Do Relationships With Big Age Gaps Actually Work? We Asked the Experts

Updated 06/25/18
a couple walking together, with the man on a cellphone
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Experts often try to identify the ideal age gap between partners in relationships—some say couples with a one-year gap have a better chance of success, while others argue that a gap bigger than 10 years increases chances of divorce. Ruschelle Khanna, a licensed clinical social worker, and psychotherapist told MyDomaine that research shows that a one- to five-year age gap between partners is ideal. But, as we are told time and time again, love is blind. And while a May-December relationship may raise eyebrows, specialists believe that, while not always ideal, they can absolutely work.

"There are certain obvious criteria—raising children, growing older together, how different career and life transitions align—that can pose challenges," explains Matt Lundquist, LCSW, MSEd, of TriBeCa Therapy. "People can make all sorts of relationships work. There's a good deal of talk about having a lot in common as an asset in relationships, but differences can be just as sustaining with the right attitude and effort." So what are the challenges facing relationships with large age gaps, and what can couples facing these challenges do to reinforce their bond? The two experts give us the lowdown on May-December relationships.

Can Relationships With Large Age Gaps Work?

Experts believe that May-December relationships can actually work. "In some ways, relationships, where there are obvious differences, can benefit from the fact that they require thoughtfulness and attention early on," explains Lundquist. "Couples with these differences must learn how to navigate things earlier in the game than others." 

Despite age-gap challenges, Khanna also believes in the power of May-December relationships. "Age is one of the least likely factors to happiness in a relationship," she says. "Relationships are made happy when they are based on trust, commitment, and an understanding and respect of the other person's experiences. There is evidence that relationships with age gaps present are actually happier than the average."

a couple walking together
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What Challenges Do May-December Relationships Face?

While experts agree that relationships with large age gaps can work, that doesn't mean they aren't without challenges. "Perception of friends, family, and strangers is by far the biggest challenge," says Lundquist. Khanna also believes that May-December relationships can face challenges of social disapproval, which can put a strain on the relationship. "Blending families can be a challenge for couples with large age gaps," she notes. "Navigating the integration of siblings of vastly different ages can present many problems for which families may need to seek help."

Outside of the disapproval of others, experts also agree that the couple may face challenges related to life changes, such as career paths and chronic illness due to aging. These are all factors to be aware of when entering relationships with large age gaps.

What Can People Do to Strengthen Their Relationship?

"There are multiple things couples can do to strengthen the bond in their relationships, starting with being curious about one another. "Proactively seek out common interests," says Khanna. "Work on building memories and experiences together that support a relationship from growing apart." Lundquist agrees: "Learn to have discussions about all the things that need to be sorted," he says. "It's incredibly important. Ignoring awkward stares and critical comments is also a big one."

Social pressure can take its toll on a May-December relationship so overcoming that challenge should be at the forefront of priorities. Khanna recommends you "find support to overcome social pressures as well as to improve the integration of your families."

Bolster Your Relationship With These Thoughtful Reads

What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman
John Gottman What Makes Love Last? $40
Why Him? Why Her? by Helen Fisher
Helen Fisher Why Him? Why Her? $12
Real Love by Sharon Salzberg
Sharon Salzberg Real Love $14
I Hear You by Michael S. Sorensen
Michael S. Sorensen I Hear You $20

Next up: there are three types of attachment styles—here's how they rule your relationship.

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