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Coping with Family Reactions to a Couple's Age Difference

If you are much older than your spouse, or vice versa, you may encounter some resentment from your family and in-laws. Follow these suggestions for overcoming their negativity.

Coping with Family Reactions to a Couple's Age Difference

Tricia was a real beauty, a stunning redhead. On a quick glance, she looked no more than 25. Her figure was outrageous; her grooming impeccable. Only her hands and a few tell-tale wrinkles on her neck revealed that she was closing in on 40. But Ted, himself 25, loved Tricia's wit, generosity, and great looks. The 15-year age difference didn't matter to either of them – but it mattered a whole lot to Ted's parents. They were furious that Ted had selected Tricia. "She's too old to have children," they wailed. "When you're in your prime, she'll be an old lady," they moaned. "You could have anyone you wanted; why would you marry someone old enough to be your mother?" they screamed.

News flash: Life's not fair. (I know; "Tell me something that I don't know.") If a woman is more than five years older than her husband, a number of issues can sour the in-law relationship. The envelope, please:

  1. It's not uncommon for mothers-in-law to feel threatened when their daughters-in-law are older than their sons, because the role of the mother is more obviously replaced.

  2. In these situations, the competitiveness that accompanies most mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships is usually intensified. A lot.

  3. A mother may feel uncomfortable to realize that her son is having sexual feelings for a woman closer to her own age. This is apt to intensify if she no longer feels attractive.

  4. A mother-in-law might also worry that her little boy has been seduced by a cheap floozy. (Notice that no one ever worries about an expensive floozy?)

  5. Commonly in these situations, a mother- and father-in-law worry that they'll never have grandchildren, because their daughter-in-law is over the hill.

There's usually not such a flap when an older man marries a younger woman. However, it's not always as simple as it seems, as my in my friend Virginia's case:

Don't Go There

Warning lights should flash when the bride is very young, (as in under legal age) and the groom is pushy. But before you pull the plug on the nuptials, consider the consequences. Do you run the risk of losing your child if they marry anyway? Will you be unable to help your child later if the marriage sours?

Don't Go There

A friend of mine whose child is dating someone of a different race assured me that her problems with her child's intended are not about black versus white. "Oh, this is harder than race," she said. "This is family."

I've got two May/December romances in my family. My 42-year-old sister and her 30-year-old boyfriend-and me (34-years-old) and my 60-year-old husband. My sister gets relatively no bunk about the relationship. A little, maybe; but she's fully accepted by his family, and we like him, too (well, usually).

My father, however, has maintained a strong, 14-year burning flame of hatred for the "old man that dared to look at his little girl." We became a couple when I was 20, which didn't make my family roll out the red carpet any faster either. My father has never accepted it. It's a nightmare.

What can you do to pour oil on troubled waters?

  • Take charge. Don't wait for the in-laws to come to you.

  • Discuss the issue of the parents with your spouse first. Sometimes, there are lots of age issues to work out between the couple, too.

  • Get your significant other involved. You can't fight this battle alone. And present a unified front. It won't work if your beloved sits there and says, "Yeah, well my folks have a point. You are old!"

  • Have your husband or wife tell your in-laws that they don't have to love you, but they must respect you.

  • Hopefully, as your in-laws see your relationship last, they will move from respect to like and maybe even to love.

  • Bottom line: Demand respect. You deserve it.

Statistically, marriages are most likely to succeed when the partners share common interests – but there are no carved-in-granite rules about ideal age differences between spouses. However, if you and your spouse are comfortable with each other's ages, then it will at least give you some solid ground with which to deal with any naysaying in-laws.

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