Gaps in emotional maturity may cause conflict and stress in romantic relationships

StaceyNHerrera

**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I once dated a guy who threw tantrums. I’m talking full-on, grown-man tantrums complete with foot-stomping and door slamming. Needless to say, the relationship was short-lived.

I’m the first to admit that I have dated my fair share of emotionally immature men. These men avoided feelings and conversations with any depth. They didn’t know how to be vulnerable. They were commitment-phobes with Peter Pan syndrome. In other words, they never grew up.

I’m not implying that all men who feel uncomfortable expressing themselves are emotionally immature. Men (and people in general) are socialized to suppress their emotions. But there is a difference between someone who has trouble expressing himself and someone who refuses to express himself.

My experience being in emotionally stunted relationships taught me a lot about what I needed and deserved. I learned that emotional maturity is not something you can change in someone else. You can only change it in yourself.

But it’s not always easy to spot an emotionally immature person. They may be intelligent, successful, and charming. They may tick all the boxes on your list. But if they’re emotionally immature, the connection will fizzle, and you’ll be left wondering what happened.

Emotional maturity is vital.

Emotionally mature people are self-aware. They know their triggers and how to deal with them. They’re good at handling conflict and aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations. They’re honest and present in the relationship.

Of course, finding a partner who is equally yoked emotionally can be a tall order. And even if you find someone emotionally mature, there will still be times when the two of you aren’t on the same page.

That’s where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of and understand your own emotions and the emotions of others.

In other words, emotional intelligence is regulating emotions and responding rather than reacting.

“Maturity is the behavioral expression of emotional health and wisdom. It is the capacity to know one’s own emotional experience, to be oriented by this experience to some aspect of the truth, to place this truth within the context of other truths, and finally to act in accordance with one’s values.” — Eric S. Jannazzo Ph.D.

Why is emotional maturity important in relationships?

Relationships are complex. They are made up of two people with their own histories, experiences, and perspectives.

And while it’s not always easy to communicate and connect with someone else, it is possible. But it takes work. It takes emotional maturity.

Emotional mature individuals are in a constant state of evolution, where they become increasingly more self-aware and in tune with their inner landscape. They can regulate their emotions when the stuff hits the fan. They are willing to work with their partner to find solutions that work for both of them.

On the other hand, emotionally immature individuals tend to be self-centered, reactive, and resistant to change. They are more likely to blame their partner for the problems in the relationship. Rather than holding themselves accountable for their part, they may try to control or manipulate their partner into submission.

These types of relationships are not built on a solid foundation and are more likely to crumble under the weight of conflict and stress.

“We need maturity within ourselves for our own sake. All too often we act out what we are feeling in ways that take us further from our own well-being. Maturity — the alignment of our truth, our wisdom, and our values — is something we can cultivate.” — Eric S. Jannazzo Ph.D.

Power Struggles

Power struggles are common in relationships where there is an emotional maturity gap. When one person is emotionally mature, and the other is not, it can create a dynamic where the emotionally immature person feels like they are constantly being controlled or criticized.

The emotionally mature person may try to take on the role of the “parent” in the relationship, while the emotionally immature person may act like a child. This is a recipe for conflict and resentment.

When a relationship gets to this point, it’s often too late. The damage has been done, and the trust has been broken. But I’m a firm believer that nothing happens out of the blue.

Early in a relationship, there are warning signs that signal an emotional maturity gap. If you can spot them, you can discern whether the gap is something you’re willing to work with or if it’s a deal-breaker.

Three (3) Telltale Signs of an Emotional Maturity Gap

1. One person is always taking charge

In healthy relationships, each person has equity. That is, each person has a say in what goes on. But in relationships with an emotional maturity gap, one person often feels like they are always in charge.

Of course, there will be times when one person takes on the role of the “leader” while the other is the“follower.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. But if it’s a constant dynamic, it can create tension.

The “leader” may experience decision fatigue, while the “follower” may feel like they are not being heard or valued. It’s essential to have a balance of power in a relationship where both people feel like they can contribute and be heard.

2. One person is always right

For the record, nobody is always right. But in relationships with an emotional maturity gap, it often feels like one person is always getting it right while the other is getting it wrong.

The problem with this dynamic is that it creates an "us vs. them" environment. So rather than feeling like partners, each person feels like they are on an opposing team.

3. One person is always taking care of the other

In any relationship, there will be times when one person needs to take care of the other. But codependency is often the result when there is a gap in emotional maturity.

One person takes on the role of the “caretaker” while the other person takes on the part of the “dependent.” This may seem a good thing initially, but it’s not sustainable.

The caretaker will eventually burn out from the constant cycle of distress and rescuing. And the dependent will continue to grow more and more dependent on the caretaker.

These are just a few of the signs that there is an emotional maturity gap in your relationship. If you’re seeing any of these signs in your relationship, it may be time to reassess.

It’s not always easy to own the fact that you’re in an emotionally imbalanced relationship. But acknowledging that there’s a problem is priority number one. From there, you can decide if the relationship is worth saving or if it’s time to move on.

What can you do if your partner is emotionally immature?

Talk about it

The first step to working through most things in a relationship is communication. An honest conversation with your partner about the emotional maturity gap is a good start.

Be sure to approach the conversation with kindness and compassion. Remember, you’re not trying to fix your partner. You’re just trying to understand each other better.

Be patient

If your partner is having difficulty communicating their emotions, be patient. It takes time and practice to learn how to express feelings in a healthy way.

Remember, your partner is not going to shift their behavior overnight. Working through this issue will take time, patience, and understanding.

Set boundaries

Where there is an emotional maturity gap, there are almost always unsafe or non-existent boundaries. If you find yourself constantly taking care of your partner or walking on eggshells around them, it may be time to set some boundaries.

This applies to both parties in the relationship. Regardless of whether you’re the more emotionally mature one or not, it’s essential to set boundaries. This will help create a more balanced and healthy relationship.

Remember, boundaries that are not communicated do not exist. So be sure to share your boundaries clearly and often.

Seek professional help

If you’ve tried communicating, setting boundaries, and being patient, but you’re still not seeing any progress, getting some outside support may be a good idea.

A therapist or a coach can help you and your partner work through the emotional maturity gap. They can provide you with tools and resources that you may not have had access to before.

Focus on self-improvement

Last but not least, it’s essential to focus on self-improvement. This is true for both parties in the relationship.

No matter how immature your partner may be, you can’t change them. The only person you have control over is yourself.

So focus on your personal growth. Work on communicating better, setting boundaries, and being more understanding. The more attentive you are to your personal evolution, the more likely your relationship will improve as well.

“…we can all pay close attention to cause and effect as it exists in our own lives. What is important to me? Is my behavior in alignment with these values? What is required of me to move towards healthier relationships? What is called for if I’m to move more directly in the direction of my own true well-being?” — Eric S. Jannazzo Ph.D.

If you’re in a relationship with an emotional maturity gap, all is not lost. By following the tips above, you can work through the issue and come out stronger on the other side.

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA
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