"[...]we always wanted to just have essentially Sherlock, Watson and a few other peripheral characters like Mrs. Hudson; the woman in the house, or the cop; Inspector Lestrade. But we always intended to have a different kind of girl for each movie. We just thought it was nice to kind of close the chapter on Irene Adler because she was actually in the books. She was in one story and Holmes did think about her a lot. It was complicated getting (Rachel) to come back on board. She liked the experience (of the first film), she loved being with us, but she hoped to have a bigger role. I think at the end of the day it worked out fine. I think of the opening scene of the movie like it's Sherlock 1A before Sherlock 2, just that little scene feels like it came out between the two movies. Then when the logo comes on, we're starting the next picture, and I think it worked out for us. I think she did a great job for us."
So it seems that Irene's faith is definitely settled, Elena. I also really liked her, but in my opinion it wouldn't work to bring her back for the third. Not because she only appeared in one story but because they decided to kill her off and it would belittle the impact her death made to the story and would make Moriarty look like an amateur.
So I hope that they'll handle the future girls with respect and don't make it into a soap-opera, how you called it.
All indications for a new girl are there, comments made by Silver (James Bond) and also by Robert. I recall an interview where he said that Holmes doesn't have a lot of sex in the two movies and that it could change in the next one.
If they really have to get Holmes a new love interest then the only way to do it is to make it convincing and respectful.