What age difference is too much

Relationship Age Gap: How Big Is too Big?

I once thought I'd fallen in love with an adorable lawyer who started chatting with me while we waited at a crosswalk in Manhattan. I felt an immediate spark, and after we exchanged numbers, we planned our first date without ever bringing up our ages. A week later, somewhere between one and four glasses of wine, he told me I looked “quite young” and asked how old I was.

“I’m 25,” I said, trying to seem proud of the number even though I’d just celebrated this birthday with a bit of dread about growing up. He nodded in surprise and didn’t offer his age until I asked for it. “You’ll never guess,” he said, which is when I tried to examine his face for wrinkles and his hair for salt-and-pepper grays—there weren’t any.

“I’m 38,” he said. Thirty-eight. I wouldn’t have guessed, I told him. Then he excused himself to the go to the bathroom while I sat wondering what our relationship age gap meant: Would he want to move faster in a relationship? Would he be thinking about children already? Would he be appalled by my tiny studio apartment, which I could barely afford?

“So I know what you’re thinking,” he said, upon returning. “Why isn’t this guy married with kids?” He launched into an explanation about not finding the right woman yet and managed to quell all of my concerns—at least for the time being. I continued to find myself smitten, gushing to my mom about him, telling her that 13 years wasn’t that big of an age difference because we got along so well and it just didn’t matter.

We continued to date until, eventually, our lifestyles proved drastically different. His career and financial situations were a far cry from mine, and the idea of things getting serious felt rushed and scary to me. He was closer to 40 than I was to 30, and I felt like he’d inevitably want marriage and children much sooner than I would. So I let our connection slip away, allowing my concern over our age difference to overshadow our passion.

It was ultimately the right call, I felt, and experts seem to agree. The truth is that age is not just a number, says Seth Meyers, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve. A relationship age gap bigger than 10 years often comes with its own set of issues. “While there are always exceptions to rules, a good rule to remember is that dating someone more than 10 years older will present challenges now or later that add to the preexisting challenges any relationship has,” he says.

Couples with a big age difference need to think things through or risk finding themselves at conflicting stages in their relationship. “You can see varied cultural references, disapproval from family and friends, and perhaps community disapproval, as well,” says Rachel Sussman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York. “It might be hard to relate to each other’s peer groups too.”

Since dating the lawyer, I’ve capped my ideal man at about five to seven years older than me, especially on dating apps, where you can filter out those in a specific age group. But at the same time, I still keep an open mind—a big age gap doesn't have to be a nonstarter. “The unhealthy individual either has a type that is too specific and narrow—'I want someone between 30 and 35 who loves the outdoors, is really close to his parents and siblings'—or, conversely, too broad and vague—'I just want someone nice,'” Meyers says.

Instead, be realistic about what you want in someone, not what you want from their age. Think of 10 years as a general guideline, but be open to other ages as well—and don’t limit yourself to dating only someone older. "'Cast a wide net' is what I tell all my clients,” Sussman says. “Men should date older, and women should be OK experimenting with dating younger. And we should all be more open-minded.”

How Much Is ‘Too Much’?

Mindpath Health’s Brandy Porche, LPC discusses age difference in relationships and how much may be too much.

In any relationship, you’ll have some qualities in common with your partner, while others — not so much.

Some couples might find that a big age difference impacts their relationship significantly over time. Others may feel that what makes them compatible is more important than a gap in years.

“Most of the couples I know say that they feel like they’re the same age,” says Dr. Loren Olson, a psychiatrist in Des Moines, Iowa. “We have a chronological age, a psychological age, a physical age, and a sexual age. Age gap couples frequently are compatible in the last three.”

Even if you’re satisfied with your relationship, it’s possible to encounter some challenges with a large age difference. Confronting and problem-solving these challenges — which often have to do with outside judgment — could lead to even greater happiness in your partnership.

Age and consent

This article discusses age differences in romantic relationships where both partners are above the legal age of consent in their state.

If you’re below the age of consent and an adult’s behavior is making you feel uncomfortable, help is available. You can:

  • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 for confidential, 24/7 support.
  • Visit Stop It Now! for online resources or reach out to their helpline at 888-773-8368.
  • Visit Childhelp for resources to handle and report abuse or to chat live with someone who can help.

P.S. If both partners are above the legal age of consent, it doesn’t mean consent goes out the window. Asking for consent and being on the same page is key in any healthy romantic relationship.

Can an age gap affect relationships?

If your relationship has an above-average age difference, it might impact your connection in specific ways. Still, many of these effects aren’t unique to relationships with a large age gap, and communication is key for navigating differences in any partnership.

Emotional maturity

“Even if the age gap is small, like 4 to 5 years, different levels of maturity can be observed,” says Brandy Porche, a licensed professional counselor with MindPath. “When there is a significant difference in age, like 10 to 15 years or more, life experiences can be vastly different.”

In relationships with a large emotional maturity gap, the more mature partner could end up carrying a heavier emotional load in the relationship, leading to exhaustion and potentially a breakup.

Being the older partner doesn’t guarantee emotional maturity, just like being younger doesn’t always mean you’re less mature. People sometimes conflate age with emotional maturity because more years can mean more time to form complex perspectives through exposure to different experiences.


“The bigger the gap between partners, the more likely the relationship will struggle with phase-of-life related challenges,” says GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor and founder of PsychPoint.

She explains that these challenges might include differences in:

  • health
  • energy levels
  • life priorities
  • plans to start a family

Having different priorities isn’t exclusive to relationships with large age gaps. In any relationship, it’s key to discuss each person’s priorities and hopes for the future as a part of determining your compatibility if you’re looking for a long-term relationship.

End-of-life concerns

Guarino highlights that people in relationships with big age differences may face more concerns about the longevity of the older partner. The younger partner may fear being left alone when the older partner passes.

Communicating with each other about these feelings can be an important part of processing them.

Guarino points out that making arrangements ahead of time can also provide some reassurance to the younger partner. “If one partner passes, the other partner knows they are taken care of and what their next steps are,” she explains.

What is a good age difference in a relationship?

In many cultures, heterosexual relationships where the man is older than the woman are still the most common. In these relationships, it’s common for an age gap of 2 to 3 years to exist.

Meanwhile, an Australian study from 2017 Trusted Source found:

Heterosexual couples with large age gaps had a faster decline in relationship satisfaction in their first 6 to 10 years of marriage than similarly aged couples.

Couples with an age gap of 1 to 3 years (with the man older than the woman) were the most common and had the greatest levels of satisfaction.

Relationship satisfaction decreased slightly for couples with age gaps of 4 to 6 years and continued to decrease for couples with an age gap of 7 or more years.

A Korean study from 2015 Trusted Source found that age gaps in long-term relationships could impact each partner’s likelihood of experiencing depression. In particular, it found that same-aged couples had the lowest rates of depression, while couples with an age gap of 3 years or more had slightly higher rates.

Still, numbers rarely tell the full story when it comes to love. It’s possible to be much older or younger than your partner and have exactly the right relationship for you.

Do big age gap relationships work?

Research from 2014 connects marriages with larger age gaps with higher rates of divorce, although further research is necessary to confirm this link. But just because this link exists, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.

Regardless of age, some factors connected with relationship success include:

  • higher levels of education in both partners
  • financial security
  • having children
  • lower levels of neuroticism, or tendency to experience low moods, in both partners
  • secure attachment style in both partners
  • strong communication skills
  • supportive relationships with other family members
  • tendency to approach partner with forgiveness
  • high emotional intelligence
  • satisfaction with your sex life in the relationship

A relationship age gap is just one factor that can influence the success of your relationship. It won’t necessarily be the factor that makes or breaks your relationship since other factors can also play a role.

In relationships with large age differences, you might encounter a couple of additional roadblocks.

Social stigma

“With relationships, there will always be people on the outside looking in. Maybe even more so when outsiders visually see the age difference,” says Porche.

And in cultures where small relationship age gaps are more common, others may treat people in a relationship with a large age difference with judgment or criticism.

“The biggest challenge is facing criticism from those who feel there must be some ulterior motive for both of them,” says Olson.

For example, a younger partner might be accused of only choosing an older partner because of their wealth or status, and an older partner might be accused of choosing someone younger for the way they look.

Even if you and your partner are good at disregarding ignorant opinions of people you don’t know, it can hurt when friends or family are skeptical of a relationship you’re happy with.

Power imbalance

Large age differences can bring up the possibility of unbalanced power dynamics. Porche explains that even in a secure relationship, an older partner might assume an authoritative role.

If this happens, it can help to openly discuss this. “Younger partners can start the conversations by saying, ‘I’m not sure if you realize it, but you just totally made that decision for me, and I would prefer to be included in the decision process next time,’” says Porche.

A power imbalance can also happen if one partner uses their partner’s financial dependence as a way to exert control over them. Whether you and your partner are separated by a few or many years, this behavior is a sign the relationship may be a source of harm.

Overcoming issues related to age gaps

Whether you’re dealing with less-than-understanding loved ones or concerns about the future of the relationship as you both age, these tips could help you overcome the challenge together.

Set boundaries

“When people question or judge a relationship they are not a part of, they are overstepping the couple’s boundaries,” says Guarino. She emphasizes that setting boundaries with judgmental loved ones is a good way to remind them that even if they don’t understand your relationship, they need to respect it.


Guarino says that with any challenge a couple may face, the ability to have open and honest conversations about the challenge is key. She highlights that it’s a good idea to make time for each partner to share how they feel.

Consider your responses to others

According to Olson, it may be necessary for you and your partner to desensitize yourselves to some critical comments you might encounter. It might also be a good idea to think of a few comebacks to the most common comments you receive.

Find your support network

When it comes to dealing with outside judgment about your relationship, Olson says, “Knowing other age-discrepant couples helps.

Finding similar couples and creating a sense of community with them could also allow you and your partner to build friendships with others who “get it.”


If you and your partner are finding it difficult to navigate these challenges alone, you can also bring in some outside support. An understanding couples counselor could help you explore different avenues for handling these challenges and expressing your thoughts about them.

To read the full article in PsychCentral and the mental impact large age difference may have in relationships, click here. 

how it will affect relationships

When it comes to marriage, is age really just a number to ignore?

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Marriage and relationships

Love and relationships

Age difference nine0003

So, you met him - that same prince on a white horse. You are happier than ever, and your relationship is a real standard worthy of the Chamber of Weights and Measures. You understand each other perfectly, everything is fine in bed, and it is so perfect that you didn’t even have to explain that there is no male and female homework: everything is honestly and fairly divided in half.

But friends and relatives look askance at you, because your boyfriend is quite suitable for your parents as classmates, and for you as a father. Could this be a problem? nine0003

American psychotherapist Jenn Mann, who has been practicing for over 30 years, during this time has seen many unions where one of the partners is 10 years or more older than the other. However, we ourselves often heard about such people - there are enough celebrities who are married or married not at all to the same age. For example, Michael Douglas is now 77, and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is 52, and they have been together for over 20 years. And, apparently, they are quite happy, although there were some problems: in 2013, Michael said that he was going to get a divorce, but soon the movie stars announced that they were staying together. nine0003

Michael Douglas is 25 years older than his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones

Jason Momoa is 12 years younger than his wife Lisa Bonet

There are also reverse situations: say, 42-year-old Jason Momoa has been married to 54-year-old actress Lisa for four years Bonya, and before that they had been dating for 12 years. They have two children, and Jason and Lisa look very pleased with their union. But these are celebrities, but what happens in the lives of ordinary people if they choose partners much older or younger than themselves? How big is the impact of age difference on the duration and quality of relationships? nine0003

Studies show that marital satisfaction is often lower when there is a watershed of 10 years or more between husband and wife. But this, according to Dr. Mann, does not mean that you should worry about your union - you just need to be more attentive to it and understand what difficulties you have to overcome. It is also worth considering that the difference in age is also related to the number of years lived. It will be more difficult for 20- and 40-year-old partners to reach an agreement than for 50- and 70-year-old partners: the older we get, the more life experience we have that will help us cope with problems. nine0003

But why do they arise? Jenn Mann believes there are four main reasons for this.

Imbalance of power

“The main difficulty that I encounter over and over again in my practice is that with a significant difference in age, as a rule, one person has much more life experience, and often financial opportunities. This gap creates an imbalance in the pair,” says Mann.

According to her, those who are older often try to control the situation. At first, this is even pleasant for a young woman: it seems to her that a wise man takes care of her and takes full responsibility for her life together. But such impulses can easily develop into total control, and in no case should you agree to it. Just because you're younger doesn't mean you're a child! nine0003

Different frames of reference

There is a moment in When Harry Met Sally where the main character tells a friend how he asked a much younger girl where she was when Kennedy was shot. She is surprised in response: “Did Ted Kennedy get shot?” For her, Kennedy is not President John at all, but his younger brother and Senator Edward. But in Russia, for example, there will be two Chaliapins: those who grew up in the USSR will immediately remember the legendary opera singer, but those who were born later will most likely think about the Star Factory graduate. nine0003

Small things like this point to discrepancies between people of different ages. Habitual pop culture, life experiences are significantly different. And this, of course, will make it difficult to find a common language and create a deep connection. On the other hand, why not treat it like a resource? You can learn so much from each other! The main thing is that everyone respects someone else's background.

Societal pressure

“I know a lot of people who chose a partner much older or younger than themselves and ended up breaking up with family members who judged them,” says Mann. Colleagues, friends, acquaintances, relatives - everyone will have an opinion about the fact that you are dating an “old man” or a “boy”. You have to be prepared for the fact that you will face pressure, lose support, or even find yourself in isolation. nine0003

On the other hand, why do you want those who are ready to end a relationship just because of your partner's age? Even if a boyfriend is a danger to you because he uses his advantages, really close people, on the contrary, will try to be there to insure you in case of difficulties.

Problems with parents

As Dr. Mann explains, sometimes choosing an older partner has nothing to do with his positive qualities. It is not uncommon for a person who has not worked through their problems with their mother or father to seek to recreate this dynamic in a romantic relationship without being aware of it. nine0003

"The unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between past, present and future and is always trying to heal all wounds here and now," says Mann. But an attempt to heal a boyfriend will not lead to anything good, and therefore you need to understand whether it’s really about feelings or you are trying to replay your relationship with your father.

But if you are sure that the problems listed by Mann do not concern you, then be calm: regardless of the numbers in your passport, your relationship has the same chance of development and a happy ending "lived happily ever after" as any other. nine0003

Have you been in a relationship with a big age difference?

Photo: Getty images

Big age difference in a couple: 8 honest stories

If partners belong to different generations, it can be difficult for them to arrange a life together. Here are some stories about different situations in such relationships.

Vita Zorina


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Relationship nine0003


intimate life

VOICE Reader Stories


  1. "I'm the happiest person in the world! The difference in age is 21 years, and it sounds quite scandalous. I graduated from high school and went to college, now I have a stable job. At the beginning of our romance, I felt like a ghost in his house: he was busy at work, constantly talking on the phone. .. I didn’t know how to distract him from this. Now he transfers all conversations to later, and I no longer feel like I’m on the outskirts of his world. I stopped with my parents communicate, they don’t understand me,” Alla, 25.
  2. "It's like any other long-term relationship. With the difference that he is less assertive in sex than younger men. And much more passionate! At first I had a lot of doubts, but now I understand that it was the right decision. No one looks askance at us, we are a great couple, we always hold hands and have fun. Some men try to convince me that because of the age difference, the partner manipulates me, but this is nonsense. Mom was not too happy, because I until the last hid our relationship. But now they communicate well. Our age difference is 12 years, "- Nadezhda, 30 years old.
  3. "Everything seems beautiful and romantic now. But couples with an age difference have always seemed strange to me. Then I was 18 years old and he was 28. Sometimes he manipulated me because I was very young, and he seemed so old!" — Elena, 31.
  4. "I realized a long time ago that although I like older men because they are smart, relaxed, interesting, they do not see me as a suitable partner. They only see my young face and figure, what is important in the sex market. Realizing this, I stopped meeting such people. If I had a time machine, I would warn a younger version of myself that they only see what is outside.” — Olga, 28 nine0094
  5. "He's 11 years older. One day I got bored because we have different interests and sometimes we don't have much to talk about. We exchanged questions like 'How was your day?' and “Did you watch that show?”... Our schedules were also different, it was uncomfortable,” Yana, 32.
  6. “He is 30 years older, we have been together for nine years. I noticed that he often does not allow me to do something, but I am an adult and have the right to communicate, drink wine and meet people. He doesn't pay attention. We don’t swear over trifles, in difficult cases we sit down and talk,” Albina, 28 years old.
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