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relationships: Should you mind the gap; Cathy Winston looks at what it takes to survive if you fall for a much older or younger partner.

Byline: Cathy Winston

WHEN Chris Evans and Billie Piper married, cynics didn't give their marriage much ofa chance, thanks to the difference in their ages And while the couple confounded those who wrote them off in the first few months, Evans has recently admitted that the 16-year age gap was behind their split after three years of marriage.

The 38-year-old said: 'Our lives changed. It was evident we weren't the same people and, although splitting up hurt, it was the best thing we ever did, apart from marrying in the first place.

'She was too young for me - only 18 when we met - but it was a real adventure.'

If critics are convinced an age gap spells doom for any relationship, plenty of other couples are proving it can work.

Demi Moore, 42, is rumoured to be pregnant by her younger partner, actor Ashton Kutcher, who's 15 years her junior, and 32-year-old Cameron Diaz is nine years older than boyfriend Justin Timberlake. And a quick celebrity round-up includes Joan Collins, who at 71 is 32 years older than her fifth husband Percy Gibson, while Barbara Windsor, 67, is 25 years older than Scott Mitchell, her husband of almost five years, not to mention 46-year-old Amanda Redman, who's famous for having a string of 'toyboys'. And on the side of younger women, Catherine Zeta-Jones is exactly 25 years younger than husbandof-four-years Michael Douglas Douglas has said: 'I suppose early on the age difference was an issue for us but today we never think about it unless people bring it up.'

Of course, it's not always that simple, points out Dr Pam Spurr, psychologist and author of Sex, Guys & Chocolate: Your Essential Guide to Lust, Love & Life.

The age of the couple is important, she explains. Older couples may have a greater chance of success as they have similar life experience - while a big gap may mean different attitudes and tastes, even on apparently simple things like clothes and music' Once a gap is bigger than 15 years, there's more gener-ational specific phenomenon to deal with,' she says. 'It can be the sort of thing that causes rows.'

Even if the couple themselves have no problems with the age gap, others - especially any children from previous relationships - may be less happy.

That's not uncommon, says Relate counsellor Denise Knowles. 'I think in age gap relationships it's often not the couple who have the problem, it's friends and family. We have all been brought up with evidence that these relationships don't work. Some find them abhorrent. 'Children struggle to recognise their parents as sexual beings,' she explains. 'If I had a toyboy, my son would be thinking, 'He's my age - Mum, how could you?'. That's where it starts to become a problem for many people near the couple.'

You have to take others' feelings into account, she stresses. 'If the couple are happy then part of me thinks let them get on with it - as long as they are prepared for the fall out.'

Preparation is the key, agrees Spurr. 'Often people are more aware of the hurdles because friends and families draw attention to this. In some ways, age gap couples go in with their eyes more wide open and are on a better footing for success.'

In fact, the knowledge that there may be problems or criticism can even help bring a couple closer together. Just be careful not to become blinded to the hard work that may be necessary, says Knowles.

'Rather than going in with open eyes, couples can ignore the difficulties there may be to prove a point,' she explains, adding that once the struggle to be accepted is over, the couple may find there's nothing left to bind them together.

'I think it does work nicely as a team, as long as both of the couple are not too intractable in their ways and aren't negating anything the other has to offer. Then it certainly can enhance and enrich the relationship.' And she believes that attitudes are changing, particularly in cases where an older woman is involved with a younger man - something which has traditionally led to cries of cradle-snatching, suggestions of gold-digging and mocking sniggers.

'It's still more the norm and there's less criticism if the man is older, but that's changing as women become more independent

take a moment to think

Be sure you are in the relationship for the right reasons. If the age wasn't an issue, what's good about it? Consider the long-term effects of the age gap, particularly if your partner is younger and wants to have a family, or is older and taking on yours Don't be surprised if you meet with resistance - and take into consideration the impact of this relationship on family and friends Don't immediately ignore resistance - listen and check out what people are saying. Remember that while this is a great relationship nowimagine it in 20-30 years. For all relationship advice or counselling, contact Relate on 0845 456 1310.

Sex, Guys & Chocolate: Your Essential Guide To Lust, Love & Life, by Dr Pam Spurr, is published by Robson Books, priced pounds 7.99.

Available now

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The classic spring and autumn marriage - Catherine ZetaJones and Michael Douglas; Society is becoming more understanding of the older woman/younger man relationship
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 24, 2005
Words:882
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