren’t likely to get as many judgy looks from strangers these days, can relationships with age gaps work?
Do Big Age Gaps in Relationships Work?
Like many relationship issues, when it comes to whether large age gaps in relationships work, the answer is, “it depends.”
One thing that matters in age gap relationships is how much of a gap there is. For example, 5 year age gap relationships are quite different from 20 year age gap relationships. Five year age gap relationships say, “We just missed each other at UCLA” whereas 20 year age gap relationships say, “Were you in class with my mother?”
Of course, merely focusing on a number doesn’t take into account the really important factor; People’s personalities and maturity level. Even the biggest age gaps in relationships can work if the individuals involved are well matched.
We all know forty-somethings who act like teenagers and teenagers who are as responsible as Mother Teresa. A 40-year-old, unemployed man who still lives with his parents is quite different from a guy who started his own company at age 25, owns his own home, and has traveled the world.
No shade to the 40-year-old living at home – we all grow at our own rate. However, that guy might not be compatible with someone who has been living independently since college; regardless of age.
So, sometimes, it’s not so much the age difference that makes or breaks a relationship, but rather the MATURITY LEVEL of both partners. So when does age difference in relationships matter? Let’s dig in.
Can Big Age Gaps In Relationships Work?
So, how much of an age gap is too much? What happens if you are much more mature than your partner? How will things turn out?
Here are some pitfalls that might occur if there is too much of a maturity gap in your relationship:
- You might feel frustrated, like the relationship isn’t going anywhere
- You might feel like you are always making the decisions
- You could feel like an emotional garbage disposal – your partner looks to you to solve all of his/her problems
- You might feel like your partner never takes things (including you and the relationship) seriously
- You might feel like you don’t have much in common with your partner’s friends and maybe even that they are a bad influence
- You might feel like you will never get the type of commitment from your partner that you want
- You might feel like you take on the bulk of the responsibility and planning for your lives
- You might feel like it’s impossible to have a productive argument with your partner
- You might feel like you are always taking care of him/her financially
- You might feel like you are watching a train wreck, as your partner makes the same mistakes over and over again
On the same token, if you are the less mature member in the relationship, things might be tough for you too. For example, you might:
- Feel like your partner is always telling you what to do
- Feel like your partner talks down to you
- Feel like you are being pushed into a serious commitment before you are ready
- Feel like your partner never wants to just relax and have fun
- Feel like your partner sees you as a child instead of as a companion
- Feel like your partner doesn’t trust you to complete tasks but then resents you for not contributing
- Feel like you and your partner are in different life stages and want different things
- Feel like you have to rush your timeline for things like marriage and kids to accommodate your partner’s timeline
- Feel like you are missing out on crucial years of fun and freedom
So, you see, problems can arise from both sides of the fence. Still, I’m not saying that age gap relationships can’t work.
What is too much of an age gap for one relationship may not be just right for another. And large age gaps in relationships can be successful, as long as both partners are willing to put in the work.
Age Gap Relationships Advice – How to Handle Age Difference in Relationships
Here are some tips to help make your age gap relationship run as smoothly as a summer’s breeze, whether you’re facing a 5 year age gap or a 20 year age gap.
Relationship Age Gap Rule: Recognize Your Partner’s Worldview
In couples therapy, one of the things I help couples with in sessions is recognizing that each person has a completely unique view of the world that is largely colored by experience, culture, and upbringing. However, this worldview can be very different when there are age gaps in relationships, particularly with an age difference between each partner of a decade or more.
The societal culture one experienced growing up in the 80’s, for example, is completely different from the societal culture of someone who grew up in the 2000’s.
Someone born after the year 2000 probably won’t get many 80’s movies references, or know the hardship of having to find a book in the library to research a project rather than Googling it. By the same token, someone born in the 80’s might have a hard time understanding what Snapchat is and why people use it.
Instead of coming down hard on your partner for what he or she doesn’t know, treat your different worlds like an exotic adventure. Have fun introducing your boo to new things (like the word boo!). Recognize and honor your generational differences and take time to understand how each of you views the world.
Communication Gap In Relationship: Communicate As Equals
Nothing ruins a relationship like a power gap (these can be far more detrimental than age gaps in relationships). Just because there is an age difference between you doesn’t mean that one of you should have all the power or have the responsibility of making all of the decisions.
Communicate with your partner as an equal. Don’t talk down, or up, to him or her. Believe it or not, age does not make one of you better or wiser than the other. It’s life experience that brings wisdom and that is not always gained with age.
Someone of 23 who has traveled the world can have way more life experience and wisdom than a 45 year old who has never left their home state. Read: Physical age does not equal spiritual age. Someone who is an “old soul” could have far more intuitive knowledge than someone who is more advanced physically.
Try to see your partner in spiritual years rather than chronological ones. Notice what makes your partner light up with passion. That’s what makes them who they are, not the year that they were born.
Large Age Gaps In Relationships: Talk Openly About Life Goals
When you’re in a large age gap relationship, don’t assume your partner wants the same things as you without asking.
Older partners may be more ready for a serious relationship than younger partners or may have a more clear picture of what they want their life to look like in 5 years. They may have accomplished more of their career goals and be ready to get married and start a family sooner than their younger counterparts.
Be specific about your intentions when dating and make sure you are on the same page from the get go. This advice really goes for any relationship, but especially those with a significant age gap.
If you are dating just for fun, without looking for anything serious, it’s best to let your date know that right off the bat. If one person is ready to settle down and the other is just looking for some company for now, the relationship isn’t likely to work out.
And PLEASE, if he tells you that he doesn’t want a relationship, BELIEVE HIM! And if he tells you he’s not sure what he wants out of a relationship yet, take that as a clue that you aren’t on the same page. You don’t need to be the one who turns him around.
Instead of worrying only about age gaps in relationships, focus on finding someone who is at the same psychological place that you are.
Do Some Research: TV Shows With Age Gaps in Relationships
Sometimes, when you are wondering how to make this age gap relationship work, it can be helpful to do some research. You’re reading this article so clearly you’ve already started that process. Good work!
If you know couples who have a similar age gap to you and your partner, I’d suggest chatting with them about how they are navigating the differences.
Every couple is different but you may find some similarities and helpful suggestions. At the very least, It’s nice to talk to someone who understands your situation.
Don’t know anyone in real life with big age gaps in relationships? There are lots of TV shows that depict age gap relationships that you could watch as research, too. Many focus on older men dating younger women after some kind of major life change. (Mid-life crisis, anyone?)
A great example is Modern Family. In the show, Jay is a man in his 50’s or 60’s married to a beautiful younger wife named Gloria. Sprinkled throughout the show, the couple has sporadic discussions about common concerns such as Jay feeling insecure that Gloria will leave him for someone closer to her age as he gets older.
A new-ish kind of age gap relationship to watch on TV is one where the woman is older and the man is younger. A classic version of this happens in “Gossip Girl” when Nate, one of the main characters, has an affair with a beautiful, older, married woman. As you probably expected, this doesn’t end well, but it’s definitely entertaining!
Another show featuring an older woman and a younger man is appropriately called “Younger,” starring Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff. Not only does this show have an awesome cast and incredibly witty writing, but it also plays with the idea of age in a really big way.
The main character is a 40 something housewife from New Jersey who pretends to be 26 in order to land a New York City job in publishing. Her lie takes her all kinds of crazy places, including dating a hot, young 20 something guy who couldn’t be sweeter. Watching her pretend to be in a same age relationship, while really being in a 20 year age gap relationship is filled with hilarity. The show is a fun way to explore the question, “can a 20 year age gap work?” – even if you’re not currently in one yourself!
Watching shows like this together with your partner will not only lighten the mood, but it might spark important conversations between the two of you about what age gaps in relationships mean to you. Plus, it will help you remember that you aren’t alone in this world of age gap relationships.
Age Gaps in Relationships: Find Common Ground
The truth is, there is no ideal or appropriate age gap in a relationship. Whether it’s a 20 year age gap relationship or a 5 year age gap relationship, there will be both challenges and benefits to your situation.
My age gap relationship advice? Make the most out of the benefits! You aren’t obsessing over your own age every minute of the day (hopefully), so why would you obsess over your partner’s?
While you may have some difficulty getting movie references or pop culture jokes from your partner, find something that you do have in common. Even better, make up your own private jokes and laugh your way into relationship bliss. Laughter is good for the soul and laughing together can make you feel, well, ageless.
If you need some extra help with how to handle age difference in relationships or just want to talk about how to improve your relationship (with or without an age gap) contact Couples Learn today.
Our experienced online couples therapists can help. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation to get started.