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When you are much older or younger than your partner


Here’s what Sean Barry knew all along about Sarah: She owned a house. She ran a busy cafe. She was assertive; on their first date, she asked a stranger at a bar to move over so the two could find seats next to each other.

He was therefore surprised to learn that Sarah was only 23 years old. She felt the same shock when Sean revealed his age: 47. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty old,'” she recalls.

But the age gap did not deter them. Six years later, they marry, live in the Philadelphia home they rehabilitated together, and raise two children: a 10-month-old daughter and Sean’s 16-year-old son from a previous marriage.

“Most of my life, I tended to be interested in people older than me,” Sarah says. “Age is just a number. People say we were at such different stages of life. I never felt that way.”

Sean likes to joke that the two “meet in the middle”, where Sarah’s ambition, drive and planning match her temperament to live in the moment.

She taught him how to text; he trained her in classic rock. When they travel, Sarah relies on Google Maps to get from here to there. Sean showed her the pleasures of wandering in an unfamiliar city.

And when they started talking about having a baby, Sean said he was in for it. “I consider this relationship as a questioning, a new beginning, a clean slate completely. I want to be here as long as possible, as energetic as possible.

Take turns with the landmarks of life

It’s easy to name common challenges in a relationship where there’s an age gap of 10 years or more.

Older and younger partners do not share the same cultural landmarks: cinema, music, historical events. There can be an uncomfortable power dynamic, with the older partner assuming more authority over finances, child-rearing, and day-to-day decisions.

“One of the challenges of an age gap relationship is that you go through life stages at different times,” says Sara J. Corse, PhD, therapist at the Council for Relationships of Philadelphia. It refers to things like career development, midlife, retirement, and health crises that become more common as you get older.

But that challenge can also be an advantage, Corse says. For example, the couple may have more flexibility for one person to change jobs while the other is more stable. And when partners go through periods of intensity, such as caring for elderly parents, at different times, “it creates a certain space,” Corse says.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2017 Current Population Survey, 6.6% of married couples involved a husband who was at least 10 years older than his wife. The opposite – an older woman over 10 years old – accounted for only 1.8% of married couples.

Janet Morrison, PhD, RN, a New Hampshire-based sex and relationship coach, wrote her thesis on this small subset of age-gap relationships. Although the usual challenges of a large age difference remain – the older partner is ready to retire and travel when the younger is working full throttle – Morrison’s research found greater equity in older woman/younger man relationships.

There are no statistics on age gaps in same-sex or same-sex relationships. But Corse says the same challenges throughout life occur, especially if the partners dated in very different cultural times.

“With the [increasing] acceptance and visibility of queer and non-binary people, it can be difficult to understand the world in which your partner has matured in their sexual identity and orientation,” says Corse.

Key question: what can we create together?

In age gap relationships, as in any partnership, communication is key. Corsica helps struggling couples take note of their own developmental milestones — Are they considering parenthood? Raising teenagers? Thinking about retirement? — and their partner’s relationship to these life markers.

She explains the differences between the partners through the image of a Venn diagram: “Here’s what you find funny; here’s what I think is funny; here’s what we both think is funny. And she encourages couples to notice where their interests and values ​​overlap.

“So that translates to: what kind of world are you creating together versus the time you spend in separate circles?” asks Corsica.

Sean and Sarah say they each gleaned the perspective of each other and each partner’s peers. From Sarah’s pals, in his late 20s and 30s, Sean learned about class disparities, systemic racism and other issues that weren’t part of his upbringing in a largely white northern suburb. New York State.

And Sarah came to appreciate the simpler rhythms of Sean’s younger years, a time before texting and the internet, when friends gathered in backyards and entertained themselves with music and conversation.

Because there remains a social stigma against relationships with wide age gaps – especially if the woman is the older partner in a heterosexual couple – those who choose and maintain such relationships have the advantage of engage, says Morrison. “You find someone you really care about, love and want to be with, and despite what society thinks, the risk is worth it.”

Sarah agrees. “The biggest advantage is that you are with the person you want to be with; you are with the person you love.


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