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Age-Gap Relationships: Can They Last the Distance?

12/11/2015 15:29 GMT | Updated 11/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Do you date people your own age? Or do you tend to go for men or women who are older or younger then you? They say age is just a number when it comes to love but is that really true? Many famous celebrities are in age gap romances: Michael Douglas is 25 years older than Catherine Zeta Jones, Madonna's love of toy boys is well-known, Demi Moore married Ashton Kutcher who was 15 years her junior and Caroline Flack's fling with Harry Styles back in 2011, when he was just 17 and she was 31 caused huge uproar.

Dating someone who is a lot older or younger than you can be exciting and a real turn-on but when it comes to finding a long and healthy relationship, does the age gap really matter?

An age-old dilemma

Historically age gap romances have been around for a long time between older males and younger females. In many cultures, arranged marriages are organised this way because men are biologically predisposed to producing as many offspring as possible to pass their genes on, while women pick men with adequate resources who can look after them and therefore choose older men who are already established. While in this day and age there is still a stigma attached to those people in relationships with big age gaps, this is more to do with the concept, rather than the individuals involved.

There are many stereotypical assumptions about people who are dating someone much younger or older then them. For example, a younger women dating an older man must be looking for a father figure or is after his money, while a younger man dating an older woman is after someone with sexual experience or just a bit of fun, rather than anything serious.

What the statistics say...

Official statistics show that women in the UK tend to marry older men, around two years older than them. However, it seems that once the gap widens, your chance of happiness decreases. According to a recent study of 3000 people at the Department of Economics at Emory University, the larger age gap is related to a higher divorce rate. They showed that a five-year age gap statistically means you're 18 per cent more likely to divorce (versus three per cent with a one-year age gap), with the rate rising to 39 per cent for 10-year gap and 95 per cent for a 20-year gap.

However, using statistics to predict your own future is far from sensible. Research in 2013 found that the ideal age gap is when the man is four years and four months older than his partner. The press at the time said that Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were an example of this. The duo famously 'consciously uncoupled' in March 2014, showing that these kind of studies really never take into account individuals. With the divorce rate standing at 42 per cent in the UK, perhaps age-gap couples have just the same shot of happiness as everyone else.

Understanding the reasons

Before embarking on a relationship with someone much older or younger, it is important to analyse your motivations. Do you always find yourself in relationships where there is a big age difference between you and your partner? This doesn't mean that anything is wrong, of course, but it is worth thinking about your motivations.

Whenever you embark on a relationship with someone new, make sure the connection is strong one; solely a physical connection will not cut it in the long term. It is also worth noting that relationships are affected by time in phases and what can seem blissful in one phase of your life may be very different in another. Give this thought before you commit to someone of a very different age to you.

Tackling the challenges

A big issue for couples with a big age gap is mismatched life experiences and aims regarding their lifestyles. Decisions when the relationship gets more serious such as desire to get married and have children may differ between parties. For example, if a younger guy in a relationship wanted his own children but the woman had either 'been there done that' and was not interested or was too old to have children, this would undoubtedly cause conflict. The solution here is to be open about what you want from the start so there are no crossed wires later on. When you find yourself having a difference in views then rather then let it grate on you, value your differences and try to learn from each other. Never change your behaviour too much to fit in with the other person; there is no reason to feel that you have to 'keep up' in some way. If you change for someone else or try to force them to change, then the romance will never work in the long term.

Another major issues will be the people around you and their concerns that the relationship is wrong. They might have good intentions but that does not make it any less upsetting. You may even be tackled by strangers who have an opinion on the subject. The best way to deal with this is to be confident in your relationship. If you have any doubts of your own and people start to voice these doubts, this could cause your relationship to falter. The only way you can make people understand that you are happy is by showing them.

Ultimately it is you who decides whom you date. People connect with all sorts of people of all sorts of ages for a variety of reasons. All relationships need work, whether there is an age difference or otherwise. If you know the relationship is right for you and it is making you happy, then stick with it!

Author: Brett Harding is the director of Lovestruck, a website dedicated to online dating and bringing people together.