| June 6, 2012

Do cougars have it right? In some ways, they might. One 2010 study out of the University of Texas suggests that women aged 27 to 45 not only have increased sexual fantasies, but have more sex on the whole than their younger counterparts. This can prove beneficial to certain relationships, especially those in which an older woman dates a younger man.

But what happens after the excitement of a sexually-charged relationship fades? For couples with a significant age difference between them, it can be particularly challenging to stay strong for the long term.

“Dating more than 10 years out of your age bracket is a significant jump,” says Lisa Steadman, a relationship expert and bestselling author. “It can create significant barriers in a relationship.”

So, can a relationship with someone significantly older or younger ever really work? Experts say the chances are slimmer, but it’s possible as long as expectations are set and extra challenges can be met with solidarity.

Creating a long-term partnership with someone much older or younger can be challenging, as goals and expectations for the future can differ. “Shared goals, common interests and compatibility make up a successful relationship,” Steadman says. Without these things as a solid foundation, there is a weaker potential of the relationship lasting.”

Different Life Stages
“You’re not necessarily going to grow together,” Steadman says. “You might be starting your career while someone else is winding down. Don’t expect to be on the same page about everything.” This can be difficult in terms of relating to one another.

Mixing Friends
While relationships shouldn’t necessarily be determined by external opinions, disapproval by close family and friends can add additional strain to a pairing. “What if your friends and family think you’re insane?” Steadman says. “What if they judge your choices?”

Furthermore, mixing the two groups can be even harder. “Friends around both parties might have difficulty relating to one another,” adds Matt Titus, a relationship expert.

Shared Goals
A huge factor in any successful relationship is having common goals. This can be anything from starting a family to career ambitions.

Sexual Chemistry
Women hit their sexual prime later in life, usually in their 40s, whereas men hit their peaks earlier, in their 20s and 30s. In cases where the woman is older than the man, this can be the main motive for the relationship. “Sexual chemistry can be a draw for a younger man dating an older woman,” Steadman says. “Both are in their sexual prime, so this can be fun.”

This can be disadvantageous in reverse cases, however, where the man is significantly older than the woman. “It can be fun in the beginning,” Titus says. “But if you are a woman dating a man 20 years older than you are, you have to worry about him slowing down. Your sexual relationship may be great when he is 45 and you are 25, but when he is 65 and you are 45, he won’t be able to keep up with you.”

Life Experience
While every relationship can be exciting at the beginning, Titus wants people to be mindful of the evolution down the road as a couple. “After (the excitement) wears off, you’re left with who each other is,” he says. “You’re left with life experience.”

And when one person has drastically more life experience than the other, that can lead to difficulties. But it’s not impossible. Steadman says it’s all about setting appropriate expectations at the beginning of any partnership. “There’s always a flipside to any relationship,” says Steadman. “As long as you’re mindful of the flipside, you’ll be okay.”