France just elected a president whose partner is 24 years his senior. Donald Trump is 23 years older than Melania. We’re seeing more high-profile May-December relationships, so let’s talk about them. Much of the cultural disdain toward large age gaps between partners is fuelled by fear — the fear that relationships may be transactionally driven by money, sex, power, and lust. But age is but one factor that determines marital satisfaction and longevity — and money, power, sex, and lust are relevant in all relationship regardless of age.
Jess delved into the data on inter-generational relationships and shared her advice with Global TV’s The Morning Show earlier today. Here is a summary of the conversation:
How common are these relationships?
- They’re less common than close-in-age relationships; most people seek partners who are of similar attractiveness, socioeconomic status, and age. The average age gap in marriage in Canada at first marriage according to Stats Can is 1.4 years. And the age differential is declining: Of the 1.7 million senior couples in 2011, 49 percent of couples are within three years of age from one another compared to 41 percent in 1981.
Are May-December relationships stable?
- For younger people (heterosexual adolescents), large age gaps between partners are associated with negative relationship outcomes including having unprotected sex, drug use, truancy and sexual, emotional and physical abuse. These associations exist regardless of whether the male or female partner is older/younger.
- For adults dating older/younger partners, the outcome isn’t as predictable. Though evidence does suggest that a larger age gap is positively correlated with a shorter marriage, age is one of many factors (e.g. income, kids, education, parental marital status) that affect relationship outcome.
- A five-year age gap statistically means you’re 18 percent more likely to divorce (versus just 3 percent with a 1-year age difference), and that rate rises to 39 percent for a 10-year age difference and 95 percent for a 20-year age gap.
What problems arise?
- Lifestyle shifts with age: sleep, energy levels, hormonal shifts and work responsibilities all play a role. Kids, of course, can be the primary bone of contention. If you’re 28 and you’re dating a 50-year-old, your expectations with regard to childbearing and parenting may differ significantly.
- As with any relationship, when you first fall in love and your brain is undergoing all of those deeply pleasurable drug-like changes, it’s easy to lose sight of the practical elements of the relationship and focus only on the positive. (This, of course, applies to all relationships regardless of age gaps.) You may not be willing to acknowledge the ways in which age discrepancies can be a source of conflict when you’re madly (newly) in love.
What are the potential benefits?
- You likely have a larger social support network, as it’s unlikely you share many friends in common.
- You can benefit from the vigor of (relative) youth as well as the knowledge of (relative) experience.
- You have the advantage of both experience and innovation.
- You likely bring different experiences to the table and can draw from both sides.
How do you make it work?
- Like all relationships, you need to have separate lives as well as a unified life. When you allow your partner to grow and explore on their own regardless of age, you’re more likely to have a happy
relationship. Fewer problems will arise if you acknowledge that you can’t fulfill every one of your partner’s needs — you cannot be their everything.
How do you address questions from friends, family, strangers?
- You don’t. It’s none of their business. You don’t ask them about how they manage their differences. You don’t ask, “how do you deal with the fact that Sarah earns so much more money than you?” or “How do you handle your husband being so fit when you’re out of shape?” You don’t demand that they justify why their spouse goes out for drinks with friends more often. You don’t interfere with the fact that they have different approaches to parenting. If they try to interfere (and won’t listen to reason), perhaps you should offer them a taste of their own medicine.