Editor's note: This article is meant to analyze age gaps in romantic relationships among adults. Relationships between non-adult individuals such as those formed in high school are a different circumstance and may not necessarily be reflected or elucidated in this analysis.
Age gaps in adult relationships still spark conversations among people, a source of scrutiny, if you may, because of the misconceptions and preconceptions associated with the idea of a couple having a significant generational gap from each other.
On the internet, star couples like Julia Baretto and Gerald Anderson have received mixed reactions from netizens because of the age gap alone; some frowned upon the idea, and some were nonchalant, if not happy, for the stars.
But does age really matter in relationships? When does it become improper? What is the psychology behind people who prefer this kind of relationship? We talked with Dr. Ronald Recio, a psychologist, to help us discern the topic through a psychological and scientific context.
Characterizing relationships with "big" age gaps is a social phenomenon.
“There’s no specific age gap, in years, that we could define as huge. It's more of a social phenomenon,” Dr. Recio said. He said that if two people evidently belong to different psychosocial stages of development—for example, one is in their early young adulthood, and one is in their middle adulthood—then the relationship can be characterized as one with a “big age gap.” Apparent generational differences, such as worldviews, words, and behavior, may also characterize a relationship as one that has a considerable age difference.
Sometimes, we engage in a relationship with someone who has the characteristics we look for, regardless of age.
Although the usual “mommy and daddy issues” context may still play a role here, Dr. Recio prefers to look at people who engage in this kind of relationship based on social or cultural norms and the Triangular Theory of Love by Robert Sternberg. He said, in particular, that it is typical for women to have a social orientation of preferring older partners because of the perceived maturity they usually entail. On the other hand, based on the Triangular Theory of Love, which comprises Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment, people, at most times, find that an older partner has more ability to satisfy their needs within the mentioned three facets. “Sa madaling salita, we sometimes see these components in people, and it just so happened they were older than us,” he explained.
Relationships with huge age gaps are not black-and-white.
Dr. Recio explains that significant age gaps in relationships may have inevitable problems that root from “levels of maturity, different social circles, and different occupational levels.” Some couples with a considerable age difference may find it difficult to relate to each other, especially if they work in different fields, have different priorities in life, or are invested in interests that seem alienating to the other. Dr. Recio notes, however, that couples can manage these conflicts by simply noting similarities between each other and “increasing their commitment, passion, and intimacy.”
Similarly, Dr. Recio also notes that there is existing research that illustrates how couples with closer age gaps are less likely to be successful and satisfying due to the similarity in maturity levels. Though maturity should not be equated to age, it is still considered to be a related factor.
He explained, “Kasi kunwari pareho pa kayong emotionally insecure tapos you have to deal with a problem na needs a higher level of maturity, papaano na? Or for example, both of you guys have not experienced a certain problem, paano niyo kakapain?” However, he reminds us that it is important to note that this data is not an absolute explanation to everyone’s experiences, and that it still varies from one relationship to another.
Not all big-age-gap relationships are improper.
Society always labels big-age-gap relationships as inappropriate straight away; however, for Dr. Recio, one should analyze first the nature of the relationship, a factor that should be considered in characterizing if one relationship is improper or not. “I'd rather be more concerned in the reason as to why these two individuals came together in the first place. Sex? Money? Position? Esteem?” he said. But for adults who genuinely love each other and still recognize proper principles, society should not hold them against it.
In any kind of relationship, it is always important to keep in check how your significant other treats you. At times where power-play and gaslighting becomes evident, especially since a huge age gap can recognize one person as having more seniority over the other, he advised, “You could ask for space frequently, collect evidence to support your stance, speak up and be firm about the behavior that annoys you, focus on self-care, involve other people, and lastly, seek a professional to help.”
Overall, for Dr. Recio, the important thing that couples in a big-age-gap relationship should keep in mind when their differences get the best of their relationship is the reason why they both fell in love with each other.
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