The Age Gap: Tips For Making Your Marriage Work

Studies show that a greater age gap correlates with a higher divorce rate. However, you don't need to be part of those statistics. If one partner is significantly older than the other spouse, you can still have a great marriage, especially if you know what to watch for and how to keep the romance alive as you age. Here are a few things that will help you as you cultivate your life-long commitment.

1. Remember that you are equals.

This is a good tip for all married couples, but it is easier to follow for people who are relatively close together in years. A age gap of ten, fifteen, or twenty years could easily have you sliding in a "parent-child" dynamic, instead of a "partner-partner" dynamic. To avoid this, try:

  • making decisions together. The older partner should not always be the one to handle finances or large family decisions. It can even be tempting for the younger spouse to "give up" their own autonomy, deferring to the wisdom of age.
  • not to set rules for each other. While couples should sit down together and put limits on budgets and planning, one spouse should never dictate what the other should or should not do. This is similar to setting rules for a child, and, as adults, both people in the relationship should be able to set their own limits and communicate them clearly.
  • to actively respect what each person brings to the marriage. One partner is not less of contributor because he or she is younger, poorer, or less educated. Couples should never compare their own successes to that of their partner, as this runs the risk of one partner seeing the other as a subordinate. 
  • make friends with people of all ages. If the older partner, for instance, is always the oldest person in the couple's circle of friends, he or see may see immaturity or feel the need to take on a parental role. Friends that bridge the gap or friends from both ages will help you to continue to see each other as social equals. 

2. Respect desires and goals.

Another challenge that faces these kinds of couple is differing goals and desires. For example, if your partner is 12 years younger than you are, he or she may not feel the need to have children right away. You, however, might have differing feelings because you would like to be a parent before you get too much older. In this sort of scenario, you and your spouse would need to sit down and work out a compromise, such as waiting for a set period of time, or exploring alternatives like adoption. Other similar types of decisions include:

  • continuing education. Your or your spouse may want to keep going to school or go back to school. Because of the age difference, you might not see the importance or drive for this achievement, but you should respect that the desire is real for your partner.
  • traveling. Someone who has lived longer may feel like taking a vacation, or someone who is younger may feel like exploring or seeing the world. If one person has the travel bug, it should not be dismissed because of age, but the couple should work toward making those dreams a reality.

3. Try not to use age as an excuse.

It can be easy during disagreements to throw out phrases like "Well, you're older, so you should know better," or "You're too young to understand." These can undermine the integrity of your relationship and puts the receiving spouse in a difficult position. The age gap is not something they can fix, so if you blame problems on age, instead of differences in thought or communication, you may both end up feeling like the problems in the marriage can't be resolved. Instead, focus on where the problem really lies, such as talking more effectively together or making expectations more clear.  For more ideas on how to be a better couple, consider marriage counseling.