woman's diary


When age difference is an issue

It has often been said that age is nothing but a number, but is this really the case when it comes to opposite sex relationships?

Fred Otieno, a 38-year-old man whose friends used to call him “senior bachelor” before he tied the knot last year, doesn’t think so.

Though Fred knew that he would want to get married one day and raise a family, he had vowed to do it “when the time was right”. Luckily, he managed to resist pressure from his family and friends to settle down until last year when he held a lavish wedding that was the talk if his home village and circle of friends for quite some time.

“I had seen how much some of my friends and colleagues suffered after rushing to get married without first being financially well-off. I wanted to give my wife and children the best life there was so I concentrated on making money first,” explains Fred.
He did make money. By the time he said I do, he had built a spectacular house in an up market estate in the outskirts of the city, owned two cars, was running a thriving motor spare parts business and was in the process of putting up rental flats in an upcoming city estate. 

Barely two years into his marriage, Fred is beginning to think that he made an unwise choice in his marriage partner. His wife Joyce* is 25 years old, 13 years younger than he is.

“I met Joyce at a friend’s house where she had come to visit with my friend’s sister. I thought that she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” he recalls.

He also liked the fact that Joyce, a graduate and marketer...

with a leading PR firm, was confident and ambitious – a woman who could hold her own in his circle of friends. She also did not have a boyfriend and was not averse to the idea of marriage. After six months of whirlwind dating, Fred asked Joyce to marry him.

By now you are probably wondering where the problem lies in this fairytale. It lies in the age difference. Fred feels that he went wrong when he failed to consider their age difference. Apparently, they are not compatible. They just aren’t interested in the same things. Joyce is happy enough to spend the night hopping from one bar to another, dancing away until morning and is still left with enough energy to go out that same evening.

“My energy is not just what it used to be. I am content to just enjoy a quiet evening at home reading or watching football. However, my wife cannot stand staying indoors the whole day,” he explains, saying that when she does, it is to entertain her bunch of “rowdy, loud and energetic single girlfriends” who leave their house in the wee hours of the morning whenever they visit. As is expected, this has caused a major rift in their relationship which is not about to be mended.

“We are just too different. Somehow, I have a feeling that my marriage will not survive another year,” he says with a troubled look in his eyes.

Fred’s situation is not unique because this is a problem that is characteristic of relationships where there is a significant age difference between the two parties. The reality is that age difference does determine the success or failure of a relationship. According to Barbara De Angelis, a renowned relationship expert and author of several books including Ask Barbara, significant age difference between partners can trigger serious problems in a relationship. But it is important to understand what “significant”: means. If your partner is four of five years older than you are, it may not make much of a difference. However, if there is a gap of ten years or more between the two of you, you may experience problems depending on the stage of life you are in, as well as aspects of your personality.

However, it is worth noting that age difference means less as you grow older. Look at it this way, a 15-year-age difference between a 35-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman is likely to raise serious problems than a 15-year-age difference between a 65-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman. Age difference will affect the first couple more since their maturity and experience levels are much lower than the second couple’s.

Just what are the most common issues that couples with a significant age difference grapple with? Let us first look at the older partner.

If you are the older one in the relationship, you may find yourself playing the role of your partner’s parent. When you have 10, 20 or even 30 more years of experience than your partner, you may be tempted to keep offering advice, correcting or directing your partner. After all, you have been down that road already and know how fast or slow to move. You may be acting out of love but your younger partner may feel as if you are bossing her around or playing a know-it-all and will feel belittled and may reject you for it.

If you’re in such a situation, you’re also likely to become impatient with her mistakes, level of immaturity and reasoning and it may show in your attitude.

There is also the fact that you’re more likely to have greater financial stability than your younger partner. It goes without saying that the one who holds the purse strings more often than not has the leverage in the relationship. This can tempt you to control your partner or manipulate her, a factor that can lead to resentment on her part.


The younger partner

If this describes you, you may feel that your partner is superior to you because he is more successful, knowledgeable and more experienced. This may influence you to do things his way and even allow him to think and makes decisions for you. The result is that you become dependant on him and in the process you lose yourself.

Just like your older partner, you may also feel hard-pressed to put aside what matters to you, for instance your friends, hobbies and interests so that you can fit into his life.

If this is you we talked about, Barbara De Angelis suggests asking yourself three questions – Does my partner respect me? Does he treat me as an equal and do I feel like an equal in this relationship?

If the answer is “No” then it is about time that the two of you discussed this with your partner to find out whether you can overcome the source of friction in your relationship.

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