“It’s not just words coming from the mouth”: The nature of compassionate love among older couples

Allen K. Sabey*, Amy J. Rauer, Megan L. Haselschwerdt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Compassionate love is an important characteristic of healthy close relationships. However, we know little about how compassionate love is behaviorally manifested. Furthermore, compassionate love may be uniquely experienced among older couples, as age-related challenges may require adjustments by spouses in providing more care for one another. Through interviews with 63 older married couples, this exploratory study examined the behavioral component of compassionate love among older couples as reported from the recipients’ perspective. From the qualitative data analysis, 11 behavioral domains were identified, including caring for physical health and helping with household tasks. The examples varied greatly in magnitude and meaningfulness, from willingly moving around the country to fixing breakfast. Further, couples frequently highlighted acts related to their increasing age-related challenges, underscoring the importance of taking a life-span approach to the study of compassionate love. The results may be useful to further develop interventions promoting compassionate love, especially among older couples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-665
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Compassionate love
  • marriage
  • older adulthood
  • thematic data analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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