different ages

Practicalities – couples of different ages

There’s no doubt that the 25-year age gap between French President Emanuel Macron and his glamorous wife has sparked lots of media interest. But they’re not the first well-known couple with a large age gap, and undoubtedly won’t be the last. As this is not something exclusive to the rich and famous, I thought that considering couples of different ages from an ageing perspective, could be interesting.

I confess this is something that I have no direct experience in. Indeed, I’m a mere 8 months older than my husband (although he frequently ribs me about having a toy boy for 8 months of the year). My own parents are just 6 days apart in age. I do, however, know a few couples that differ in age.

I’ll look first at some definitions and stats around couples of different ages, then why it might be of any importance, before some challenges and practical considerations from an ageing perspective.

Context

When considering age differences, couples of the same age tend to be those aged between 5 years or less of each other. Couples of different ages would therefore be more than 5 years apart.

It’s actually quite tricky to obtain meaningful stats in this area, with the only easily findable ones covering same sex marriages in the US, which is obviously a very small subset of the potential population of couples. In the absence of anything else, though, I’ll assume the trends at a minimum indicative.

–        Among newly married first-time couples, 39% included spouses who were within a year of each other’s ages. Among remarried couples, this share drops to 21%.

–        There’s a 10-year age gap in 5% of new first-time marriages, versus 20% of new remarriages.

–        It’s more common for the husband to be older than the wife in both first-time marriages and remarriages.

–        In 32% of remarriages, the husband is at least six years older than his wife, and in 16% of remarriages, the husband is at least 10 years older.

–        Just 14% of new first-time marriages involve a husband who is at least six years older than his wife, and just 4% involve cases where the husband is 10 or more years older.

 

What’s in a number?

Does age really matter? Assuming you’re marrying for love, and the other person makes you happy, then surely not. They say that “you’re as young as the person you’re feeling” – I guess that this is better for the younger person than the older one!

Often people meet via common interests e.g. sport, culture, intellectual or outdoor pursuits. Surely these bonds and connections are more important than age per se.

We’ve seen through the Health articles that the rate at which people age can differ greatly anyway, with as much as 75% being lifestyle related. If partners follow a similar lifestyle, this could eliminate some of the differences in biological age (although probably negatively as much as positively).

If at least one of the partners has been married before, there could be advantages in having previous life experience e.g. raising a family.  All being well, having a new enlarged family could be a good thing with additionally acquired family members.

Finally, there could be financial benefits of having an older partner, irrespective of when you meet. The assumption being that the older person is already further along the traditional work, housing ladder, savings, investment, pensions journey, and there may be more accumulated wealth at this stage.

 

Challenges

We previously spoke of the potential benefits of extended families, but families could equally be challenging. This could take various forms e.g. one of the partner’s ex-spouse and children taking issue, ‘gold digger’ fears, or the younger person’s family questioning the suitability of the attachment directly related to the age difference.

A friend of a friend, in her forties, has a relationship with an older man, in his late fifties. The woman’s parents are not happy about the situation, given that he’s not much younger than them.

Conversely, another friend has a similar age difference with her husband and the parents get on famously with him.

Age differences that may seem insignificant when younger, could become more noticeable as the couple ages:

Depending on the age gap, couples could have very different perspectives and ‘world views’, as they effectively come from different generations.

Common interests that you shared and even brought you together, could also become problematic.

A family friend met her second husband through ballroom dancing, where they became partners and the rest is history. He is 15 years older than her.  She’s a fit and lively 70 year old. He’s now hardly able to walk in his mid-eighties. He no longer wants her to dance, so she misses out on the physical benefits, not to mention the social and mental benefits she previously enjoyed from dancing.

Caring and medical – “for better or worse”. Although this could happen with couples of any age – unfortunately none of us knows what lies ahead – there is greater chance of the younger partner becoming a carer for the older one within couples of different ages. Even if not incapacitated, the balance of work may not be fairly distributed between the two, which could lead to stress, fatigue and resentment. It could be frustrating when one is mentally 100% sharp and the partner is slowly descending into dementia. It’s challenging when one partner falls, and the other is too small to help him up.

As well as daily life, there could also be limitations with social interactions with friends and family as well as holiday plans. Romantic notions aside, it would be hard to enjoy a holiday when one partner is 60 and still spry, wanting to walk through Paris again and the other half is 75, arthritic and has trouble with the stairs.

Retirement planning can be difficult when you have different timing objectives. There could also be situations where one person retires well before the other, where contrasting priorities again lead to imbalance, resentment etc.

Relate, the relationship counselling service, even has a special web-page dedicated to age differences.

There are other challenges covered by this article on 6 things you’ll only know if you’re in an age gap relationship.

 

Practical considerations

Many of these considerations are important at any age, but they are probably even more important with different aged couples:

  • Have a plan that you discuss before you need it. Start learning how to talk about these things early on, and hopefully they should get easier with time.
  • Consider future accommodation and care plans, especially if one partner needs more care e.g. carers visiting the home, spouse care, care home, nursing home etc. If the older one ultimately needs to go into a home, should you move into care together or would you prefer to visit?  It’s not easy to be the only one with full faculties in a home.
  • Whether the couple are married or not, ensure that wills are in place (and up to date) for both partners and advise other interested parties that may need to know. This also ties into Inheritance Tax (IHT) planning.
  • Ensure funeral and aftercare wishes are known and whether any plans are in place.

 

Wrap-up

It seems that many of the concerns and practical considerations are familiar to any of us as we age, but they are probably intensified when one half of the couple is older than the other. If this relates to you, or others you know, the first step is probably to try and broach some of these topics together ahead of time.

I’d love to hear any stories and tips you might like to share in this area, especially if they might benefit others too.

 

Thank you for reading. For more interesting articles, visit my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to learn more.