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Why Age Matters in Relationships

Updated on August 16, 2012
Age can make the difference between smooth sailing or rough waters in overcoming relationship issues.
Age can make the difference between smooth sailing or rough waters in overcoming relationship issues.

Historic Figures and Celebrities With Age Differences

There have been some famous relationships where the age difference was significant. The Presbyterian reformer John Knox, when he was 50 married a young woman of 17. The prophet Mohammed was 54 years old when he married Aisa, a girl of 9, which makes for a 45 years age difference. President Grover Cleveland married a woman 28 years his younger. Princess Diana and Prince Charles had a 13 year age difference, which some say was problematic for them.

In modern society, there are many celebrity couples with large age differences. These couples often portray their relationship as happy and working. Many of them have significant age differences. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a 25 year age difference. Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford have a 22 year age difference. Clint Eastwood and Dina Ruiz have a 36-year age difference.

Age and Other Factors

When you start a relationship, it is likely that you want the relationship to work. You want to be able to connect with, share and enjoy life with another person. In making the relationship work, compatibility is one of the items you need to consider. With most relationships, the more compatible the two of you are, the greater the likelihood that the relationship will be enjoyed by both of you.

There are many ways you can be compatible with someone else. There may be shared values, common interests, lifestyle or age. In the modern Western world, most people feel most comfortable with people close to their own age. Similarities in age provide a common frame of reference that you can share. Researchers have found that people often feel more compatible with those within plus or minus six years. Those within that age range have many experiences in common. They grew up with close to the same music, cultural changes and events. When the age difference is 6-12 years, there are still many commonalities, yet some differences are apparent. When the age difference is 15 years or greater, there are more differences than commonalities. Those age differences can be overcome, although you will find it requires more effort.

The issues with age differences seem to be more of a modern issue. In previous generations, even in Western nations, it was common to see relationships between people that had a large age difference. When the both of you were facing the challenges of frontier life, colonization, persecution or some other hardship age was not the major concern in your life. Having someone who was willing to face those hardships with you was a higher priority than age for many couples and societies in general. Although kings, queens, laborers and frontiersmen of previous generations overcame age differences, many cultures have changed since those times.

The findings of modern generational researchers have allowed them to lump together the various groupings of people. They have found many commonalities among the generations (e.g those within + or – six years of each other). These generational groupings often have colorful labels. These include the greatest generation (aka Veteran generation), baby boomers, the baby busters (aka Generation X), Generation Y, and the millenniums (aka Generation Z). Each generation has its own distinct outlook, tastes, values and goals. These differences show that the shared cultural experience is more than just similar music and television shows that they were exposed to. Having similar experience provides you with more items that the two of you can discuss and share.

The age difference issue is not just about having common experiences. When you and your spouse are in the same age range, you share many common age-related health issues. Since both of you are close in age, you will find that both of you go through those changes at similar times. When couples have a large age difference, the age-related health concerns has been known to be a deal breaker. Another issue that some couples with large age differences have is that of differing levels of sex drives. This could be an issue for you at times. Couples that overcome age differences have learned how to navigate through those differences.

When you and your spouse are the same age, you also share a similar view of the future. When there is a large age difference, the two of you may have vastly different views of the future and what happens when the older dies way ahead of the younger. With large age differences, there is often a difference in your views of mortality and how it is to be handles.

Another issue that you will have to confront with a large age difference is that of what others say. These relationships are often termed "May to December Relationships". Family members and people in your local community may express disapproval or suspicion related to large differences. Some cultures have strong feelings related to large age differences. When such a difference exists, there is often a questioning of motives behind the relationship. They may question the older and the younger spouse about their reason for the relationship. You may dismiss the question as “It’s none of their business” which works for a while. Although such dismissive statements reduce the pain, the questions often continue to linger and its gets old having to deal with them.

When you are similar in age to your spouse, you may not have to deal with the whole issue of maturity. When there is a major difference in your ages, maturity does become an issue. Your emotional maturity and the maturity of your spouse may be scrutinized closer than it would if you were similar in age to your spouse. Along with maturity will also be the emotional age issue as well. There may be times that the disparity in emotional age turns into an area of conflict.

With a large age difference, there may be conflicts over friends and peer groups. When the both of you are similar in age, you will gravitate toward those similar in age to yourself. With large age differences, there may be differences in which friends the two of you spend your time with. Although you may not see it as a concern, your friends may. Having similarity in age with your friends opens opportunities for shared experiences with them. When have similar mobility and risk taking, you can share the experiences. With a large age difference, there are often distinct differences in activities you feel comfortable engaging in.

Relationships with a large age difference can work. Making them work often requires more maturity, patience and effort. If you are person that want their relationships to go smoothly without having to overcome frequent obstacles, you may want to consider staying with someone who is similar in age to yourself. You will often have more in common with them.

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