We’re all different in many ways, right?
But have you ever wondered how much of a difference is too much between two people when it comes to maintaining healthy relationship? I recently received this question in my email asking, “I’m starting to enter the dating scene and finding myself attracted to some much older men. What advice do you have on age difference in a relationship?”
When it comes to relationships, differences can keep the spice in our relationship, teaching us new things and giving us new perspectives. But as I like to say, “opposites attract….but then they attack” (Tweet It!).
The truth is, no matter what kind of differences we’re talking about in a relationship, differences tend to eventually bring tension into a relationship. There are just some differences that make marriage harder…but five differences in particular tend to increase stress, and in turn, result in a higher likelihood of divorce (statistically speaking- though let’s always remember that God is bigger than statistics!)
I am in no way advocating that marriage should be avoided if these things are present in a dating relationship. And I have a hard time answering questions like this, because it’s not my place to say who you should or shouldn’t marry, it’s God’s place.
But no matter what you decide about your love life, I think it’s important to have a healthy awareness that the more differences between two people in a marriage, the more stress that relationship will entail. Here is a list of some of the most significant ones:
Financial Differences: It would likely be said that the number one stressor in marriages nation-wide revolves around finances. But here’s the thing about finances- how you approach and handle money is a learned behavior. We each come from a family of origin and life experiences that have influenced our perspective on money. Not only do differences in financial responsibility add stress to a relationship, but also, differences in socio-economic status. Your socio-economic Status breeds a lot of your personal expectations and desires when it comes to material things, so it makes sense that differences in this aspect of life can cause some major stress.
Age Differences: I get asked a lot about age differences in relationships. For the most part, there isn’t much to think about when the age difference is 5 years or less. And the older a person is, the less these differences come into play. But with that said, there’s no denying that major age differences do have a role to play when it comes to adding stress to a marriage. With an increased age-gap, comes differences in what I like to call “generational culture”. There’s no denying that every generation comes with its own unique set of attitudes, beliefs, interests, knowledge, experiences, and norms. I mean, each group can be so different that they’ve given them names like The Millennials and the Baby-Boomers, The Generation Xers and the New Silent Generation.
Not only that, but every 10 years of life brings its own set of differences regarding life experiences and struggles. Those who fall within the same age decade tend to have more in common as they experience life together, which results in less marital stress. We live in a culture that praises Cougars and Sugar Daddies, without taking into consideration the stress that comes with age differences. And if you want my personal opinion, relationships that are made up of age differences greater than 15 years likely come with their own set of deep-seated issues and unaddressed needs (for maturity, control, etc.)…but that is an article for another day.
Cultural Differences: I’m going to start this section by saying loud and clearly that I am all for inter-racial and intercultural marriages. 8 of my top 10 friends are married to spouses of a different race and/or culture, and I love seeing the beauty of their differences at play within their relationship. But here’s what it comes down to: differences add to stress. There’s no getting around it. All of my friends will tell you that at one point in their relationship they have faced stressors rooted in their cultural differences. From family interference, to time management, to gender roles, to communication differences…there is no denying that your background plays a huge role in who you become and what you expect in your relationship.
Religious Differences: I’m not even going to address the Christian/Non-Christian dilemma in this section, though I am a huge advocate for marrying someone who is just as in love with Jesus as you are.
But the truth of the matter is that Christian or not, there is truth to the fact that marrying someone who has differences in religious preference or beliefs is another ingredient to adding stress in a marriage. This goes for every religious group out there. Issues of practicing your religious beliefs in the day to day, how you are going to raise your children and the family culture you choose to develop are all rooted in your religious beliefs or lack thereof. It makes sense that these differences are ones that can’t simply be ignored for the long haul.
Educational Differences: I think this was the most surprising stressor when I originally heard this list in my marriage psychology course. I had never really considered the differences that come within levels of education. Again, there are entire cultures built within the walls of education. I’m not referring to differences in occupation or educational focus (though that may or may not be a source of stress for some couples), but rather differences within levels of education such as: high school, college, graduate school and beyond. Education drives much of who we are, what we like, and how we invest our time. On the other extreme, it can impact things as simple what we talk about and the hobbies we develop. People who have the same levels of education tend to have more in common, which offers more fuel for connection. It’s something to be considered when it comes to the factors that add stress to a relationship.
I have to end this article by saying that at the end of the day, there are SO many factors that have the potential of adding to stress in a marriage. In marriage, we are taking two separate lives with independent personalities, characteristics, and traits and joining them together as one. There will always be stressors to work through and kinks to work out in any healthy relationship.
Though each one of the above mentioned differences adds to the stress factor in a marriage, I don’t write this article in hopes that people will simply make “calculated risks” when it comes to marriage. Marriage is not necessarily about entering a relationship in which you are entirely risk-free. No, it’s about so much more than that. It’s about being called to another human being and choosing to love them no matter what life may bring.
But true commitment comes only when there is true awareness and recognition of the difficulties that may come your way.
So, before you say I do, consider the differences in your relationship and the difficulties those differences may bring. And then after all the calculations have been made…be sure you feel called.
*For everything you need to know about finding and keeping a healthy relationship, support me and this ministry by picking up a copy of True Love Dates!*
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 50+ articles at Relevant Magazine! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!