Happiness — 20 February 2011
To have or not to have a new relationship later in life?

Some people who become widowed or divorced disavow future love commitments while others yearn for a new beloved. What are the advantages of pairing again and how can older couples deal with the challenges of later life bonding?

Many studies document the health and survival advantages to married older people as compared to their single counterparts. A University of Chicago study found that divorced or widowed people in their 50s and 60s, “suffered a decline in physical health from which they never fully recovered and had 20 percent more chronic health issues, than those who were still married to their first husband or wife by middle age.”

Physical touch, caressing and handholding have been shown to increase oxytocin in the brain that reduces blood pressure, stress and pain levels. Health researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad summarized, “Our relationships help us cope with stress, so if we have someone we can turn to for emotional support or advice, that can buffer the negative effects of stress.”

People in relationships also benefit from becoming accountable to each other and encouraging healthier lifestyle habits. They also gain a renewed mission to safeguard the other’s health and happiness.

Arthur Aron, used brain scans to confirm that feelings of love increased the dopamine levels in the brain resulting in greater pleasure and happiness.

If medical and psychological findings confirm the advantages of happy relationships and being in love is so invigorating, why would people at any age be leery of finding a new mate later in life?

Some are insecure about their appeal or find the search difficult and embarrassing. Others, who found love, tangle with managing family reactions, housing decisions, financial arrangements and blending life anew with each other.

The objection of some adult children to their parent’s new partner creates great ambivalence, stress and split allegiance for older lovers. Some children’s concerns spring from their protectiveness, caring and caution in safeguarding their parent’s best interests. Others are strained by accepting a new person who may fill their other parent’s role. Yet for others their rights to family funds seem to be a core issue.

Decisions about housing also strain pairs in having to leave the familiar for the new environment and perhaps be a guest and not a co-owner.

Concerns of declining health and a commitment to become a caregiver for the other sometimes frighten the new lovers.

• Consider that finding love and companionship at any age is a gift and a health, happiness and survival bonus.
• Have legal documents prepared to assure the children their rights and guaranteed inheritance, as per your wishes.
• Unless religiously guided, consider sharing as much as you can without legal constraints.
• Choose love. Maximize your life’s happiness and well-being. It’s worth the hassles.

This column was enhanced by the contributions of a wonderful group of Senior Peer Counselors who provide professional help to elders as part of Family Service Agency’s Senior Outreach Program.

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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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