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Saturday, October 22, 2022

Can Modern Day Age-Gap Relationships Last?

The term "age-gap relationships" refers to relationships where the age difference is at least 10 years or more.  These type of relationships are also called "May-December" relationships.

Age-Gap Relationship: Older Woman With Younger Man

Growing Social Acceptance, But There is Still Some Social Disapproval
There is growing social acceptance for age-gap relationships because many people believe that "age is just a number." They don't see the age difference as a deal breaker.  

In addition, people are generally living longer and healthier lives so they can enter into new relationships more easily than people from past generations.

There are also famous examples of relationships where there is a large age gap, including French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, who is almost 25 years older than him. And, as of this writing, they have been married for 15 years.  

Despite growing acceptance, there is still significant social disapproval and a stigma against age-gap relationships.  An individual's sex, culture and age are determining factors as to whether someone approves or disapproves of these relationships.

Although most people prefer to be with someone close to their own age, in the Western world, it has been estimated that approximately 8% of heterosexual relationships are age-gap relationships with an age difference of 10 years or more.  

Historically, age-gap relationships have involved older men with younger women.  But there are now more older women and younger men who are entering into these relationships (see my articles: Relationships Between Older Women and Younger Men - Part 1 and Part 2).

There are also gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender age-gap relationships, but there's not as much research about them.  Hopefully, there will be more research in the future.

Why is There Still a Stigma Against Age-Gap Relationships?
A stigma still exists based on a long history of suspicion about relationships where there is a big age difference.  

Age-Gap Relationships: Younger Woman With Older Man

The most common reason for this stigma is the perception that one of the people (either older or younger) is using and taking advantage of the other person.

If it's an older man and a younger woman, many people believe he's "creepy" and going through a midlife crisis, and she's a "gold digger."  

If it's an older woman and a younger man, many people believe that he's a "gold digger" and she's having a midlife crisis and trying to recapture her youth.

Underlying some of this judgement and criticism might be a lack of understanding about what brings two people together--regardless of their chronological age.

In addition, there might also be an element of envy among people who are living a more conventional life and who secretly wish they could live outside the confines of tradition.

What Are the Possible Advantages and Disadvantages of Age-Gap Relationships
It's important to recognize that, just like any two people, the individuals in an age-gap relationship are unique individuals in particular circumstances.  So, what works for one couple might not work for another.  

At the same time, generally speaking, there can be certain challenges and benefits to these relationships.
    Possible Challenges:
  • Different Life StagesThis is probably the biggest perceived challenge of age-gap relationships.  Although this isn't necessarily a challenge for every relationship where there is a big age difference, it can be a challenge for others.  For instance, there is often a challenge if one person wants to have children and the other has already had children and doesn't want any more or they are unable to have children due to age (although there are now medical advances to address infertility and other options, like adoption).  If children aren't a consideration, different life stages can be easier for the couple to negotiate.
  • Power Dynamics: When there's a significant age difference, there could be problems with power dynamics with the older person, who has more life experience and who might have more money and professional success, having more power in the relationship than the younger person (regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation).  However, this is an issue that can be worked out if the couple is aware of it, communicates well and makes an effort to change it.
    Possible Benefits:
  • Living Longer: Some people in age-gap relationships live longer.  This might be due to a healthier outlook on life as well as a younger partner's ability to take care of the older partner later in life.
  • Many Younger Men Prefer Older Women (and vice versa): Younger men who are in relationships with older women often say they prefer older women because they have more life experience, and they tend to be more confident, assertive and mature. Also, older women often know what they want both in and out of bed and usually have more sexual experience than younger women (see my articles: Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex? and Many Older Women Remain Sexually Active).  In addition, many older women say they get along better with younger men, who have the same youthful outlook as they do.  They also see younger men as healthier more energetic than most older men.  In addition, older women and younger men are often more sexually compatible.
  • Many Younger Women Prefer Older Men (and vice versa): Similar to younger men who prefer older women, younger women, who are attracted to older men, often say that older men offer more emotional and financial stability.  As compared to younger men, older men are often established in their career and they have more time for relationships.  Also, since they are no longer focused on building a career, they often have more time for relationships.  Similarly, older men often prefer the company of younger women because of their youthful outlook and appearance.  Also, they can still have children.
Reframing Concepts Related to Age-Gap Relationships
People who in age-gap relationships are usually well aware of the social disapproval and stigma associated with their relationships.  

In certain situations, the adult children of the older person attempt to interfere with the relationship because they fear their parent is being taken advantage of (as previously mentioned) or that they will lose their inheritance to the parent's younger partner.  The older partner would be wise to address these issues directly with his or her adult children instead of allowing suspicion and resentment to grow.

Social disapproval, stigma and family conflict often mean that there can be conflict within the relationship due to external pressure.  But if the couple is able to work on and transcend these difficulties, they can build a stronger relationship.  

Tips on How You Can Have a Lasting Age-Gap Relationship
While there are no guarantees for any relationship, regardless of age, these tips can help a couple to have a happier relationship when there's a big age difference:
  • Share Your Expectations With Each Other: Knowing what you each want and expect can be helpful for navigating the differences in an age-gap relationship.  This helps to avoid misunderstandings and disappointments.
  • Embrace Your Differences: Regardless of age, there will be differences between two people in any relationship.  Every couple is unique.  If you both know, accept and appreciate that you're each at different stages of life, your relationship is more likely to succeed.
  • Focus on Mutual Interests: You and your partner might have come together initially because of mutual interests.  When you enjoy these interests and activities together, you can both enjoy each other more than if you're focused on your age difference.
  • Be Willing to Explore Your Partner's World: Your partner might have a unique perspective in certain areas.  A willingness to explore those perspectives can make life more interesting and exciting.  It can also help you to grow and bring the two of you closer together.
  • Talk About Possible Caretaking of an Older Partner: Rather than shying away from this challenging issue, talk about it in advance.  Know what you each want and expect and what would be involved.

Although there is still some social disapproval, there is growing acceptance of age-gap relationships in our society.

In the end, it all comes down to the two individuals in the relationship.  

Talking about your expectations, embracing your differences, focusing on mutual interests, showing a willingness to explore your partner's perspectives, and talking about real life issues involved when there is an age difference can contribute to the success of an age-gap relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples in traditional and non-traditional relationships (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.