Are May-December relationships really that different from romances with little or no age difference? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.
If we could really see into the future, we’d have more certainty in relationships with or without an age gap. If we knew how long we were going to live or what kinds of setbacks would befall us in life, we could predict the success in a long-term relationship with a significant age difference. But we can’t. There are just too many variables to be able to predict what is going to happen to us in the future.
May-December couples have much in common with couples of all ages and all age differences. We fight about the same things as non-gappers. Money, kids, sex, communication, ways to spend time, friends, jobs, etc. are all part of our daily lives. Disagreements about these things cause arguments. A partner 15 days older or 15 years older than you can act like your parent or throw the temper tantrum of a three year old. A person 20 weeks younger or 20 years younger than you can have ulterior motives such as money or status when he or she dates you. There need not be an age difference for one partner to unexpectedly fall ill or even die. Sexual incompatibilities or difficulties can befall any couple without regard to age.
So if May-December relationships are just the same as partnerships between similarly aged people, why bother devoting an entire website to the subject? This answer is more simple – perception.
The mice think they are right, but my cat eats them anyway.
This is the point, reality is nothing, perception is everything.
When you are in a relationship with someone whose age significantly differs from yours, it is easy fall into the mousetrap and attribute the problems that arise to the age gap. Likewise it is easy to ignore red flags in the beginning of a May December romance and say “love knows no age.” When Regina and Jerry began dating, their 22 year age difference wasn’t an issue. They married after seeing each other for a couple of years and were passionately in love. Shortly before their one year anniversary (Regina was in her early 30’s) Jerry was suddenly faced with a dire medical condition that landed him in a hospital for nearly a year. She had no warning and no time to prepare. One day he was going out to dinner with her. The next day he was fighting for his life. Her anguish was numbing. Jerry was self-employed and had no income during his hospitalization. Regina found herself supporting both of them by working extra hours in addition to making daily visits to the hospital. She didn’t want to admit it out loud, but she wondered if she had made a mistake marrying a man so much older than her. Almost 10 years later Jerry and Regina are still together. He has recovered and is living a healthy life. They are still very much in love. Today she gets irritated because Jerry’s “a slob”, he thinks she’s too picky, but they no longer question the age difference.
When Walter, found his wife Marie dying in their living room from an aneurysm, it was a blow from which he wouldn’t soon recover. She was his high school sweetheart and at the age of 33 she had recently given birth to their second child. He didn’t question their age difference because there essentially was none. He questioned God and the fates. He didn’t have time to grieve. He had two small children to care for and they had just lost their mother. A year after her death, he still misses her and while he is recovering, the sadness is with him more days than not.
No one could have predicted what happened to either couple, but Regina might have given up if she stayed with the perception that the age difference was the problem. Luckily she worked through her doubts. We can always and usually do find something outside of our selves to blame when life’s obstacles have a negative impact on our relationships. For May December couples it’s particularly easy to point the finger at the age difference. An age gap is permanent. If it’s the first bump you hit, it can be devastating. It can cause a couple to stop digging down to the core issues.
Generally, when couples show up in our office their chief complaint is related to sex, money, communication, and/or family regardless of their ages. We know there are most likely core issues driving the grievance. The core issues we will assess are:
- problems with intimacy (“into me see”)
- not feeling equal to each other (an imbalance of power)
- trust issues
- dishonesty or the inability to communicate in a safe and open manner
- problems coping with stress
- poor or rigid boundaries with each other and/or their families
- health problems
- unresolved issues from the past (including other relationships and the family of origin.)
You’ll notice that nowhere on the “core issues” list is age difference. In Regina and Jerry’s case they had to learn how to communicate openly and honestly about some very hard topics in the days ahead. Regina in particular had to develop new strategies for coping with stress and she needed to set healthy boundaries with Jerry’s children. When Jerry recovered, he had a lot of anger about being so sick. He needed to be honest with himself about the impact and learn to express his anger. For a period of time, his irritability blocked intimacy with Regina. As he learned to recognize, share, and direct his anger in an appropriate way, they regained both physical and emotional intimacy.
With all that said, there are certain issues for which May December couples need to prepare. The following concerns are common to couples with significant age gaps:
- Family relationships with parents and siblings.
- Blending the family if there are step-children involved.
- Determining whether or not to try to conceive children with each other.
- Retirement intentions and goals. Consider how the age difference will impact both of you when this time comes.
- Sexual performance differences may occur due to hormonal and physical changes as you age.
- How you will handle it when people notice and/or comment on your age difference.
The navigation of these issues for May Decembers will often be different than with non age-gapped couples. We have first hand experience with each of the issues with clients and in our own marriage. Obsessing about the future isn’t helpful, but communication about the different possibilities can help if or when the times comes. We’ve heard it said that getting married should be a lot harder than getting divorced. If we did more homework up front, perhaps we could save more marriages and have a better comprehension of compatibility before walking down the aisle. In the weeks to come, we will be publishing articles on each of these topics. In the meantime, many of these issues are addressed in our blog.
- Communicating about Anger
- When Health Issues Get in the Way
- Needing to be Right
- When You are Blaming the Age Gap for Problems
- Sexual Problems
- Not Feeling Equal to Your Partner
You don’t have to be in May December relationship to be privy our secrets. Some secrets are just meant to be shared!
Pass it on….