by Couples Counsellor Annie Gurton, from Sydney’s Northern Beaches

They say that when you really love someone, age, distance, height and weight are really just numbers.

But when it comes to relationships, having a big age gap is creating a problem that need not be there, and can, sooner or later, cause trouble. This is because age is the marker by which we usually experience common milestones in life. Its these milestones that give us the ability to relate to one another and when that commonality is not there, the relationship can struggle without a firm base.

We all experience a first kiss, first job, first partner, first sex, college, marriage, home, career, children, divorce, death of parents, etc. If you’re at the end of this list, how can you have anything in common with someone near the beginning?

Age-differenceimage via pinterest

Its not just milestones –

There are also the cultural markers that identify us, such as the music we listened to when we were teens, the major global and social events that we remember. How can you feel comfortable remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot when your partner was not even a gleam in his or her father’s eye at the time?

Despite the average age difference between married couples is 3.5 years, people do overcome big age differences and go on to have very happy, contented relationships. How do they do that? What stops them looking at their far older or younger partner and thinking, ‘You’re just too old/young for me?’

With older partners its reasonably obvious that there is a physical element in having a younger person to look at. The cruel truth is that time is not physically kind to most of us, and skin sags, becomes lined, and our faces and bodies change shape. In long term relationships with two people of similar age there is often an acceptance, and they are able to see these changes in each other as part of an inevitable process balanced by a growing depth of relationship.

But at a physical level it is often harder to see what the younger person sees in someone significantly older (greater than 15 years). When asked, they usually reply that they can see the beauty below the skin, and that the older partner brings a depth and wisdom, and sometimes financial security, to the relationship that they couldn’t get with someone of a similar age. Often the younger partner has a history of dysfunctional relationships with their parents, and this adult intimate relationship is an attempt to heal those childhood wounds such as abandonment or neglect.

The balance being struck in relationships with a large age gap is that between attraction and boredom. A younger person is likely to find an older partner interesting but unattractive, and an older person risks finding their younger partner attractive but dull and shallow. These are the barriers which need to be overcome, and which, in successful age different couples have been successfully negotiated.

Often the key is to have a strong common interest which overcomes any age gap. The younger person feels pride in being with someone respected for being an expert, and the older partner may feel that they are the respected guru, passing on secrets and knowledge in a Professor Higgins kind of a way.

(Professor Higgins was the expert in Pygmalion, a book by George Bernard Shaw which was translated into a musical called My Fair Lady. The student was a girl called Eliza.)

Age itself isn’t a factor in compatibility —

It’s elements like maturity and life experience, which tend to correlate with age, that can make or break a relationship’s long-term potential. But so can future goals, background, culture, family, career, personality, and sexual chemistry – these things are often not age-correlated at all.

Another big factor in the success of a relationship which has a big age gap is how the couple is supported by their family and friends. If their families are loving and helpful, and uncritical, they stand far more chance of success than an age-separated couple who are constantly having to justify themselves, defend their relationship and decisions and persuade those around them that this is a relationship that is genuine and has the potential to succeed. How to persuade family and friends to treat your age-diverse partner as they would an age-similar one? Through a balance of maturity and youthfulness. Encourage them to see the benefits – which are significant. The older partner is encouraged to think and behave young, and the younger partner finds that they mature faster without losing their young-at-heart outlook.

The key to maintaining an age-diverse relationship is by developing and maintaining the connection between you. When you are strong as a couple you create a kind of ‘couple bubble’ which protects you against the critics as well as the difficulties of being much older or younger than each other. Here are some tips, which can apply whatever your ages but are particularly helpful when there is a big age gap:

TIP # 1:

Do some love-building exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy, such as embracing each other gently, begin to sense your partners breathing and synchronise your breathing with theirs. After a few minutes you may feel that the two of you have merged, and any differences have fallen away.

TIP # 2:

Remember to play: Perhaps do a mirroring exercise where you mimic each others physical movements. You will feel that you are moving independently but your movements are also linked to those of your partner.

TIP # 3:

Become aware of your Love Aura: Place the palm of your hands as close as possible to your partners palm without actually touching. After a few minutes you will not only feel the heat but also eeirie sparks.

TIP # 4:

Stand or lie inside each other’s personal space: Start a little way away and slowly get closer and closer until you are almost touching, and tell each other which part of the other you can ‘feel’. This exercise often ends in kissing.

TIP # 5:

Separately make a list of all the things you would like to do together, then create a master list. Select one activity from the master list each week and give it a try.