“When we got married, I was madly in love with my husband—and I still am. But we have a significant age difference—he’s 41, I’m 28—and I don’t think I realized how different our goals would be at this point. Suddenly, post-wedding, he’s dying for kids; I still want to see friends, travel, and get my career set. How do we bridge the gap?”
There’s a reason research has shown that the larger the age gap, the higher a couple’s chance of splitting. According to a study from Emory University, couples with a five-year gap are 18 percent more likely to separate than those who are the same age. That statistic leaps to 39 percent more likely with a ten-year gap, and 95 percent with a 20-year gap.
And this really has nothing to do with love. (Some research has even shown age-gap couples to have the highest satisfaction when compared with their similarly-aged counterparts.) The biggest barrier to success is, as you say, “a gap in desires.” People tend to move through life in developmental phases, and it can be hard to “empathize” with someone who’s dealing with struggles and wants that you are not.
So let’s talk about how to get on the same page.
Remind him of what life was like when he was your age.
Ask him to think of what he was doing, struggling with and focused on when he was 28. His job? Probably. Seeing the world? Perhaps. Wanting to go out with friends on a Saturday night? Likely. Explain what you need to experience now, so you don’t have any regrets later—especially if you end up having kids. (Studies show there are very real professional setbacks that come with motherhood, as unfair as they may be.)
Although he may not want to join you all the time, invite him to participate in this stage with you—whether it’s traveling to Japan or going to a networking event in your industry. There’s plenty for him to enjoy and learn, even if he’s been there, done that.
Set a timeline and map your future.
I’m going to presume you discussed this before marriage, and you both want to settle down with kids someday. But it sounds like it’s time for a quick check-in about your long-term plans and when you’d like to see them come to fruition. If your husband wants kids today, and you’d like another five years, then you need to discuss what would help you each feel more comfortable with showing a little flexibility.
Are you afraid that the bulk of the childcare will fall to you, which will set you back in your other goals, like career and travel? Perhaps he could commit to shortening his hours so you don’t have to shorten yours? Is he nervous about how his age will affect fertility? Go with him to a doctor to ask about his options. Somewhere in these discussions, there’s an appropriate compromise.
Make an active effort to step outside your comfort zone.
Although it’s not exactly fair, I think it can be more challenging to go backward than forward. In other words, it may be harder for your husband to revisit a developmental phase he thought he left behind than it is for you to push yourself into the phase he’s currently in.
So what does this mean? Stay true to what you need (work! dance parties!), while also making time for responsible, growth-oriented fun that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Meet his friends for an intimate dinner party, even if they want to talk about preschool applications the entire time. Get a dog. Volunteer to take your nieces and nephews out for a day.
One of the best aspects of an age-gap relationship, especially if you’re the younger one, is having so many opportunities to grow. Who knows? You just might like the variety.
Jenna Birch is a dating coach, journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love.