THIRD AGE: Mind the gap

LAST week Wendi Deng, 44, was busy planning gala dinners and organising piano lessons for her two young daughters, when her husband of 14 years shocked the world.

THIRD AGE: Mind the gap

Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire media tycoon, wanted a divorce.

As no reason to date has been given to explain the 82-year old’s decision to split up with his third wife, rumours have been rife and Twitter has been awash with speculation.

According to Robert Peston, the BBC financial correspondent, the reasons why Murdoch filed for divorce are “jaw-dropping’’. And already Tony Blair has been forced to issue a statement denying rumours that he had been having an affair with Wendi.

“I think Rupert genuinely loved her. Everybody is wondering what went wrong,’’ said Michael Wolff, Murdoch’s biographer.

But perhaps it could be just a simple explanation. A shrewd businessman, who everyone knows is really married to his company, wed to a Chinese factory worker’s daughter, and then there is the 38 year age difference? Was it really going to work? “What first attracted you to your elderly billionaire husband?’’ was the question many joked about when Wendi accepted Murdoch’s proposal in 1999, and married him just 17 days after he divorcing Anna Maria, his wife of 30 years.

Lisa O’Hara, a counsellor with Relationship Ireland, points out that the needs of people vary hugely as they age, and if the age gap is large it can often be a shock for the younger partner to see such changes.

“I don’t think it is enough to be in love, you are making a serious long-term commitment. You have to think seriously what your future is going to be like. Take the rose-tinted glasses off and consider what are your needs are going to be in 10, 20, 30 years time. Things do not stay the same, needs change,’’ she says.

“It is important to remember that in ten years time, you may end up being your partner’s carer. And that you as a 40-year old women may only be coming into your prime.”

“This can also leave the man feeling very insecure, she says.

O’Hara suggests the couple should also examine the reasons why they have decided to marry someone so much older or younger than them.

There are key questions to be asked, she says: Is one partner trying to feel youthful? Is the other a gold digger? Is the woman seen as a trophy wife? Does the man feel better about himself because he can catch and keep someone younger?

Just think of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones — a 25 year age gap; Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster — a 26 year age gap; Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson — 23 year age gap. All of the men have repeatedly admitted how proud they are to be with their beautiful and much younger wives, though it seems Saatchi forgot this last weekend when he put his hand on wife’s throat while dining at a London restaurant in what he said was a ‘playful tiff’.

So is there a maximum age gap? O’Hara believes it is a “very individual’’ decision.

“It really is down to the couple’s personality. But I think you must know exactly why you want to be with that person and to ask if you still feel the same in years to come. An energetic 60-year-old will slow down and can be very different aged 70 and then 80,’’ she says.

It should be noted that men also marry much older women. When Demi Moore, then aged 42, married Ashton Kutcher, then 27, in 2005, the bride looked stunning and their 15-year age gap seemed irrelevant.

However the odds may also have been stacked against them from the beginning as research shows that the majority of marriages where the woman is older ends in divorce.

And just last year a heart-broken Demi filed for divorce after stories emerged of Kutcher’s alleged infidelity. He’s now engaged to the actress Mila Kunis, who is six years younger than him.

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