Everyone has moments when they’re grumpy or selfish. We can all be difficult, dismissive, and obtuse. But such behaviors should be few and far between. If you find that your partner or someone else close to you must always have their needs take precedence over yours, tends to take everything personally, regularly dismisses serious conversations, or grows noticeably moody anytime something doesn’t go their way, that may be a sign of emotional immaturity.
People who are emotionally immature tend to be stuck at an emotional age that is younger than their actual age, and behave accordingly. There are a number of triggers for this, including childhood trauma, mental health problems, and modeling from parents. Whatever the root cause may be, emotional immaturity can be incredibly taxing for those who have to deal with it in their relationships and it’s important to recognize the signs.
“You feel like you have another child in the home,” says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “They don’t follow through with what they say they’re going to do, you have to stay on them about their chores, they are untrustworthy. They believe you should take care of them rather than them taking care of themselves first.”
There are, of course, grades of emotional immaturity. But emotionally immature people often have a hard time regulating their feelings and can be set off easily. When things don’t go their way, they may react with extreme anger and frustration, making those around them nervous and on edge, perpetually in fear of an outburst.
Often, McBain adds, emotionally immature people don’t take care of their mental health. They may refuse to attend therapy even if they’re struggling mentally or emotionally, or agree to attend ‘for you’ but not really show up.
If any of this sounds familiar, there are likely some conversations to have. Communication, honesty and empathy are key to helping address these issues successfully. Realizing that everyone’s maturity happens at their own pace can also be helpful as you both try and reach an understanding.
“It is crucial to have open and ongoing conversations about emotions, expectations, and personal growth within the relationship,” explains Tesa Saulmon, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert. “With patience, understanding, and a willingness to grow, emotional maturity can be achieved, leading to a healthier and more fulfilling relationship.”
5 Signs of Emotional Immaturity
As it’s helpful to be aware, here, according to therapists, are some telltale signs of emotional immaturity.
1. Difficulty Handling Conflict
Disagreement is a tricky thing for emotionally immature people to navigate. They tend to become emotionally heightened and can resort to deflection and blame shifting. “An emotionally immature partner may struggle to navigate conflicts in a mature and constructive way,” Saulmon says. “They may resort to passive-aggressive behavior, avoid discussions altogether, or engage in frequent arguments without seeking resolution.”
2. Lack of Empathy
People who are stunted emotionally can’t always see perspectives in a relationship outside of their own. They don’t see how their actions affect other people and are not always available for emotional support. “Empathy is a crucial aspect of emotional maturity,” says Saulmon. “If your partner consistently fails to understand or acknowledge your feelings, lacks compassion, or dismisses your emotions, it may indicate emotional immaturity.”
3. A Heavy Reliance on Validation
“Partners who are emotionally immature often rely heavily on external validation for their self-worth,” Saulmon says. “They may constantly seek reassurance, attention, or compliments, and struggle with self-validation.” This constant need for recognition and approval can sap that person’s self-confidence and force them to constantly need to fill the well back up by seeking approval and positive reinforcement from others.
4. Inability to Take Responsibility
Someone who is emotionally immature can have difficulty owning up to their mistakes or acknowledging the consequences of their behavior. “Taking responsibility for one's actions is an essential part of emotional maturity,” Saulmon says. “An emotionally immature partner may deflect blame onto others, make excuses for their behavior, or avoid accountability altogether.” Over time, this will generate a cycle of frustration because, instead of learning from their mistakes and growing, they simply continue repeating the same ones over and over again and shifting the blame.
5. Difficulty Managing Emotions
“Emotional immaturity often leads to difficulty in managing intense emotions,” Saulmon says. “Your partner may have frequent mood swings, overreact to minor setbacks, or struggle with impulse control.” People who are emotionally immature are set off easily and tend to lash out, sometimes unexpectedly. Because they can’t always express themselves properly, they will also keep things bottled up until their emotions come out in an irrational outburst.
Starting Conversations And Setting Boundaries
Living with someone who is emotionally immature can be draining, create conflict, and impede growth. One of the most effective ways of dealing with an emotionally immature person is to directly bring up the issue. Set a conversation to explain the problem areas and how they make you feel, what you’d like them to be more aware of, and lay out some steps to take. It’s important to clearly express how you feel when he or she acts out (use the classic “I” statements to describe your feelings) without blame or anger.
“Create a safe space for open and honest communication with your partner. Encourage them to express their feelings and concerns without judgment,” Saulmon says. “This can help them become more aware of their own emotions and facilitate growth.”
That said, having this level of open communication does not mean that your partner is now free to express themselves however, whenever, and wherever they want. It’s critical to set firm boundaries and expectations so that it’s understood what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.
Saulmon says it’s critical to have open and honest conversations about those boundaries and what won’t fly in the relationship. If, say, one person has a habit of pouting silently if something doesn’t go their way, then a boundary may be that you call out the behavior and disengage with them so as to not reinforce it.
Of course, if problems persist, then therapy is a good course of action. It’s also important to focus on self care and not neglect your own feelings and needs, which can often take a back seat to theirs.
“Surround yourself with loving and caring people who support you fully,” McBain says. “If your partner refuses to go to therapy or isn’t doing the work, go to individual therapy yourself to take care of you and to figure out how you’re going to navigate this difficult pattern in your relationships moving forward.”