The benefits of being coupled in later years

Our culture idolizes youthfulness, high energy, productiveness, quick wit and fast-paced life. It also delights in young couples and families. We may not be fully appreciative of the exceptional benefits of later life love to seniors and society as a whole.

The same psychological and health benefits documented for young, committed couples have also been shown to enhance older pairs. In addition, the health and survival benefits afforded paired elders parallels the younger population in reducing their medical and social costs.

Researchers Ronald Glaser and Jane Kiecolt found that “Women in unhappy relationships or those who remained emotionally hung up on their ex-husbands had decidedly weaker immune responses than women who were in happier relationships.”

A University of Chicago study of men and women in their 50’s and 60’s discovered that “Married people who became single again – either by divorce or by the death of a spouse, had 20 percent more chronic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes than those who were still married to their first spouse by middle age.”

Neuroscientist James A. Coan of the University of Virginia found that holding a husband’s hand during electric shock therapy calmed his wife’s pain to the same degree that a pain–relief drug would have provided.

Psychologically, being paired at any age re-affirms one’s desirability, secures one’s safety and helps sustain his/her emotional comfort. The reassurance of being worthy of the love and caring of one’s treasured mate reactivates the same brain chemicals that enable infants to bond with their primary caregiver.

The phrase, “Love makes the world go round” is not an exaggerated metaphor. Love actually heightens our energies, bolsters our confidence and helps us feel safer in a challenging world. The establishment of a unique bond with one other person reaffirms our worthiness, appeal and desirability and fends off depression and despair. It elevates us to higher levels of mental and emotional functioning in our attempts to secure this life-affirming bond.

Other significant relationships younger and older people foster serve as additional confirmation of our desirability and worth. Yet, those who have good friends, satisfying work associates and an active life but lack a “significant other” often feel the absence of ongoing confirmation of his/her specialness and the reassurance of another’s love energy. Age only heightens these losses for those who are not partnered.

Yet, some individuals whose mating has not been pleasing prefer the solitary state to an unstable partnership. Feeling special, loved, safe and cared about does not require a life–partner. It can be secured through friends, activities and a healthy sense of mastery of one’s life.

Cherish your relationship state:

  • If you are healthily partnered, be appreciative and help your mate feel equally secure about your love and devotion.
  • If you are not partnered and wish to be, express your need to friends who are often delighted to become matchmakers.
  • Sustain a healthy lifestyle to safeguard your physical and emotional wellbeing.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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