Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Love Diaries: Age Gap Relationships. Can They Work Out? Would You Be in One? Plus the 11 Things You Should Talk About With Your Partner If You’re In One

Can an age gap help or hinder your romance? We talked to dozens of women in age gap relationships, plus relationship experts about what goes on, and how you can ensure the success of your union, no matter the age difference between you.

Welcome to our series, The Love Diaries – a space for you to share your experiences, advice, fairy-tale endings, setbacks and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences with love – from the woman who cheated on her husband with a work colleague, one woman’s temptation now the love of her life is finally single (although she’s not), and the woman who forced her husband to choose between her and his girlfriend. 

When Jill met Steve – the love of her life – her friends and family were a bit perplexed and worried.

See, Steve was 33 while Jill was only 22.

Everyone was worried about the age gap,” says Jill. Especially her mother.

“When I told her I had met the guy I was gonna marry and that he was 34, she wasn’t happy. She said she didn’t get it and why didn’t I want to be with someone my own age?”

But when her mother met Steve, like the rest of her friends and family, she quickly changed her tune.

“When she met him and saw us together, she got it,” says Jill, who says she’s always felt like a bit of an ‘old soul’ whereas Steve was always young at heart.

“If anything, I was the 25-year-old who was asking my husband if we could stay home, eat soup and watch documentaries on a Saturday night, while he tried to twist my arm into going out drinking with friends!”

Two years later the pair were married, and Jill was surprised by how many people had something to say about it.

“Everyone who I met, or who I worked with, was like, ‘what’s the hurry?’ or ‘You’re so young!’ or the old ‘don’t you want to marry someone your own age?’,” says Jill. “But at the wedding, Steve’s grandmother – who had a big age gap with her husband – said that an age gap is only a big deal when you’re young. It gets more irrelevant the older you get. Lots of people said that to us. Like, oh, people will focus on that when you’re in your twenties, but it doesn’t matter as you get older. It’s not a big deal as you both age.”

So, is there any truth to what Jill has heard? And, is her experience of feeling some social stigma for being in an age gap relationship common? Is age really just a number? What is it really like to be in an age gap relationship and can they stand the test of time?

This week, we’re looking at it all – we’re getting expert advice, plus hearing from those who are in real-life age gap relationships, plus sharing Capsule readers opinions and thoughts on the subject.

Because, it seems that age gaps in relationships can certainly be a polarizing subject. But, if our poll of Capsule readers is anything to go by, they’re something that many of you are prepared to dive into.

Around 56% of readers polled said they have been in a relationship with a significant age gap before, or would be prepared to be in one in future. But, when it came to just how significant that gap was, the majority of readers felt that six to ten years would be the maximum they would be comfortable with (60%). A further 23% would go as high as 11-15 years, while 14% would keep it under five years. Just four per cent were comfortable with the gap being wider than 16 years.

And, it seems, from those who have experienced an age gap, there has been a myriad of differing opinions as to how successful those relationships were.

“My husband is 15 years older and I love it so much,” said one reader. “He’s so fun, wise, energetic, sophisticated and sexy!”

“Don’t to it,” said another. “I had a 17-year age gap. Lasted eight years. Eventually they get old and boring.”

“I wouldn’t recommend one. At first it doesn’t make a difference,” said one reader. “But eventually it does.”

“I’m 42 and my husband will be 59,” said a fourth reader. “Never thought I’d marry someone with such a huge age gap difference, but it works.”

We had dozens more messages – all either singing the praises of an age gap relationship, or warning heavily against entering into one.

So, what do the statistics say – is there any reason to be wary of an age gap? Well, it seems the answer is yes, and no.

Grace Lordan, an associate professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics who has researched age gap relationships and happiness extensively, says there’s good news for those in one of these relationships at the start of their union.

“My husband is 15 years older and I love it so much. He’s so fun, wise, energetic, sophisticated and sexy!”

Capsule reader

“In the initial 10 years of marriage, people report higher levels of martial satisfaction when their partner is younger than them,” she says. “However, over time, the marital satisfaction of different-aged couples declines more than similar-aged partners. The probability of similar-aged couples divorcing is also lower.”

A 2017 Australian study came to similar conclusions, finding that heterosexual couples who had a large age gap had a faster decline in relationship satisfaction over time. But it seemed, what really mattered was just how big that age gap is.

It found that couples who had the most common age gap of one to three years, with the man being older than the woman, had the greatest levels of satisfaction in their marriage. Satisfaction decreased for those with gaps of four to six years and decreased steeply from seven years plus.

Jill, our Capsule reader in the 10-year age-gap relationship says she’s no longer too surprised by those numbers, because, while she was hoping Steve’s grandmother was right about things getting easier with time in an age gap, she has found the exact opposite to be true.

Right now, she says – at 30 and 40 – the gap between them and what they want, seems bigger than ever.

“I think it started when Steve turned 39 and started thinking about turning 40” says Jill. “We want kids, but I’d prefer them when I’m around 35. I know you can plan these things exactly, but Mum will be retiring then, so said she can be really involved, and there’s a few things I want to get sorted before then – like getting further ahead in my career. I went back to uni at 26, so I haven’t had much experience in my new career and want that before I have to take time off for babies.”

But Steve is starting to feel the clock ticking. His friends all have kids now and waiting for another five years is sounding too long to him. He wants them to at least meet in the middle and go for when she is 32/33 and he’s 42/43.

“He’s worried that if he’s 45 he won’t have the same energy he has now to be a dad. Particularly if we want to have two,” she says. “He’s worried that he’ll be 50 by the time we’ve finished our family, which he now thinks is too old.”

Jill says it’s frustrating, because it’s something they talked about before marriage. “We did a full church wedding which meant we had to do counselling with a priest, and we talked through a lot of different situations and about kids. He said it was me having to carry the child and take maternity leave so he would let me look after the timeline. He says part of life is that we change our minds so I should respect that. I feel like we’re at a crossroad.”

Age gap relationships, and the difficulties that can arise in them are something that Divorce Coach and relationship expert Bridgette Jackson sees often.

She concedes that yes, an age gap can bring with it some complications to a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be the making or breaking of a union – particularly if you do some groundwork and have some very important conversations before things get too serious. But, an age gap relationship is certainly not doomed.

“As people we are all different, so what may work for one couple may not work for another couple,” says Bridgette. “Rather, the success of any relationship is based on the value system and communication the couple has developed.  Having the mutual understanding and agreement to place a high value on the relationship and staying in connected, will serve any couple well.”

Bridgette suggests putting in some hard work and having some very honest and open conversations with your potential love, before things get serious. She recommends this for all couples – she actually has a list of 50 questions she tells people to review together – but for those in and age gap relationship there are others to consider on top of those.

“When it comes to an age gap, the couples needs to ask each other if it could be an issue now or will it be an issue in five or 10 years and beyond?” she says. “If there is an age gap of seven – 20 years plus is the younger partner willing to be the carer of the older partner?  Are children and home ownership considerations? When one retires before the younger partner what will that look like?” 

Capsule reader Tui says she has a wonderful relationship with her husband, who is 11 years older, but that it is also a lot of work – and adjustment.

“One thing we hadn’t talked about fully was what would happen at retirement,” she says. “My husband is now in his sixties, and really, he should be retiring. But, he is the higher earner, and is worried about supporting me and our children. I still work, and would definitely have to keep working if he retires, which is another reason he doesn’t want to retire – he says it will make him feel guilty. In many ways, it would be much easier if we were the same age and could retire at the same time and be okay financially – but you can’t help who you fall in love with. I guess I just wish we’d talked through things more thoroughly before we married.”

Stories like Tui’s and Jill’s are why Bridgette recommends having frank conversations at the start of the relationship, and to continually check in on those thoughts to see if anything has changed over time.

So, exactly what should those conversations include? Helpfully, Bridgette has shared wth us the eleven things she would recommend couples consider:

Eleven things to consider and discuss:

  1. What are the long term and short term goals you have as a couple and individually?
  2. Energy levels – will be different, both physically and emotionally.  Depending on the age gap one may have higher energy levels and physically want to do more, including social activities.  In this case there needs to be compromise and an understanding of, how as a couple you approach that.
  3. Socialising – can have a big impact on any couple, no matter an age difference.  What matters is open communication and an understanding on both sides and acceptance of things such as agreeing on what will be attended together and what one partner will attend alone.
  4. Children and fertility.
  5. Are you a blended family?  An age gap can have a big impact on the family dynamic.  There could be a considerable age gap between children from each family.  What does that look like?  With an age gap of more than a few years there could also be different energy levels and connection as well as different parenting styles e.g. teens and toddlers.
  6. Will the relationship have the support of friends, family and existing children? If this is in question, what discussions and communication needs to happen?
  7. Finances – how will these be managed?  Is one of you a spender and the other a saver, or someone who has an investment goal they are working towards?
  8. Health issues can impact any relationship.  Where this an age gap, I highly recommend looking at what that could look like and how the relationship could be impacted. 
  9. You need to also ensure that each is equal in the relationship and one does not parent the other.  This can happen in any relationship no matter the age gap.
  10. Retirement – with an age gap this will absolutely influence how the relationship dynamic could change.  If there is a large enough age gap where one is ready to retire before the other, there needs to be a real understanding, of both, what the relationship will look like as well as how it will affect each other and the day-to-day dynamics.
  11. Being each other’s biggest fan is important as is celebrating together and having fun.

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