The Role of an Age Gap in Relationships
Does Age Gap Matter in a Relationship?
Have you ever dated someone older than you? For some people, a difference in age can be a very important factor when choosing a partner, while others may not pay attention to the age of a person they’re attracted to.
Besides, some people may realize that they prefer older or younger people in their relationships, without understanding why they tend to make such choices.
Is the age difference in relationships important? Why do some people prefer older or younger partners? Psychologists have researched this subject for many years, and to answer these questions, we need to consider many factors.
Many people in relationships have an age difference, and sometimes it can cause stress and misunderstanding. Some challenges associated with an age difference are rooted in external factors. For instance, society tends to perceive age gaps differently depending on the partners’ genders.
Besides, couples may experience difficulties with understanding each other because partners may go through different stages in their lives and face different challenges.
If you have relationship problems because of the age gap, you can benefit from couples therapy. A licensed therapist can help you figure out what issues destabilize your relationship and offer the necessary emotional support.
Age Plays an Important Role in Romantic Attraction
When we choose partners, we may consider many factors, and age is one of them. According to statistics, 8.5% of Americans are couples in age-gap relationships, with 7.2% of such couples involving an older man.
Research data demonstrates that age can play a crucial role in the attraction and formation of relationships, but what age gap is too big?
Obviously, everyone may come up with different figures depending on one’s personal preferences, but statistically speaking, most people choose partners who are 2-4 years younger or older than them, with heterosexual men favoring younger women and vice versa.
The Evolutionary Perspective
Evolutionary psychologists suggest that human sexual attraction largely depends on the perceived reproductive qualities, which are closely related to a person’s age. From the evolutionary perspective, men are more likely to find younger women attractive because women’s fertility peaks in their 20s.
Such evolutionary and biological factors, however, cannot serve as a complete explanation of why the age gap in relationships is so common. For instance, it turns out that age-gap relationships are even more common in same-sex couples than heterosexual couples. As much as 26% of gay couples and 18% of lesbian couples have age difference.
Therefore, a tendency of finding older or younger people attractive may be caused not only by the gender-dependent differences in fertility but also by social factors.
The Social Factors
While women’s fertility depends on their age, there is also a connection between men’s age and income. According to statistics, men’s income peaks in their 40s and 50s, and such a tendency can make older men more attractive even from the evolutionary standpoint, as heterosexual women might be more interested in finding a partner who has the most resources for their offspring.
Such a factor, however, may play an important role even in same-sex couples and couples that don’t plan to raise children because a higher income means a higher social status and more practical benefits from a relationship.
Challenges Associated With the Age Gap in Relationships
Given that heterosexual couples involving older men are very common, such relationships might be perceived more positively by society than relationships where women are older. At the same time, women in heterosexual relationships may face shaming when they are older than their partner, as well as when they’re younger.
While young women in relationships with older men are often labeled “gold diggers” and shamed for using the men’s financial status, older women can be labeled “cougars” who only need younger men for their sex life.
Men rarely face such prejudices so such double standards can negatively affect women’s self-esteem and create tension in relationships.
Given that age difference can also involve a difference in partners’ income, age-gap couples may also experience issues associated with power imbalances. Money, however, is just one of many factors that can create difficulties for such couples.
For instance, the difference in age may also involve a difference in personal values and worldview. Older people may have more traditional views, including those related to relationships, while younger people might have more progressive views.
Therefore, it’s particularly important for such couples to improve communication and make sure that the partners listen to each other whenever they face any disagreements.
Does Age Gap Matter to You?
All relationships are different, and relationships between older and younger people are no exception. If you’re not sure whether or not age-gap relationships are the right choice for you, you may ask yourself a few questions.
Is it a long-term or short-term relationship?
Considering this factor can be very useful when entering a new relationship. While you may want to avoid relationship crises associated with the age difference that might arise in the future, your relationship can still be beneficial in the short term.
Older partners might enjoy the physical attractiveness of their younger partners, while younger partners might benefit from older partners’ life experiences and social status.
Besides, if you and your partner have a lot in common, the long-term benefits of such a relationship may outweigh the possible problems associated with the difference in age.
What are your common long-term goals?
The success of all long-term relationships largely depends on the partners’ goals and their willingness to pursue these goals together. Given that many life goals are age-related, the issue of shared goals might be more important for couples with an age difference.
Will one of you still work when the other partner decides to retire? How do both of you like to spend weekends? What do you expect your relationship to look like in a year or decade?
Do your friends support you?
For better or worse, our friends and families can have an influence on how we feel in our relationships, so this factor is also important to consider. If your friends approve of your choices, they can help keep your relationships strong, while their disapproval can make it more difficult for you to commit to the relationship.
Age-gap relationships can be stigmatized in society, but if your friends support you, it might be easier for you to overcome such obstacles. If your friends are not supportive, you may address this issue directly, listen to their opinions, and explain how important your relationship is to you.
Do you want children?
If you expect your relationship to be long-term, answering this question is rather a necessity, especially if you’re younger or older than your partner. People who want children may plan to become parents at a certain age so they should discuss it with their partners.
Couples that have difficulties with having a biological child might consider adoption. Make sure to talk to your partner about children so that both of you can manage expectations.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
All relationships have their ups and downs, and if you and your partner go through some challenges, you may benefit from couples therapy. A licensed therapist can help you understand what factors create difficulties in your relationship and provide emotional support.
If you’ve never visited a therapist before, you can learn more about the process so that you can know what to expect from your sessions.
Some couples may experience difficulties with traditional in-person therapy because partners may have conflicting work schedules. If this is what stops you from booking your first session, you may consider online therapy.
Platforms like Calmerry enable couples to talk to a therapist from virtually anywhere, with no need to be present at the therapist’s office.
Age difference in relationships is very common. Why do we choose partners who are younger or older than us? There are many factors that impact our preferences — some of them are rooted in evolutionary psychology, while others are social.
Age difference can create certain challenges for couples, but everything depends on a particular couple’s goals and expectations. Therefore, the main thing is to maintain effective communication with your partner.
Besides, if you have problems in your age-gap relationship or you want to straighten them even more, a great solution is to consider couples therapy.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has been working in healthcare since 2017. She mainly treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, grief, identity, relationship, and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience is focused on individual and group counseling.
Follow Kate here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-skurat-5348381b9/