Everything that can bring two people with a significant age difference together at first, can be what puts the relationship at risk later on.
Medical Advisor Dr. Beatriz Arango, family and couples therapist
Romanticism has taught us that with love, anything is possible, that age is not an obstacle, and that all problems can be overcome. While there is a lot of truth to this, there is also much to analyze and reflect on in order for love grow strong effectively and break down all barriers.
The statistical analysis of a study conducted by Emory University in Atlanta found that relationships with a 10-year age difference increased the chances of divorce by 39%; if this age difference was 20 years, chances of divorce grew to 95%. For the study, 3,000 people participated who at some point had a relationship with an older partner. According to the study’s conclusions, the perfect age difference for a couple is 12 months, as it found that only 3% of these couples separate.
But does it have to be this way? Changes in the modern world now allow for these types of couples to last longer. While the social taboo continues to exist, preventing many relationships from flourishing, new generations are holding greater disregard for these taboos. As Dr. Beatriz Arango explains, a family and couples therapist, the fact that more and more people have decided not to have kids has contributed to the likelihood of having older partners without the need to worry about reproducing. This phenomenon also reduces the chances of separations.
Despite all of this, the risk still exists. While scientifically speaking, there are no specific reasons behind why couples separate, there are certain situations at certain phases of a relationship that can pose a threat to separation. As our specialist explains, however, “All couples face their own unique issues and they each must treat them as so.”
Stages of love
As with all loving relationships, the first year and a half of the relationship is the ‘falling in love’ stage, “This stage is hormonal and primitive.” Love is part of our limbic system and is related to pleasure. It is normal for younger people to feel attracted to more adult people due to the wisdom they possess, for example. This comes from the desire to want to gain knowledge. The power they have, their confidence and their experience also makes them a protective and supportive figure for future life goals. In contrast, adults will feel younger. Spending time with a younger social group gives them energy, vitality and they also experience sexual renewal. In these situations we refer to couples who first feel completely connected, but due to their hormonal activity, they may not think of how their differences may pose a threat to their relationship in the future.
In the second phase of falling in love, the neural connections that lead to growing stronger feelings for each other and to the desire for commitment occur in the cerebral neocortex. This is the stage in which these differences that could affect them should be recognized and accepted, establishing a commitment to continue the relationship despite these differences.
The most common risks
Some authors maintain that relationships with marked age differences are conditioned by unconscious psychological needs, such as the famous Oedipus and Electra complexes, for example. In these cases, in which the main connection is that of a paternalistic figure, the couple’s future may face further complications.
Differences in sexual dynamics are also issues. The most common case is the decrease in libido in middle-aged men; and with women, an increased sex drive during menopause due to not having to worry about family planning.
On the other hand, emotionally, there may be obstacles with: adapting to the other person’s pace of life, not having expectations and short-term goals that coincide, how the couple relates to society and facing opposition from the family. It is also true that, “While taboos have decreased, it is still more accepted to see an older man with a young woman rather than the other way around.” In these types of couples, because of this social pressure, there can be more risks.
As time passes, it becomes common for more critical stages to arise. As the younger partner ages and the older partner becomes an older adult, it is normal for couples to separate. This is related to the famous mid-life crisis (age 40 in women and about 55 in men): “A stage in which many problems arise as each individual is looking to satisfy their own needs,” the therapist states. As the older person ages, their physical and emotional capacities are completely different from those of their young partner, which is when commitment should prevail.
The values each person brings to a relationship, how they were raised and shared experiences play a key role in strengthening a couple’s bond. Our specialist encourages couples to live life with curiosity, optimism and a daily commitment to each other. “The old tale that our grandmothers used to tell us, ‘water the bush daily,’ has been very helpful in couples therapy, precisely because it is a daily acknowledgement of the liberty we have to continue to love and remain committed.”
- 15 years or more is the age difference in which, clinically speaking, couples have more crises and misunderstandings.
- 3 years of dating before getting married helps reduce.
- The likelihood of getting a divorce by 30%.
Foundations for a solid relationship
- Communication is key. Speak with love and in an opportune and clear way about the different chronological processes that each partner will have.
- Be clear about the needs each person has and take on the responsibility of meeting these needs on your own.
- Adapt to the other’s needs without losing your own freedoms, preferences and interests.
- Start with a solid foundation for a healthy, loving relationship. This allows us to treat our partners with much more kindness and not give up in times of crisis.
- Make a daily commitment to keep the relationship up and continue loving and respecting the other.