Couples who have a certain distance between their ages have added struggles that other couples do not have to deal with. They will be stereotyped, judged and questioned about their relationship. Unfortunately, as with many other areas of life, the women in the relationships fall prey to more substantial judgment. While male friends applaud “their boy” for scoring a younger or older woman, women are looked down upon as gold-diggers or cradle robbers. Along with this extra judgment, couples with a significant age difference have many other adversities to overcome in their relationship and may need some guidance on how to deal with them. HC teamed up with some relationship experts to find out how these couples should handle these unorthodox struggles in their relationship.
1. You may be judged
Every couple has a characteristic that makes them susceptible to judgment. People can be cruel, and if couples are interracial, same-sex or have an age difference, they are more likely to feel the wrath of society’s judgments. Carole Lieberman, M.D., Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author says, “Over the years, it has been more common to see younger women with older men, so society has become more accepting of this than of older women with younger men.” Dr. Lieberman thinks the stigma that surrounds the older woman and younger man romantic relationships may be a feminist issue. “It feels threatening to older men to see that women today, who are more self-sufficient, can choose to be with younger men. But, either way, you need to be willing to shrug off other peoples’ judgments.” In other words, add another way powerful women are breaking through societal barriers and threatening the patriarchy, by choosing to be in — what some may see as — abnormal relationships.
2. Planning for a future may be trickier
Planning for a future with a partner who is significantly older or younger than you may also present an issue. Most couples who do not have an age gap can’t help but entertain the possibility of a future with their partner, but the added adversity of age, some couples may be afraid to talk about the image they have in the back of their minds. Dr. Lieberman says, “Couples with an age gap, who want to plan for a future, need to talk about things like whether they want and can still have children, how future illnesses might affect their relationship, how sex might change, how to assure financial security when one partner dies, and so on.” While this advice may not apply to younger couples now, if the relationship continues, they may need to consider this down the road as they both get older.
Rhonda Ricardo, author of Cherries over Quicksand says, “If you marry a SO with a large age gap you’re most probably on different biological energy levels so be prepared to jump roadblocks about how to raise children or possible not ever have children, far before feelings might get hurt because changing your mind may not be an option since your SO (man or woman) could reach an age that vetoes waking up three times a night for diaper changes.”
On that note, talking about the natural aging process may be taboo in a relationship with an age gap. Dr. Lieberman adds, “It is very tricky to talk about the natural aging process because the older partner has fears that the younger partner will leave them as they age.” Of course, this is a valid concern for the older party, but Dr. Lieberman advises that the conversation is vital to the relationship and “has to be done very gradually and sensitively.”
3. Meeting the parents can take on a whole new definition of awkward
It may be awkward introducing one’s partner to family, parents and friends when there is a large age gap. Dr. Lieberman comments that family members may offer unsolicited advice and make unfounded predictions about the inevitable failure of the relationship. (Some of us may be able to relate to this sentiment, even if there is no age gap in our relationship.) Dr. Lieberman agrees that you can’t argue with people in love (no matter the situation), and even if you are heading for disaster, “no one can ever be convinced of this because at the beginning they are smitten.” Just make sure that when it comes time to introduce the family to your new, older or younger SO, don’t get defensive. In the end, your family wants you to be happy. While it may take time for them to see that this relationship makes you happy, they will come around.
Also, Ricardo says, “The best way not to suffer from unwelcome drama in an age gap relationship is to stop any confusion in less than a minute of a new friendship meeting. If the SO’s age difference is completely obvious then the couple must introduce their SO as their SO, not make strangers guess who their companion may be, or the couple must expect to hear the innocent, ‘Is this your daughter/son/mother/father?’” If the couple is hesitant to be honest about their relationship upon meeting family members or friends, they could end up making the situation more awkward than it has to be.
In that light, couples with an age gap may also have to deal with those family and friends who may not take their relationship seriously. If the people you love are convinced that “it is just a phase,” Dr. Lieberman says it may be pointless to try to argue with them, “There is no point in trying to convince people to take your relationship seriously,” she says. “Just let them see how happy you are together.” It is important to remember that although you may accept the unorthodox nature of your relationship, it may take your family and friends a little more time to be comfortable with it. Rather than fighting them on it, help them to see why the relationship is what is best for you.
4. “What do you talk about?” could take on a new meaning
With a difference in years between partners, some generational differences are bound to surface. An older partner might not have seen The Hunger Games, while you may not have seen The Godfather. Dr. Lieberman agrees that couples may struggle to find topics of conversation and activities that interest both parties. She adds, “An older partner may feel frustrated that their younger partner isn’t familiar with music or movies from the past. A younger partner may feel frustrated that their older partner can’t keep up with them in activities such as skiing.” Dr. Lieberman also makes an interesting point that couples with an age difference face an added challenge of finding a shared group of friends who are compatible with both of them. If two people are really meant to be together, however, they may have to think outside of the box when it comes to activities and hobbies they can share together. Something must have brought them together in the first place, so they just need to find the thing that keeps them together.
Ricardo invites you to imagine this situation: “A twenty-year younger guy says they are perfect for each other… except in the car because she must tune into to her classic rock and he says he can feel his twenty-year younger skin sag and crawl every time the 1980 rock-stars hit their high-notes while she sings along with those currently over fifty-year-old singers. He wonders how many more years he will be able to drive with her without actually sticking his head out the car window, Doberman style, in a desperate search for silence because his earbuds collection can’t block their music gap.” Again, if a couple is truly dedicated to their relationship, they have to find activities, hobbies, and even music to listen to that they both can agree on. Perhaps if one partner loves country music and other likes Frank Sinatra, they can explore a different kind of music that they can enjoy together.
5. One partner may be a know-it-all
Ricardo brings up an interesting point that the older person in a relationship with an age gap may feel that their intellect is superior because of his or her age. Ricardo says, “If your SO (man or woman) is older and condescendingly acts like they know more because of their age, not because of true wisdom, there may be some hidden jealousy about how you are not aging and they clearly are.” Communication, as in any relationship, is key with couples who have an age gap. If your older SO is constantly trying to throw you under the bus (especially in front of other people), it may be a sign of a deeper issue. If jealousy is not the cause, make sure to evaluate other possibly unhealthy aspects of the relationship.
In response to how to deal with any of these struggles, Dr. Lieberman suggests, “The answer for most of these challenges is patience, finding creative solutions and finding more to love about your partner than the inconveniences that an age gap may bring.” Perhaps the most important solution to any problems in a relationship is communication. If you are nervous about how your family and friends will react to your relationship, communicate both with your partner about what you expect from the meeting, and with your family about why the relationship is serious and meaningful for you. If you and your older or younger SO cannot agree on what music to listen to on the car ride to meet the parents, listen to an audio-book instead. Relationships are about compromise, and a relationship with an age gap is no different. Compromise, communication, and creativity are key in making an age gap relationship work.