If you’re like me, you complain about emotionally immature people. You may not think of them as emotionally immature, but that is the root problem.
You complain about their insensitivity to your feelings, or perhaps their rudeness. You complain about their temper or brashness, but emotional immaturity is the real issue.
Not that we have any real right to complain. We are often emotionally immature in ways as well. Typically letting ourselves of the hook in this department, we notice immaturity in others.
It is common to see the many signs and symptoms of emotional immaturity as noted by some of the following behaviors:
Poor frustration tolerance
Insensitivity to the needs of others
Controlling or demanding behavior
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list and sadly, if we are honest with ourselves, we may have one or more of these traits ourselves.
Yet, the list gives us something to consider. If we don’t know about signs and symptoms of emotional immaturity, and the corollary, the hallmarks of emotional maturity, we won’t know what must be changed. We will never fully appreciate the damage we are doing to those with whom we are in relationship.
Tyra and Jarrad were off to a rough start in their short marriage. Having dated for only a year and now being married for two years, their failure to develop emotionally in their family of origin set them up for trouble.
Jarrad offered an explanation during their first couples counseling session.
“I was raised in an alcoholic family where both my parents drank nearly every night of the week,” he said. “I was left to play with my brothers and sister and was never taught about how to treat others.”
“How did that impact you?” I asked.
“Since both of my parents were absent, my siblings and I figured things out on our own. We took care of ourselves. Now I never know that what I do hurts Tyra. I sure don’t mean to hurt her.”
Tyra added her story.
“I was raised in a good family,” she said. “But, we learned to say whatever we think. There were no rules to how to talk. Everyone talked over the other, fighting when we didn’t like what was happening.”
“So, you didn’t learn how to be sensitive to the needs of others?” I asked.
“Not at all,” Tyra said. “We were a happy family, but with no clear boundaries or rules. I didn’t learn how to be a healthy, functioning adult.”
Tyra and Jarrad came from different homes, but both failing to learn about emotional development. This is hardly unusual. Many parents fail to take time to teach children how to interact appropriately with others. Many parents fail to teach their children about emotions, how to manage them and how to be sensitive and care for the emotions of others.
Tyra and Jarrad, and perhaps you, feel confused about emotional maturity. You’re not sure what to do about the problem. Here are a few starting steps to remedying the problem.
First, reflect upon the symptoms causing problems and the deeper issue fueling this problem. Relational problems are usually caused by emotional problems, and these are often fueled by emotional immaturity. Consider anger, for example, and the impact this has on a relationship. Consider how anger is typically a secondary emotion, fueled by other emotions not processed in an effective manner.
Second, make a decision to ‘grow up’ and let it begin with you. Growing up emotionally has a powerful impact on relationships. As we “keep our side of the street clean” we are better husbands and wives. We become better parents, friends and colleagues. Consider how you might grow up and the impact it will have on your marriage.
Third, gently confront emotionally immature behavior in your mate. While “growing up” begins with you, you dare not enable immature behavior in your mate. This by no means suggests you “keep score,” but rather humbly confront inappropriate behavior in your mate.
Fourth, encourage and reinforce emotional growth. Couples need to agree to make their marriage a safe place to share honest feelings. You need not share judgments or opinions, but rather share how your mate’s behavior impacts you. You must encourage growth in a gentle and kind way. Consider this motivating Scripture:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10: 24)
Finally, agree together to create an emotionally mature marriage. This will take hard work on both parts. You must agree that emotional maturity is an incredible benefit to your marriage and both profit from it. Agree to hold each other accountable for growth, understanding it is both an emotional and spiritual responsibility.
Thank goodness it is never too late to grow up and your marriage is a great place to do it. Practice the above strategies and let me know how they work for you. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.