Emotionally Immature Relationships

Colleen Sheehy Orme

Couple on motorized bikePhoto by Anastasia Shuraeva

Is your spouse mature or immature? While my marriage was suffering my husband began uncharacteristically abusing alcohol. I would tell him to stop taking my attention away from the three people who needed it most, our children. As his behavior digressed, so did mine.

As a relationship columnist, I often say I'm tired of watching children walking around masquerading as adults. We have to take responsibility for our actions and our emotions. My husband was angry I was thinking of leaving and it was coming out while drinking. In turn, I now responded badly. I began to raise my voice and say terrible things back to him.

The American Psychological Association provides the following definition of emotional maturity

"A high and appropriate level of emotional control and expression."
Likewise, it describes emotional immaturity as "A tendency to express emotions without restraint or disproportionately to the situation."

Before the chaos started in our home I was emotionally mature enough to communicate as an adult should. Of course, living with someone who is drinking is an extreme example. Many would react poorly after remaining in an unhealthy situation too long. I use this to illustrate there are times when anyone can have the ability to handle conflict badly.

This Psychology Today article "Emotional Maturity In Relationships" does a good job of explaining the difference between emotional maturity and emotional immaturity. Tonya Lester, LCSW describes it as follows:

"A key skill in communicating effectively is being able to speak “for” your feelings instead of “from” your feelings."
"Imagine wearing a pair of glasses. When they are on your face, you see the world through that lens. You might even forget that you’re wearing them. Everything you see is filtered through that lens. But if you take the glasses off and observe them in front of you, it’s possible to describe the glasses. You can acknowledge that you see things differently when you are looking through them."
"Speaking from your feelings often involves accusing, all or nothing language and puts the responsibility for your feelings on the other party. It might feel good to unload, but it ultimately leaves you helpless and the other person defensive. In contrast, speaking for your feelings creates just enough space for the other person to consider your needs without feeling attacked. It’s a lot easier to take in, “I am so sad,” as opposed to, “You are running my life!”"

The Healthline article "Emotional Maturity: What It Looks Like" lists these six characteristics of emotional maturity.

Taking Responsibility: "People with emotional maturity are aware of their privilege in the world and will try to take steps toward changing their behavior. This means you don’t blame others (or yourself) when something goes awry. You possess a spirit of humility — instead of complaining about your circumstances, you become action-oriented. You may ask, “What can I do to improve this situation?”"
Showing Empathy: "Emotionally mature individuals approach life by doing as much good as they can and supporting those around them. You know how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Meaning, you often feel more concern for others and try to find ways of helping."
Owning Mistakes: "You know how to apologize when you’ve done wrong. No excuses. You’ll admit your mistakes and try to find ways of rectifying the situation. You also don’t have the desire to be right all the time. Instead, you’ll acknowledge that you indeed don’t have “all the answers.”"
Being Unafraid of Vulnerability: "You’re always willing to open up and share your own struggles so others feel less alone. You’re also not interested in being seen as “perfect” all the time. Emotional maturity means being honest about your feelings and building trust with those around you because you don’t have an agenda."
Recognizing and Accepting Needs: 'Those with emotional maturity can admit when they need help or when they’re burning out. For example, you’ll acknowledge when you need a break and know when to ask your boss for a day off. You’re also able to clearly communicate with your partner for more help around the house."
Setting Healthy Boundaries: "Setting healthy boundaries is a form of self-love and respect. You know how and when to define a line and won’t allow others to cross it. If a colleague belittles or puts you down, you won’t stand for it and will let your voice be heard."


Understanding the definition of emotional maturity versus emotional immaturity is a start. The examples from the Psychology Today and Healthline pieces take it to the next level. They make it more easily digestable in your day to day relationship experiences and communication.

No one is perfect.

Especially since we typically let our relationship problems fester. Making it more likely we may express our feelings without emotional maturity. The goal is to understand and strive for that mature level of communication and learn to resolve our conflict with less hurt, harm, and baggage.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a National Relationship Columnist, freelance journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, relationships, and self-restoration. She has spent more than a decade in research and counseling on the topics of divorce, relationships, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Reston, VA

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