You cannot always help who you fall in love with, and sometimes, the person may be quite older – or younger – than yourself. Naysayers may tell you it won’t work out; however, according to couples who are in such partnerships, there are ways to make it work.
“I have seen couples with significant age differences bridge that gap,” relationship expert Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, told us. “They have to have a sense of humour and be comfortable discussing the pitfalls. I also think it works well when the younger partner is very mature for his/her age, and the older partner is playful and perhaps a bit immature.”
Sussman, however, also said there is such a thing as too much of an age difference. “The more a couple has in common, the greater the likelihood they will last,” she said. “But when you’re looking at a 30-year or more age difference, that’s a huge generational difference, and those couples may struggle with certain issues that would be difficult to transcend.”
We reached out to real couples with significant age differences to find out how they make their relationships work. Here’s what they had to say.
Agree to disagree.
“My husband is 13 years my senior. We make the relationship work with mature wine, cheese, and conversation – we talk about everything, laugh hysterically, and forgive quickly. Because we are both professionals, we often negotiate and find arrangements that are as close to win-win as possible. Successfully agreeing to disagree when necessary has helped our marriage thrive, as well. Albert and I fully acknowledge that we may not have 50 years together, so we are on a mission to make as many fond memories as possible with one another and our children (and eventually their spouses and children).” – Lisa (48) and Albert (61)
Accept your differences.
“My husband and I are 19 years apart; we were 21 and 40 when we started dating. It works because I gave up the notion that because I was older, I knew better, and how to love or guide a relationship better than him. We’ve been together for 14 years (married for two) … We respect each other in every way. We are very different; opposite in so other many ways than our age. But we have found a balance in providing what the other needs, and that includes space: Space to be our true selves, warts and all; space to commune with friends separately; space to have differing opinions on faith. But always, together, we fundamentally know we support each other in a way no other could.” – Carol (54) and Guy (35)
It’s all about compromise.
“Jake and I have been together for over 21 years. Our age difference has never really been an issue. Maybe at the very start, though I was more mature for my age so that probably helped. Our relationship differences are more about our personality differences – whether it’s hobbies and interests, introvert versus extrovert, cynical (I prefer ‘realistic’ or ‘practical’) versus upbeat, etc. These differences can be a source of frustration and annoyance, but when you learn to embrace and appreciate the differences, you realise they are what balance things out and lead to a more fulfilling and well-rounded life.
“No matter what the age difference, you both have to accept each other for who you are, including all those things that drive you absolutely bonkers (remembering that the grass is always greener until you get to that side; that’s when you realise it has its own weeds). It’s about compromise, being honest and communicative about what you’re feeling, and every now and then doing something you’d rather not (or wouldn’t normally) do.” – Keith (42) and Jake (52)
Take time for yourself.
“My partner is 14 years younger than I am. Regarding our age difference: I got over myself. Age is really perception. Honestly, my partner would never be able to keep up with me if he was my age. As a 57-year-old woman and entrepreneur, I feel blessed and lucky to have a man who is younger than me and is the co-host of my Illumination Podcast.
“The other things I do to help make this relationship work is take time for me to read, be introspective, focus on life purpose, and constantly work on moving my body and my mind. Through the lens of life, our needs and wants change as we get older. My life purpose is different from my partner’s, and that’s OK. However, I must take the time to focus on it and allow him space to be in his.” – Kisma (57) and Nick (43)
Accept you might be in different places in your lives.
“Our age difference does not really affect us, except for where we are in our lives right now – we have a long-distance relationship; he’s finalising a lengthy divorce whereas I’m not, and I’m still working while my boyfriend is retired and has a lot more free time. The latter is probably the biggest issue right now: I’m worried about making money while he wants to play all the time. With all of it, I just find it is best to accept him for who he is today and try to understand where he is at mentally, physically, and emotionally by checking in and asking questions. Plus, it’s important to find patience with myself – and him – when we are not on the same page.” -Diana (49) and Sean (60)
Be there for your partner as best you can.
“My boyfriend, Jamie, and I are 15 years apart! We have been dating for three years, have lived together for two, and have a dog together. We always joke and say we meet each other in the middle because if people meet us, they think I’m in my upper 20s and he’s in his 30s. I have always been very mature for my age and, surprisingly, he is only my second boyfriend. I knew him for quite a few years before we started dating; I always thought he was the best guy I’d ever met. When the opportunity arose, I fell head over heels for him. He went through a very bad divorce, so I make it a point to be the best I can be for him and to show him what comfort and happiness really is. The great thing is, he recognises that and gives it right back in return. No BS – just true love.” – Cassie (24) and Jamie (39)
Keep things exciting.
“I am 16-17 years older than my boyfriend, Tom, but when we met, we each thought the other person was in their mid-thirties. He has a beard and looks older than he is, and I look younger than my age, so we look closer in age than we are. But I tend to date younger guys (a few exes were a year, two years, and 10 years younger). In our society, men seem, traditionally, to be much older (15 years or so) than the women they date, and no one notices; but when the woman is older, they do. “Tom and I are in a long-distance relationship (he’s in England and I’m in the US). We do one month in London, one in America (New York and Miami), and then meet in fun places around the world in between. This, too, may help our relationship work; it’s always new and fun and exciting. -Reyna (46) and Tom (28)
Focus on your similarities, not your differences.
“As a couple, we work because we appreciate and celebrate our similarities and differences, and engage in activities we enjoy as a couple, while still allowing room for individuality. While my partner, Matt, is building a very successful startup company, I work for a high-powered PR firm, and we share in each other’s long work hours, struggles, and triumphs. He brings wisdom and a calmness to my life that makes my life peaceful, and I bring vitality and enthusiasm to his life that helps him stay focused on enjoying his life and what he’s trying to build. Most importantly, we don’t focus on our differences; while we may be 17 years apart, it’s never been a consideration for us because we enjoy the same activities, we share the same drive for success, and we truly enjoy each other’s company and presence.
“We also have room for growth and understanding, we are both independent, but allow each other’s strengths to make up for our individual weaknesses, and we’re together because we want to be. I think it also helps that we are on the same page when it comes to ideas surrounding marriage, family, etc., so we don’t have to worry about unnecessary pressures creeping into our space. And really, that’s just how any relationship becomes successful, in my opinion.” -Amy (33) and Matt (49)
Look at an age difference as an advantage.
“The 20-year age difference between us has been a blessing. I think men mature much later than women, so relationships with a younger woman and older man seem to work on all levels, especially in this world of dating apps which seems to have made most males revert back to being teenagers. Julia appreciates my maturity, emotional availability, and financial security, especially compared to younger guys. Guys her age seem to care only about quantity over quality when it comes to relationships. They’re so used to swiping through human beings like items on a restaurant menu, it’s hard to connect beyond the superficial or purely physical aspects of somebody. In contrast to shallow, fleeting Tinder relationships, when two mature people really connect on a deeper level, it transcends casual dating. Plus, I take care of my body and work out every day, so I can compete physically with the younger guys. I appreciate Julia’s energy and enthusiasm, and we have formed a deeper bond than most 20-somethings we know.” – David (49) and Julia (29)
Have a sense of humour.
“I am married to a woman who is 22 years younger than I am. After 19 years together, we still make our relationship work. First of all, it’s important to accept that you are in different developmental stages in life: I am in the twilight years of my career and coasting on my previous accomplishments while my wife is still building her career and increasing her knowledge. As much as I’d love more time with her, I need to support her in doing that rather than trying to get her to be in my developmental stage in life.
“Second, limit your expectations of each other. Having such a big age span means there are no life scripts for us. By limiting our expectations, we can communicate what we need, and work together to meet those needs.
“Third, have a sense of humour. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been referred to as my wife’s parent. When my brother-in-law was teasing me about robbing the cradle, I replied, ‘Are you kidding? She robbed the old folks’ home.'” – Julie (60) and Brandi (39)
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