Is your partner a major help-meet in your life? Do they bring a lot to the table and add a lot of value to the home you’re building with them? Or do you feel you’re carrying them through life? Let’s face it, some partners act more like children than they do willing and committed adults. Mentally, emotionally, materially, we drag them along and try to bring them up to speed. But it doesn’t work that way. We end up disappointed and frustrated — for what? If you want to get your relationship back on track, both of you have to face the truth.
What it's like to live with a childish partner.
Living with a childish partner is no small thing. Minor disagreements become major issues, and immaturity turns into explosive bouts of conflict and misunderstanding (Galambos, Barker & Tilton-Weaver, 2003). It’s hard to compromise with someone who is living in that childish place. It’s hard to build a clear vision of the future and strategy that helps you to achieve goals. This type of relationship comes with a lot of emotional imbalance and one-sided effort and decision making.
Failure to commit
Commitment is always a struggle with a childish partner. You may find yourself a victim of regular cheating, or at the very least, someone who disappears and reappears when they feel like it. This failure to commit can leave you feeling insecure and questioning your abilities and your place in the partnership.
Showing no support
When we invest in a serious relationship, we expect a certain level of support, affection, and compassion. The ball is always dropped in these areas when we’re dealing with a childish partner, though. They cannot show up for us, even in the most important moments; especially when it means the most to us. They will, however, demand that we show up for them and will demand that they are celebrating when they show the bare-minimum effort.
No real vision
What vision does your partner have for their life? This may seem like it doesn’t apply to you, but it does. We need to have a strong personal vision in order to build the right relationships that complement it. We must know who we are and what we want from our lives. The childish person struggles with that. Maybe they don’t know what they want, or maybe they have no goals. Either way, it can become a problem when times get tough in the relationship.
Is your partner extremely clingy and extremely insecure? Sure. Childish partners can come this way. It’s understandable. The childish person lacks a certain depth that allows them to fully understand and appreciate the extent of their strengths. Having failed to learn the value of personal validation, they often look to others to make them feel happy or good about themselves.
Unwilling to compromise
Compromise comes hard with the immature partner or relationship. When your partner is on the childish side, they can become demanding and bossy in all the worst ways. They may also struggle to see things from your point-of-view. These partners tend to want what they want in the moment, and that can come with a devil-may-care attitude that’s damaging to you emotionally.
Inability to take accountability
If you’re looking for a partner or spouse who’s going to be accountable, it’s not the childish person. There’s not enough awareness our courage there for them to be accountable for the things they get wrong. They will deny their mistakes both from a place of ego and from a lack of knowing. A lack of perspective means they don’t have the depth to understand how selfish and one-sided behavior can hurt other people close to them.
Little emotional control
There’s no real emotional control or awareness when we’re talking childish partners and spouses. They lash out and explode whenever they’re displeased. When we want to lean on them for emotional support, they’re often vacant, with no ability to truly empathize or connect. Because they lack that awareness, they lack a certain point of view and understanding of their own behavioral patterns.
One-sided decision making is another common feature when you’re dealing with a childish partner. Are you the one who always has to make the big decisions? Perhaps you’re the only one who shows up and follows through when times get tough or challenges have to be faced. Your partner may run, disappear mentally, or emotionally shut down altogether — which leaves you hanging off the cliff and holding all the burdens.
It's all superficial
Superficial relationships are also pretty common when one partner is more immature than the other. Does your partner or loved one struggle to go skin deep? Childish partners are known for this. They keep it on the surface and don’t really like to get into deep topics or commitments that hold them down. Primarily, this happens because they lack in the emotional depth to go beyond the surface. Their lack of awareness gives them a lack of perspective on life and love.
No plans for the future
An immature person is not someone who makes a lot of plans for the future. They tend to live in the moment. And while that can be exciting, it can also be problematic. When we’re serious about building lives together, we have to be able to strategize and make plans which allow us to conquer and accomplish our goals and dreams as a team. Are they always avoiding plans for the future? Take it as a red flag.
Living with a childish partner or spouse.
Dealing with a childish partner or spouse? Once you’ve embraced the reality of your relationship, you must work hard to set boundaries and demanding more. Stop taking things so personally and acknowledge who they are (and who they aren’t). Speak up for yourself more often, prioritize yourself, and carry yourself as an example to them. Realize, though, that you cannot change them. Adjust, or take action in the name of your needs.
1. Don't take anything too personally
When dealing with childish partners, there’s only so much of their behavior you can actually take seriously. At some point, you have to treat the childish behavior like childish behavior. You can’t take the insults and the upsets personally. After all, it has little to do with you and everything to do with your partner’s lack of maturity and self-awareness. Hard at first, you must brush the pettiness off of your shoulder and find a way to move beyond it for clarity.
Stop taking things so personally. If your partner is childish, then react to them as you would to a child. Would you take a hurtful statement from a 5-year-old as a personal statement of who you are? Probably not. Use the same approach here.
Learn how to brush it off. Find a way to see the petty behavior and the insults as a reflection of who they are, rather than a reflection of who you are. They don’t have the emotional maturity to respond to you like an adult who weighs the consequences and desired outcomes. When you stop expecting that, you will remove that disappointment factor. And that will allow you to stop seeing their behavior as some sort of condemnation of who you are as a partner. It’s not.
2. Set up better boundaries
There’s a lot of nuanced navigating in our relationships with childish people. We have to discover better ways to communicate our needs, and more effective ways of acting and reacting with one another. However, you and your partner decide to deal with these things, you must come from a place of steadfast boundaries. Your partner must know where your limits lie, and you must clarify that you won’t tolerate the juvenile behavior.
Build your approach to your partner on boundaries. Create clear-cut lines that protect your happiness and your wellbeing. Prioritize these things over your partner’s feelings and childish behavior. Sit down and consider how you want them to treat you, and what kind of behaviors you need to feel secure.
After getting a clear handle on your needs, communicate these boundaries to your partner. Because of their childish nature, you cannot mince words here. Be explicit and clear (while still respectful) about where the lines lie. Tell them what you will and will not tolerate. Clarify that when your boundaries are pushed, they will lose access to you. These should not be delivered as an ultimatum, but as an invitation. Invite your partner to learn a new way to interact with you.
3. Become a better example
If you’re not willing to part ways, or your partner has expressed a willingness to improve themselves, then you need to lead the charge — starting with your own life. You can’t hold their hand and change them. That’s something only they can do. A partner in the right mind state, however, can be encouraged by seeing us do the things they long to do. Live your life in such a way that it proves they need to grow up. Become a shining example to yourself and it can motivate them (if they’re the right person) to come along on their own.
Carry yourself as an example to your partner if you’re not ready to make the leap. Now that your boundaries are out there, encourage them to interact with your relationship differently. Describe the partner that you need, and encourage them to become that person. Show them the benefits of growing up and taking charge of your own life.
Make them a part of your life. Celebrate your successes and bring them along for the ride. At the same time, encourage them in those moments of maturity. When they take a step in the right direction, reward them for their successes and make it clear that you support the growth they move themselves toward. Then, rise above the petty backslides and destructive behavior. Carry yourself with class and grace when they revert and allow them to see themselves in the reflection of it all.
Putting it all together…
Are you stuck in a toxic dance with a childish partner who just can’t seem to grow up? Dating or marrying an immature person can be a major frustration. You can face a lot of petty behavior, infidelity, and upset. They are hard to communicate with and even harder to compromise with. The key to surviving is finding the balance and encouraging your partner to be a better person. There have to be boundaries, though. You cannot change them. How much are you willing to take?
Stop taking things personally. Would you take the insult of child to heart? Acknowledge who your partner is (and who they aren’t) so that you don’t have to see their behavior as a reflection of who you are. Set boundaries and approach them always with these limits in plain sight. Carry yourself as an example and never allow them to bring you down to their childish level. Speak up for yourself when they cross the line and insist on age-appropriate communication. Stop prioritizing their feelings and their needs. Put yourself first for a change. You are not their parent and you’re not responsible for them. Focus on getting the future that you need — with or without them.
- Galambos, N., Barker, E., & Tilton-Weaver, L. (2003). Who gets caught at maturity gap? A study of pseudomature, immature, and mature adolescents. International Journal Of Behavioral Development, 27(3), 253-263. doi: 10.1080/01650250244000326