The concept of a “cougar” relationship, where an older woman dates a younger man, has become more popular in the news these days. And many people are asking, is it healthy, is there long-term potential?
It’s always hard to generalize, so let me share with you my thoughts about it. As a couples counselor for the past twenty years, I have seen close to one thousand couples and have worked with many couples with large age differences, both older man/younger woman as well as older woman/younger man. This “cougar” phenomenon is not new and has actually been around for thousands of years.
The issue I always come to, is whether the older partner, in this case the woman, is actively seeking out a younger partner or did they just happen to have fallen in love with and entered a relationship (hopefully in that order) with someone who is significantly younger?
If the relationship occurs organically, then I trust that the unconscious impulses of the partners are bringing them together for the best of reasons. To me, couples come together in love and commitment in order to help each other heal from their childhood issues. And given the proper tools, they can work through the issues and have a deep, intimate, long-term relationship.
Now, if a woman is actively and consciously seeking out a younger man, this is a case of the conscious mind overriding the wisdom of the unconscious mind and the psyche. We don’t always consciously know what is best for us. The long-term outcome in this case isn’t always positive.
Often our selection process is then more ego based or defense based. Perhaps we are choosing someone who we will feel safer with or at least less in danger with. Perhaps then we want a younger partner because they will be less likely to hurt us. Perhaps we will feel more in control and then less at risk of having our hearts broken. Or perhaps we just want a “trophy” that will impress others with their youth or will make us feel better about the passage of time in our own lives. Or perhaps it will give us the illusion of a fresh start, free from the mistakes of the past.
And, there is truly nothing wrong with any of these motivations. Not every relationship has to be a long-term one. Not every relationship even has to be committed and monogamous. There is much to learn in every form.
However, the prospect of a long-term relationship being successful is a little more at risk with these motivations. I truly believe that the psyche and the heart has great intelligence and great wisdom in partner selection. This unconscious process is the basis of Imago Relationship Therapy, the form of couples counseling that I practice.
Yes, we all have unresolved mommy issues and daddy issues and we need to work them through in order to have a successful long-term relationship. Yet if the relationship becomes too extreme in the parent/child dynamic, it will be quite bumpy and can become quite painful.