Older People/Older Relationships
Age and developmental stage of life are poor predictors of where one is in a relationship. Older women and partners may be involved in a new passionate relationship, a longstanding intimate relationship, a longstanding non-intimate/distant relationship or no relationship at all. Individuals need to be reminded to hold realistic expectations about sexuality in longstanding relationships that are not related to physical aging.
David Schnarch (1997) encourages people to appreciate the advantages of longer relationships and more mature partners. He argues that most of us are best able to achieve our “sexual potential” in midlife. He distinguishes between “genital prime” and “sexual prime” by explaining that sexual peak has more to do with who one is as a person than the speed at which one’s body works. True sexual intimacy is only achievable by individuals who have the capacity for emotional intimacy. It is not surprising that maturity and independence are more likely to be attained by men and women who are also chronologically mature. It is also likely that lasting or long-term relationships are fairly exclusive to “older” couples since these terms require by definition that a relationship exist for many years. Nevertheless, older age does not effectively predict that someone is in a long-term relationship just as older age is not a guarantee that someone actually has achieved independence and emotional maturity. Older age can be considered a necessary but not sufficient component to maturity.
In contrast to long-term relationships which allow for true sexual intimacy, there are some obvious sexual advantages that are only experienced within the context of a new relationship. The excitement of new love provides the adrenaline rush that people tend to equate with passion. The novelty, the challenge, and the discovery are often the ingredients that make sex during this stage of a relationship incredibly exciting. These new exciting relationships are not exclusive to young people. They are just as as likely to occur in midlife as in young adulthood.
All variations of relationships are also susceptible to conflicts but it is the long-term relationships that are most noticeably affected since passion tends to compensate for conflict and couples in new relationships are more likely to choose to end the relationship rather than work to fix it. In addition to the fact that the longer something exists, the more time there is for a problem to develop, it is a common universal developmental difficulty for humans to maintain long-term relationships. Just as Schnarch (1992) differentiates between “genital prime” and “sexual prime”, it is easy to differentiate between falling in love and staying in love. There is also a difference between the “ideal” of a relationship and the “reality” of a relationship and it is increasingly difficult to maintain the “ideal"of a relationship as time passes. In addition, older couples may also lose their “ideal” of a relationship more quickly because they are not as likely to sustain the substitution of sex for love (Levine, 1998).