LIFE

Can A Big Age Difference Affect Your Relationship?

It depends whether you're looking for a partner or a parent.

09/10/2017 8:17 PM AEDT | Updated 09/10/2017 8:17 PM AEDT
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There is a 21 year age difference between Jennifer Lawrence and partner Darren Aronofsky.

You just need to look to Hollywood to see that when it comes to relationships, age really is just a number.

For example, there's 21 years difference between Jennifer Lawrence and her partner Darren Aronofsky, 12 years between Beyoncé and Jay Z, and 11 years between everyone's favourite married couple, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds.

But then again that's Hollywood. In the real, non-celebrity world, to date someone more than a decade senior (or junior) than you would no doubt raise eyebrows.

Does it matter what everyone else thinks? Of course not. But there's still an argument to suggest dating someone in a different stage of their life can throw up challenges that wouldn't be faced if you were closer in age.

But how important is it?

"I think it depends on the level of maturity within the couple and if they are able to negotiate things that can crop up in a relationship of this kind," relationship expert Melissa Ferrari told HuffPost Australia.

"One may have more money than the other. So for somebody who likes that in their partner, it can be a really big advantage, but if you are somebody who likes to have things more equal that can be an issue.

"Thinking about things like children, that can be a real big deal breaker. If you have somebody who has already established their family -- for instance an older guy might meet a younger woman who wants to have children but he doesn't -- that can be a real deal breaker in my experience."

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There is a 17 year age difference between Olivier Sarkozy and Mary-Kate Olsen, who wed in 2015.

Ferrari also stated a large age gap can, in some cases, cause insecurity in a relationship which can be a difficult challenge to overcome.

"An important thing to look at is -- while the compatibility and affection might be really good -- if one of you is feeling threatened the other person will run off with somebody else," she said. "To have a threat like that hanging over a relationship... That's why maturity is so important.

"Real maturity isn't about being able to negotiate every day problems and who pays the bills... it's about how you negotiate your own unconscious insecurities. We all have them.

"I mean, all couples have insecurities, regardless of age, but a large age gap can bring different insecurities to the surface that the couple will need to be able to negotiate."

James Devaney via Getty Images
There are 11 years between Ryan Reynolds and wife Blake Lively.

There are other challenges to consider too, especially if the age gap is a particularly large one.

"There can be a difference of energy levels. So perhaps a younger person still likes to go out partying whereas the older person likes to have quiet dinners at home. That can bring up problems," Ferrari said.

"Libido can be a problem. Look, sexual dysfunction can happen at any age so I don't like to generalise, but particularly with older men, there can be issues about the bedroom. People should be aware that if you are going to go for someone older, the libido can drop after 60 or 70 years of age."

I do think that if you are someone that really has a pattern of continually choosing someone much older it's probably important to take a look at that and understand what it's about.

There may also be judgment from family or friends, or a general disbelief that a relationship with such a large age gap could work.

'You have to be aware that those kinds of issues are going to come up and people are going to think things like that," Ferrari said. "It comes back to whether that's a hook for you in terms of insecurity.

"If you do have doubts about the relationship, it could be a hook for you to go into some insecurity around that. Or you could say to someone who says that, 'I know my partner really loves me and we have discussed it's not about money'. You have to take care of the relationship.

"When you go into a relationship it's important to be able to manage as a couple assumptions and accusations and thoughts that come from the outside and to be able to protect each other in that."

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Ellen Degeneres is 15 years older than her wife Portia De Rossi.

In terms of whether or not any of these issues have any long-term impact on a relationship, Ferrari says it really comes down to how the couple chooses to address them.

"It's about the ability of the couple to be able to negotiate those issues, and how you go about soothing each other about them," she said.

"It's so important to address them in the first place, to say 'hey sweetheart, I know you have issues about me leaving you for a younger person, but I would never do that because I love you', rather than pretending it's not happening or saying 'that comes from your childhood and that's your problem'."

While it's perfectly possible for a couple with a large age difference to enjoy a long and happy relationship, Ferrari did say that those who constantly sought out much older partners should think about why that is.

"I do think that if you are someone that really has a pattern of continually choosing someone much older it's probably important to take a look at that and understand what it's about," she said. "Because you could be projecting some unfinished parental issues of your own.

"You may be seeking a parent as a partner and in the long term, the dynamic of a parent/child experience in a relationship often doesn't work. Relationships tend to function much better when it's adult to adult and not a parent to child dynamic."

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