A widely-circulated 2014 study from Emory University found that couples with large age gaps are significantly more likely to divorce. According to the research, which surveyed over 3,000 recently married and divorced Americans, as little as a five-year age gap increases the likelihood of divorce by 18%. That number jumps to 39% for a 10-year age gap and a whopping 95% increase for couples with a 20-year age difference.
2018 research from Oakland University attempted to find out exactly why relationships with larger age gaps are more prone to divorce. The researchers found that social stigma is often to blame, with folks assuming that the relationship is somehow exploitative (i.e., a sugar daddy situation).
That's not to say it's impossible to have a successful relationship with a large age gap, but there are challenges pertaining to social stigma (and more) that couples most overcome. We reached out to folks with at least a 10-year age gap who are still madly in love, to see how they make their relationship work.
Here's who you'll here from:
-Kevin (42), Kelly (29), together 6 years
-Kelly (29), Kevin (42), together 6 years
-Gia (21), partner (39), together 6 months
-Carl (40), partner (51), together 12 years
Stephanie (50), partner (68), together 29 years
-Steven (29), partner (49), together 5 years
What are some of the main challenges you face because of your age difference?
Kevin: The big problems mostly came from my family. Some of my siblings [believed] that I was too old. Especially my oldest sister because she has a daughter that is my girlfriend's age. We overcame that by just being ourselves. Now everyone sees how happy we are together. Even though we're far apart age-wise, mentally she's probably older than me.
Another thing that was a little tough was that her friends made fun of me for being old. But once they found out how cool I was, it didn't matter. I think they'll always make fun of me for being old though.
Kelly: We haven't had any challenges recently, but there were quite a few when we started dating. Kevin is the youngest of eight children—his two older siblings are actually the age of my parents. So when we first started dating some of his family was very skeptical and thought it was "wrong." His oldest sister, who has two children older than me, called and screamed at Kevin for dating someone "that young."
Gia: My main challenges are really dealing with the negative opinions and expectations that other people have, like when people think I'm a gold digger, or that we can't love each other due to the age gap.
Carl: One of the funnier challenges we have is which music to listen to in the car. My partner, being a child of the '70s, and me, being a child of the '80s, grew up with different sounds and experiences in those formative years. I think that the way we handle this situation translates into how to handle the much more significant challenges a couple with a decade of difference in their ages can face, more specifically our kids, parenting approaches, along with money and how to spend it.
Stephanie: Most of our challenges came from others not understanding our deep love for each other. Our relationship has never been uneven. I don't have daddy issues! I've always been mature for my age and sought men older than myself, seeking a more grown-up connection.
Steven: The most difficult challenge is spending time with friends. Most of my friends are my age and still like going to dance clubs and bars. My partner does not enjoy these activities, so he stays home and let’s me go out by myself. He complains we never want to do something he wants to do.
How did you overcome those challenges?
Kelly: Now that we've been together for so long, there aren't really obstacles any more. His family and siblings are all now totally fine with it, and we get along really well! I think meeting them and having them see that age-wise, Kevin and I are far apart... but maturity-wise, we aren't [far] at all [helped]. They also see what a good fit Kevin and I are together.
Gia: Well, the way I overcome these kinds of issues is through communication and patience. Talking out ways to handle these challenges and deal with them as a unit always works out better. And you really can't change peoples opinions overnight, so you give them time to understand and show the proof of a successful relationship to back it up.
Carl: You have to be willing to meet in the middle. It would be boring if we were both the same person. Our differences are our greatest asset. I’ve learned to appreciate his perspective and interests in music and other things in our relationship. He does the same with me.
Steven: A cliche answer is compromise, but it rings true. My friends will call me, wanting so go to the bars, and I will go by myself. Often, I will have to plan a dinner or a movie date with friends because that is what my partner enjoys.
What’s your advice to couples with a large age gap?
Kevin: My advice is that age is nothing if you have compatibility. We make fun of it. Embrace it!
Kelly: My biggest advice for couple with big age differences is to not listen to other people's opinions. If you really get along with and love someone, then age isn't a factor at all. I would also say to joke about it a lot. Kevin and I do that all the time and always will.
Gia: My advice would be to look at the unique advantages of having a partner with greater experience and knowledge. If you're younger your always learning, if your older your always teaching, and when it comes together, it creates something truly magnificent.
Carl: Compromise and understanding helps your relationship go the distance. If things are always his way or your way, frustration and resentment grow, leading to a weaker bond and a higher likelihood that your relationship will fail. With compromise and understanding, love and respect grows deeper making your relationship stronger and more mature in order to bend and withstand the harder challenges ahead in life.
Steven: My advice is keep each other’s interests in mind. Being a couple means sharing friends and with a large age gap, there are events or parties that the other won’t enjoy. We trust each other to do our own thing, but we try hard to make enough time to hang out with friends as a couple and try things that both parties enjoy.