While most people tend to be with people similar to their age, there are people who find themselves attracted to someone significantly older or younger than them. There is somewhat of a stigma around an age-gap relationship. If someone who is 35 is in a relationship with someone who is 25, you might hear questions like, “What’s up with [the 35 year old] that they couldn’t get someone their own age?” People might make the assumption that they had to stoop below their age range to find someone to date. If a woman in her 30s is with a man in his 50s, people might wonder, “What’s in it for her? Is he rich or something?” When it comes to age-gap relationships, the outside observer often assumes there has to be a reason the two are together. Often times, the reason is either shallow or negative, potentially assuming the worst. These assumptions create a stigma around these types of relationships, leaving couples feeling judged and unsupported.
For a couple engaged in an age-gap relationship, it is important to understand there will be unique challenges you will face. It can be helpful to be prepared for these challenges and know how you want to handle them as a couple. The follow actions can help you navigate challenges in an age-gap relationship:
Maintain open communication. It is an important factor in any relationship, but especially important for couples who might face unique challenges because their relationship is seen as outside the “norm.” If you felt judged by someone, it can be helpful to process through the emotions it brings up for the both of you. If you are feeling insecure or fearful, it is important to share those with your partner to receive validation and empathy. Without communication, it can feel like you are dealing with issues on an island by yourself. In reality, your partner will be able to empathize with you in a valuable way.
Find a support system. There might be people who do not support your relationship whether it is complete strangers or close family and friends. Surround yourself with a support system that backs your relationship and will encourage you both. Without adequate support, this can also leave you feeling like you are on an island, dealing with problems and concerns alone. Finding people who want your relationship to thrive is important and can provide the confidence to continue the relationship.
Try to shake off judgement. If you are outside the norm in any way, there is the possibility of people judging you because you are different. While it is not fair and it is certainly unkind, it does happen, unfortunately. It is impossible to be prepared completely for everything that someone could say. However, you can prepare for how you will choose to respond to someone’s judgement. There will be a time to be bothered and upset by what someone says or how they treat you. However, it is important not to allow what others think and say to shove its way into your relationship. Try to work through those feelings of hurt and anger so that you may be fully present and confident in your relationship.
Remind each other why you have chosen each other. When facing the judgement of someone else, sometimes doubt can begin to creep in, leaving yourself questioning why you chose to be in this relationship. In the face of judgement, it can be encouraging to remind each other what you love about the other person and why you have chosen to be in a relationship with them. Those reminders can create a strong, immovable foundation that will not crack under someone else’s judgement.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She also has a special interest in working with athletes and has been bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is in the process of becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant to further her expertise in sports psychology. Prior to her move to Abilene, Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.