Dating

The Best Age Gap Relationship Advice, According To Dating Experts

Plus the mistakes you should avoid.

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Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds. Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. Jay-Z and Beyoncé. George and Amal Clooney. Apart from being Hollywood icons, these A-list couples are known for partnering with people significantly outside of their age bracket. For these celebrities, age is really just a number. Although these famous relationships seem to be working, there is often stigma attached to big age differences, and people can be quick to stereotype. That said, if you’re dating someone much younger or older than you, age gap relationship advice from experts can help.

According to Dr. Sarah Hill, psychologist and professor of sexual psychology at Texas Christian University, age gap relationships may feel unique, but they’re actually just like any other pairing out there — with a few extra considerations. After studying age gap couples, Hill says there aren’t any special “rules” about dating someone with a significant age difference. “Like all good relationships, healthy age gap relationships are defined by emotional intimacy, commitment, safety, and trust, regardless of the age of the partners involved.”

That said, there are still stigmas to navigate in age gap relationships — like friends gossiping about your age difference or others joking about stereotypes. If you’re in an age gap relationship right now or you’re considering one, therapists are here to answer your burning questions. Here’s the best dating advice for age gap relationships, according to experts.

What Defines An Age Gap Relationship?

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Marriage therapist and relationship expert Celeste Labadie, LMFT, founder of Willing To Love Couples Counseling, defines an age gap relationship as a couple with an age difference of 10 years or beyond. Although age gap relationships have become more normalized, many stereotypes still exist in mainstream culture — like the “cougar” preying on young male partners or the attractive “gold digger” dating a handsome, wealthy older man for money.

Often, dating someone with a wide age gap can spark salacious questions, like, “How do you know you won’t outgrow each other? Isn’t it a little weird that you’re dating someone with barely any life experience?” People may even question your ethics and challenge your choice to date someone older or younger than you. But even with an age difference, you can still find common ground through shared hobbies, values, and beliefs. Yet it’s a dating topic that still sparks controversy and tons of outside opinions.

Case in point: Florence Pugh and Zach Braff. Although they’ve since broken up, their relationship was a lightning rod for criticism. When Florence soft-launched Zach to the world, she was met with a hailstorm of negative comments about their nearly 20-year age difference. Yet, she defended the relationship. She was in love and actively chose him as her partner. If she didn’t have a problem with it, why should the public?

Advice For Age Gap Relationships

Navigating an age gap relationship can be challenging, especially with people constantly sharing their opinions on your dating life. To tune out the noise and focus on your romantic connection, Hill and Labadie recommend a few things to keep in mind:

1. Admit Your Differences

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If you’re dating someone and there’s an age gap, you may have different ideas of what your relationship milestones are. For example, if your partner is super established with their career, but you love living with a bunch of roommates and bar hopping around Brooklyn until 4 a.m., it’s important to voice what you value. Hill adds that being in an age gap relationship can create more uncertainty about life plans since you two might be at different life stages.

Acknowledging your differences while celebrating common ground can create space for transparency. Actively make time to check in about your timeline throughout the course of the relationship. If you have differences, don’t be afraid to call them out. The more you have conversations about your future goals, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel in the long-term.

2. Accept That Friends & Family May Not Understand

Not having your relationship accepted can be hurtful, isolating, and discouraging. “[Make sure] you’re prepared for the possibility that not everyone will support your decision,” Hill says. If your loved ones don’t approve, there are things you can to do manage the situation.

Instead of pretending the age gap isn’t a factor, address it head-on by asking for support from your family and friends. For example, request for them to get to know your significant other before making funny jokes about their age. Sometimes, they may need “warming up” to the idea of your age gap relationship. To help, try highlighting the good qualities about them, or even mentioning common interests your partner and your family share — like their mutual love of board games or taste in live music.

If you sense that others feel uncomfortable about the age gap, ask them why. Many people judge age gap relationships because of overgeneralized stigmas, but that doesn’t mean your relationship should be stereotyped, too. Help your friends and family understand why you chose your partner. You don’t necessarily have to ask for their approval, but talking to them about your relationship can help them keep an open mind.

During this process, let your partner be your teammate. They most likely understand the awkwardness you’re dealing with, so help each other as you field uncomfortable questions from friends and deal with suspicions from family members.

3. Don’t Be Afraid To Address Stereotypes With Your Partner

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Generally, people have misconceptions about age gap relationships because of the implied power imbalance, potential fantasy fulfillment, or perceived mismatched maturity levels. With power, there’s the myth of a younger woman dating someone twice her age and thinking she has “daddy issues.” Sometimes people assume things about financial status, like if a woman dates an older guy, he’s a sugar daddy.

Maybe your situation parallels one of these examples more than you would like. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable about it, and you may even start to wonder if any of the stereotypes are true for your relationship. Instead of tip-toeing around the elephant in the room, bring up the topic directly with your partner to quell your anxiety. Here are a few questions you can ask to address any insecurities you may have:

  • Does my age play a factor in your attraction toward me?
  • Do you feel like our age gap impacts the relationship at all?
  • Do you feel comfortable hanging out with my friends?
  • Are you embarrassed or ashamed to date someone my age?
  • Are we prepared to deal with the stereotypes about why people believe we’re together?
  • How do you suggest we talk to our friends and family who judge the relationship?
  • Is this casual or can you see a long-term future together with me?

4. Focus On Your Self-Worth

If you’re unsure about moving forward with a romantic partner purely because of the age gap, pause. Don’t let other people’s criticisms and judgment be the only reason why you don’t pursue romance. At the end of the day, if you’ve met someone you’re really into, it’s worth taking the leap and seeing how the relationship plays out — as long as you determine it’s truly a healthy relationship dynamic.

In the meantime, protect yourself by approaching the romantic connection with care and ensuring the foundation of your relationship is built on trust. When you’re confident in your worth, other people’s opinions become less important.

Labadie, who is in an age gap marriage with her husband who is 18 years older, recommends focusing on your relationship’s strengths. “What’s important is knowing why the relationship works. No one else’s approval will help your relationship,” Labadie says. Lively and Reynolds could be concerned about other people’s opinions of them, or they could be making cookies and having movie nights (and probably trolling each other online). You deserve to enjoy your relationship, too.

Can Age Gap Relationships Last?

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Research isn’t entirely conclusive on the ideal age gap for a relationship or its connection to long-term relationship success. In fact, there appear to be mixed reviews.

A 2019 study by the Journal of Population Economics reported that couples with an age gap of one to three years had high levels of relationship satisfaction. The study noted that the more significant the age difference (six to 10 years), the more likely for dissatisfaction to increase. However, a 2016 study by the Galen Medicine Journal revealed that as long as the age gap between couples is less than 10 years — compared with more than 10 years — relationship satisfaction is actually higher.

These findings might suggest that similar-aged relationships are more likely to be successful, but nuance matters. In both studies, researchers point out that a couple’s success is not because they’re born around the same time as much as it is about similar values, maturity levels, future goals, and lifestyles.

Dating someone with an age gap may present a certain set of challenges, but Hill says it’s nothing that you can’t overcome with honesty and communication. “If everyone involved feels happy, loved, safe, and able to communicate well, there is no need to treat this relationship any differently than any other,” she says.

Remember, Do What’s Best For You

Even if you’re secure in your age gap relationship, people may still talk. During those moments, keep in mind that usually, their comments are less about your relationship and more about their internalized views on love and dating. To combat the noise, it’s crucial you know yourself and what you want so you can stay centered. Reflect on your personal values so that when people challenge your connection, you’ll feel grounded enough to overcome insecurities and any external pressure.

Age gap relationships can totally last, but it takes two to tango. Being a couple means communicating openly, being honest about what you’re looking for, and putting in consistent effort. No one can answer if you’re in the right relationship except for you. If you’re in an age gap relationship and you’re both actively committed to learning and growing together, why not see where things can go?

Ultimately, the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t deny yourself an experience to conform to social pressures. Take it from Labadie: “If it’s a good relationship, it will last. If two people feel connected, their hearts are open, they like each other, they grow together, they repair disagreements and value the relationship, it will last as long as they want it to.”

Experts:

Dr. Sarah E. Hill, research psychologist and research consultant with Cougar Life

Celeste Labadie, LMFT, relationship expert and founder of Willing To Love Couples Counseling