Couple Partnerships in Later Adulthood

By: Jill Chonody   Jacqui Gabb  

Increased longevity means that many couples will be together for long periods of time. Yet, intimate relationships in later adulthood are understudied despite the positive association between relationships characterized by high quality and health and well-being. Research focused on age-specific strengths of older couples in enduring relationships is imperative. This cross sectional mixed methods study sought to redress this gap by investigating relationship maintenance in later adulthood. Our international (U.S., Australia, U.K.) sub-sample comprised 1,565 participants aged 55+ and in an ongoing relationship. Results from hierarchical multiple regression indicated that overall happiness with the relationship had the largest effect size on relationship maintenance, with 53% of the variance explained. In addition, a higher degree of relationship maintenance was explained by faith shaping the relationship, indicating that one’s partner is the most important person in her/his life, and being American. To gain a deeper understanding of behaviors used for relationship maintenance, two open-ended items were included. Content analyses of these identified companionship and laughter as some of the “best liked” aspects of the relationship. Housework/cooking and saying “I love you” were among the behaviors that made participants feel appreciated. Results indicated that small acts made them feel appreciated. This was also reflected in what participants liked best about their relationship. The mundanity of things identified was also notable in that everyday activities and small acts of kindness were designated far more often than grand symbolic gestures (Duck, 1988).

Intimate Relationships, Relationship Maintenance, Strengths
Social and Cultural Perspectives on Aging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Jill Chonody

Associate Professor, Social Work, Boise State University, United States
Idaho, United States

Jacqui Gabb

Professor, The Open University, United Kingdom
United Kingdom