WHEN Chris Evans and Billie Piper - set to star in the new series of Dr Who - married, cynics didn't give their marriage much of a chance because of the difference in their ages. And while the couple confounded those who wrote them off, Evans has recently admitted that the 16-year age gap was behind their split after three years of marriage. The Bolton Evening News takes a look at the effects a large age gap can have on a marriage.

IT seemed Chris Evans had it all: top-rated TV and radio shows, his own production company and a marriage to young pop star Billie Piper.

However, over the past few years his career has taken a tumble and the marriage has fallen apart, with the 38-year-old saying: "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 though.

Demi Moore, aged 42, is rumoured to be pregnant by her younger partner, actor Ashton Kutcher, who is 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, aged 67, is 25 years older than Scott Mitchell, her husband of almost five years, not to mention 46-year-old Amanda Redman, who is famous for having a string of "toyboys".

And on the side of younger women, Catherine Zeta-Jones is exactly 25 years younger than husband-of-four-years Michael Douglas, who 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 is not always that simple, points out psychologist and author Dr Pam Spurr.

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 generational 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 is 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. 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.

"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 are going 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 says, 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 are becoming more independent.

"Older women might look at men up the age range and think, 'I'm not ready for pipe and slippers', and then down to a younger man and think, 'Yes, that's for me'."

Not only are older women more independent, both financially and personally, they are also fitter and healthier, she points out.

"You have only got to look at the rise in divorce figures for the 50-60 age range - women are now wanting to get on and live a great life. They don't want to be old, to settle down and collect their pension. They might want to spend the pension on abseiling from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

"I'm not saying all men are boring, but men and women both have to shift their thinking on relationships."


Be sure you are in the relationship for the right reasons. If the age was not an issue, what is 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

Do not be surprised if you meet with resistance - and take into consideration the impact of this relationship on family and friends

Do not immediately ignore any resistance - listen and check out what people are saying

Remember that while this is a great relationship now, imagine it in 20 to 30 years' time.

For all relationship advice or counselling, contact Relate on 0845 456 1310.