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Romance Thrives in Long-Term Relationships, Study Reveals

Romantic love can last a lifetime, but you shouldn't suffer from loneliness now that your spouse is gone.

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It could be tough convincing love-struck teenagers, but older adults who have been together for many years do experience romance that rivals that of their younger counterparts. That’s part of what makes the loneliness brought on by loss so devastating. Death or divorce creates a painful void. Help ensure that your senior loved ones who are widowed or divorced have companionship in their lives.

Q: After 53 years of marriage, my wife passed away last year. We were as romantic with each other as the day we married. Younger people always looked at us as unusual because of our open affection for one another. Was that odd? I miss her very much.

You were very blessed and lucky to have such a wonderful marriage for all those years. And your relationship certainly represents an example of a healthy situation that is playing out daily in others’ lives as well.

According to a study that appears in Review of General Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, romance does not need to fizzle out in long-term relationships. Romantic love (with intensity, sexual interest and engagement), can last a lifetime and lead to happier, healthier relationships.

First, however, it’s important to define the kind of love we’re talking about. “Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component,” said lead researcher Bianca P. Acevedo, Ph.D., then at Stony Brook University (currently at University of California, Santa Barbara). “Passionate or obsessive love includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This kind of love helps drive the shorter relationships, but not the longer ones.”

The researchers report their analysis suggests that “romantic love, without the obsession component typical of early-stage romantic love, can and does exist in long-term marriages, and is associated with marital satisfaction, well-being and high self-esteem.”

A 1984 study used by the researchers found that women, aged 50 to 82, in long-term relationships (33 years or more) reported high levels of passionate love (described as a wildly emotional state, with tender and sexual feelings, elation and pain, anxiety and relief), although slightly lower levels than compared with women in shorter relationships.

Couples who reported more satisfaction in their relationships also reported being happier and having higher self-esteem.

One thing is certain: You shouldn’t suffer from loneliness now that your wife is gone. Do what you can to get out and reconnect with family and friends. If that’s not possible, consider professional companionship services. The local Home Instead® office employs male and female CAREGiversSM who are bonded and insured, and can both provide assistance around the house and serve as companions for activities and events.

 To read more about this research, visit

Last revised: August 16, 2011

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