Age Gaps In A Relationship: Here's How To Manage Them

Celebrity couples with the biggest age differences have long garnered the attention of fans and critics. Take for instance Leonardo DiCaprio and the near-constant Internet buzz concerning his dating habits — specifically, the ages of his past girlfriends. In fact, a Reddit user went so far as to create a graph that demonstrates how the actor appears not to date women over the age of 25, per Insider. However, Hollywood isn't just older men dating younger women anymore. Harry Styles has been known to date older women, including Caroline Flacker, who was 14 years older, and Olivia Wilde, who had 10 years on him (via GQ).

But most of us aren't celebrities. Are age gaps outside of Hollywood all that different? Many have wondered what the ideal age gap is between partners, with some even speculating whether couples with age gaps are actually healthier. If age is just a number and love is simply love, should the age difference between partners matter? Experts have guidance about navigating your relationship when you and your partner don't share age in common but seem to be a match when it comes to everything else.

Age gaps are a big deal in some cultures — but not in others

The culture we live in has a huge effect on whether or not we are open to dating someone 10, 15, or even 20 years older or younger than us. According to research from the Pew Research Center, women tend to be younger than their male partners across the globe. In the U.S., women are typically around two years younger than their male partners. Of course, our culture impacts whether or not we see dating outside of our age pool as normal or not.

"In many cultures, it is not considered acceptable to fall in love with someone who is much older or younger than you," Elena Touroni, co-founder of London's Chelsea Psychology Clinic and consultant psychologist told BBC. "From an evolutionary perspective, the drive to have a family can have an impact on who we choose to have a relationship with — both from a biological perspective but also in the sense of both parents being alive to raise the child." When you're dating someone significantly older or younger than you in a culture where that is not the norm, you'll have more to consider for keeping your relationship healthy and at its best.

Consider shared life experiences

When you find yourself attracted to someone who is quite a few years younger or older than you, ask yourself: What life experiences do we share in common? Certain ages come with big milestones, and the more milestones that each of you has passed, the less noticeable your age difference will be.

That is certainly the case when it comes to someone who is around their 20s compared to later in adulthood. When you're just graduating college and getting your first apartment, you probably won't have a lot in common with someone who is 15 to 20 years your senior. But when we age, that difference becomes mooter. "Now keep in mind, there is a very big difference between a 20-year age gap between a 20-year-old and a 40-year-old versus a 50-year-old and a 70-year-old," therapist Jenn Mann told InStyle. "As we get older and have more life experience, the gap does seem to close a bit."

If you are considering a relationship with someone older than you, think about what life milestones you both have hit. "The more a couple has in common, the greater the likelihood they'll last," said relationship expert Rachel Sussman, LSCW, according to Insider. "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."

Don't let small differences get in the way

Every relationship is going to have differences and disagreements. The biggest difference in your relationship may be age, but that often leads to differences in how you and your partner view the world and make decisions. Someone younger might have fewer concerns when it comes to money and saving for retirement while their older counterpart hates frivolous spending. An older partner may be content to stay in on a Friday night, chowing down on pizza and wine with a movie streaming; all the while, their younger partner is itching to go out on the town. Couples in relationships with age gaps agree that sometimes you have to acknowledge your disagreements without throwing in the towel completely.

"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," a partner in an age-gap relationship explained to Insider. Still, if you disagree about foundational parts of your relationship, it might not survive. Communicating your expectations is a must for age gap couples, per Brides. "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," the Insider interviewee said. "And really, that's just how any relationship becomes successful, in my opinion."

Keep the future in mind

While we all want to be as present as possible in our romantic relationships, couples with larger age gaps might need to keep tabs on their futures more so than others. According to Newsweek, experts say that one of the big mishaps for age-gap couples is the lack of thinking ahead. "If you have a 35-year-old woman who is dating a 65-year-old man who is actually very youthful, very active, and maybe he's also successful, and it all just seems great, he seems he doesn't have any major physical differences, and you might totally overlook it," psychologist Chloe Carmichael. "But when you think about it, what about when you're 60 and he's 80 . . . you're going to have that similar level of just feeling active and sporty and everything else, but then you're going to be doing that with an 80-year-old man."

It can seem vain at first glance, but the question is important. When thinking about your future, consider what it is you really want. "Differing energy levels, both up and down, decisions about whether to have children or not, and blending families can all create tension," counselor TJ Walsh suggested to PsyCom. Make sure to have these conversations with your partner, letting them know what your expectations are when it comes to the years ahead.

Set boundaries with judgmental loved ones

A great way to ensure that your age gap relationship is healthy is to consider your level of dependence — whether it be financial, emotional, or professional (per VeryWellMind). The concerns your loved ones have for you may be well-intended and perhaps even accurate. "Patriarchy leaves women susceptible to minimizing their needs, their opinions, and their dreams in general within their romantic relationships," Mialauni Griggs, a relationship therapist, told the site. But if their worries, comments, or criticism simply don't apply to you, it is okay to draw some healthy boundaries.

No one knows your relationship better than you and your partner. When lovers communicate well, don't have a power imbalance, and are on the same page regarding what their futures have in store, age gaps in relationships can be beautiful and healthy. Nonetheless, some friends and family members may take issue with your choice of partner. That's why healthy boundaries can be so important in preserving your relationships — not just with your partner, but with judgmental loved ones, too. "When people question or judge a relationship they are not a part of, they are overstepping the couple's boundaries," mental health counselor GinaMarie Guarino told PsychCentral.

Age gap relationships may not be the norm, but navigating them does not have to be as intimidating as it seems. Being honest and open to yourself, your partner, and those around you can ensure that your love is one for the ages.