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How big an age gap is too big in a relationship?

By Elle Warren

Jul 5, 20246 minute read

Reviewed byApril Kilduff, MA, LCPC

You’re in a relationship with a pretty large age gap, and you want to know: Is there something wrong with that? Does it really make a difference? Are you destined to fail as a couple? Could one of you be taking advantage of the other? 

Age gaps are nothing new, of course. Consider Leonardo DiCaprio and most of his girlfriends, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds (11 years), or George and Amal Clooney (17 years). But plenty of people outside of the entertainment business have relationships like this, too. In fact, a 2022 poll found that 39% of Americans have dated someone who was 10 years older or younger than them. 

The question on your mind, though, is whether an age gap really matters for you. Our experts are here to help.

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The age gap “formula”

You may have seen this infamous formula for figuring out if someone is too young for you to date: Take half your age and add seven years to that number. Or, to know whether a partner is too old for you, subtract seven from your age and double that figure. 

Does this rule have anything to do with hard research? No. In fact, the formula is largely based on a relationship book that goes all the way back to 1901. So let’s just say that the way we think about this issue on both a cultural and scientific level may have changed a bit since then. 

Today it appears that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Some evidence suggests that large age gaps could lead to a higher rate of divorce, yet other research shows that relationship satisfaction can be greater the more years you have between you. So what’s the truth?

Do age gaps really matter?

OK, back to the central issue here. “There’s not a particular age gap that’s right or wrong,” says Tracie Zinman-Ibrahim, a Certified Sex Therapist (CST) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with NOCD. “It simply comes down to the following things: Is the relationship safe? Is it sane? And is it consensual?” In other words, a romantic relationship should be something you want, and it should make you feel good, regardless of age difference. 

It simply comes down to the following things: Is the relationship safe? Is it sane? And is it consensual?

Christine DeVore, PsyD, Director of Adult and Couples Services at Birch Psychology, agrees. “The success of any relationship depends more on the individual dynamics and how well partners can communicate and accommodate each other’s needs rather than the age gap alone,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean that age gap relationships can’t have challenges. “The younger partner might worry about the older one’s health and longevity, while the older partner might feel anxious about keeping up with the younger one’s energy or social circle,” says Dr. DeVore. “It’s also common to feel judgment from family and society, which can create additional strain.” 

And Zinman-Ibrahim points out that there can be a power imbalance—meaning that an older person may have more money, be at a more stable place in their career, and have more life experience that could create tension. 

What to know if your age gap is still bothering you

Dr. DeVore says it can be helpful to focus on what makes the relationship strong. Ask yourself:

  • What values do we share?
  • What makes our connection special?
  • What drew us together?
  • What keeps us together?
  • How do we communicate and move through conflict?
  • How do we support one another?

By looking at these questions, it may become clear to you how wonderful your relationship is—or might illuminate some problems. She notes that you can assess what is making you uncomfortable. Are you worried about judgment from others? Are there goals that your partner doesn’t share? Or are you feeling anxious about them being “the one.” If that’s the case, and you find yourself spending a lot of time worrying about your relationship, despite it being loving and healthy, it’s worth knowing about a couple conditions and how to find help.

Age gaps and mental health conditions

There’s a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) called relationship OCD (ROCD) and another condition known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Here’s what to know about each.


ROCD causes you to have obsessive, unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, feelings or urges, like, What if my partner is actually taking advantage of me? What if we’re doomed to fail because I’m too old for them? What if their age means they’re somehow not a good person? If you have OCD, you attach a lot of weight to these thoughts, and engage in physical and/or mental behaviors (compulsions) in an attempt to “solve” your worries or feel better, such as repetitively reading about other age gap relationships online.

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GAD is a pervasive sense of worry that can latch onto any and all areas of your life—including your relationship. Anxiety can make you go looking for something that’s wrong, even if nothing is really there. You may have recurring fears, like Are they really the one? But unlike OCD, those with anxiety just continue to worry about, avoid, or distract themselves from their anxieties, rather than engage in specific compulsions to try to solve them.

Getting the right help 

If you’re still having trouble working through your age gap issues, or just want some outside perspective, then don’t hesitate to get help from a licensed therapist. 

If you’re having general concerns that aren’t necessarily tied to a mental health condition, you might consider:

  • Couples counseling. This may be especially helpful if there are areas of your relationship that are exacerbating your concerns about the age gap—like maybe your top priority is to travel, and your partner wants to make a home and have children. A trained couple’s therapist can help you tease out these differences, and figure out whether it’s something you can work through or not. 
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a common form of talk therapy that can help you gain awareness about the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and actions—and break any undesirable patterns. CBT could help you understand where, exactly, your age gap concerns are coming from, and whether they’re something you really need to pay attention to or not.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. If you think your age gap worries are, in fact, connected to OCD or anxiety, ERP is proven to be effective in 80% of people with either condition. All of NOCD’s therapists have specialized training in ERP, but it’s not a modality that many clinicians have as part of their practice—so it’s important to ask.

ERP works for both OCD and anxiety disorders, teaching you to respond differently to worry and anxiety. By carefully, gradually triggering your fears and doubts, you learn that you can handle uncertainty—it doesn’t have to rule your life or ruin your relationship, and you don’t have to do a compulsion in response to it. “You learn to stick with your values,” says Zinman-Ibrahim. 

The bottom line about your age gap concerns

Your age gap, and your worries over it, don’t have to be something that ends your relationship. You can get help working through them. “While an age gap might present unique challenges, says Dr. DeVore, “the core ingredients for a successful relationship—trust, communication, respect, and love—remain the same.”

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