by Dr. Terri Orbuch, The Love Doctor®
As far as Hollywood is concerned, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman and a man to date, where one partner is significantly older than the other. But do age differences matter to the health and happiness of a relationship? And, can long-term relationships work when there is a significant age gap?
As we get older, I think age differences matter less and less. Once a person reaches about 21 years old, the importance of the age gap dwindles. Then, it’s not the chronological age that matters, but more the emotional and psychological compatibility between the two people, which is essential for the health and wellbeing of the relationship. Rather than “do age differences really matter,” the better question you might want to ask yourself is whether you and your partner are compatible in terms of beliefs, values, life views and goals.
Dating outside of your age group can sometimes be related to a “need” of one or both partners. For example, the younger partner, who is with someone 10-20 years older, may be searching for a father/mother figure or for someone who is superior, either socially or financially. The older person, who is with someone 10-20 years younger, may be afraid of getting older, feel more youthful than their actual age, or want to retain their childlike qualities and view of life. But again, from my point of view, no matter why you are attracted to each other, the maturity of the two people is what matters, not the age gap, nor the reason why you are attracted to someone older or younger than you!
Nonetheless, given a large age difference, you can experience some obstacles down the line, unless you handle or discuss them right up front in the relationship. These topics need to be discussed regardless if you are a woman or a man. Should you choose to move forward, here are some tips to starting your relationship off right:
1. Discuss the future, not just the present.
If this relationship is long-term, one of the biggest obstacles that can arise is that one partner wants children or a family down the road and the other partner is past that point in life. It’s important to be honest with each other and consistently discuss whether the two of you are on the same page about when and if you want a family. Other future topics to talk about are retirement goals and career choices. For example, what if you want to retire soon and travel, yet your partner wants to continue to work longer?
2. Set clear expectations.
You also want to think about whether the age difference will affect the activities you do together, such as hiking, skiing, traveling, or even how often you have sex. Share your general expectations for the relationship and for your partner more specifically; realistic expectations on both partners’ parts result in less frustration and disappointment.
3. Focus on what you can change.
It is becoming more common and more acceptable to date outside of your age peer group, but it’s still something that is noticed and commented upon. Family members and friends may disapprove. Bear in mind that you can’t change anyone’s behavior or opinion. Focus on the positives in your relationship, and don’t take the comments to heart – they usually say a lot more about the person who is thinking or saying them, than about you.
Keep in mind, these are questions and concerns that everyone needs to consider when they enter a committed romantic relationship. So, if you find that the two of you are compatible on many fronts and you can discuss the issues above, I say move over Hollywood – here you come!
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