The high-age-difference couple might find they miss out on this support, leading to an earlier demise of what could perhaps be something long-lasting.” When an age-gap couple has decided not to have children, “the rules and boundaries are different, and perhaps the age difference is one of the first to go,” adds Murphy.
She sounds a note of caution: “Where one person has age and money and the other has youth and ‘aliveness’, it can be a fair exchange or it can sometimes be an abuse of power if the younger person has no other income or means of support.
“The success or failure of relationships and marriages comes down to a number of interacting factors, and age is just one of them,” says psychotherapist Brendan Madden, former director of Relationships Ireland.
“Age gaps work when the gap increases the likelihood of kindness and generosity, and work against the relationship when they don’t,” says. “An older partner may be more appealing if the younger partner can’t find these traits in their peer group.” That could explain why 57-year-old Stephen Fry recently married a man three decades younger, 27-year-old Elliott Spencer.
While we really have no right to surmise what’s going on with them, we still tend to speculate about the power balance in age-gap relationships.
A downside, says Murphy, is that “we often need our community of family and friends to hold the faith for the relationship while we dither or experience doubt.
Age-gap relationships are and always have been controversial, but if you are limiting the pool you choose a mate from by age, you could be losing out. His hair was white and mine a teenage blond, and we turned heads wherever we went, although I didn’t feel an age gap and nor did he. We were happy until the deal-breaker appeared: I wanted children and he didn’t because he had several already.
And so I became attracted to someone closer to my own age: two years older to be exact, which is the average age gap in Ireland and the western world generally. Still, looking back on my age-gap relationship, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Measuring the value of a relationship in terms of the age of the partners and the longevity of the union may not be the best rule.
As psychotherapist and agony aunt Trish Murphy says, “While any parent would be justified in expressing concern about a 20-year age gap, having a good relationship at any stage of your life is worthwhile, and it would be good to cherish and value that relationship for as long as it makes sense.” Age gaps can work really well.
While it can be an ego boost to have a younger partner, once the novelty passes the younger partner can become more demanding in terms of interests, values and life goals than the older partner had expected. The divorce rate among people close in age (usually with the male partner two years older) is 3 per cent, while it is double that for couples 20 years apart.
The bigger the age gap, the greater the fragility of the relationship, especially if the issue of having a family comes into play.
Large gaps are rare: only 1 per cent of married men have wives who are 20 years or more younger and a mere 0.3 per cent of married women have husbands 20 years or more younger, according to research in the US, Australia and the UK.