ERP 411: What Are The Signs Of Emotional Immaturity In Relationship? Part Two

By Posted in - Podcast February 13th, 2024 0 Comments

Do you often feel like you’re bearing the emotional burden in your relationship while your partner struggles to express their feelings and handle difficult conversations? If these dynamics sound familiar, you may be navigating the complexities of emotional immaturity in your relationship.

Welcome back to the Empowered Relationship Podcast, where we continue our exploration of emotional immaturity and its impact on relationships. If you missed part one of this multi-series, I highly recommend giving it a listen, where we explored five key characteristics of emotional immaturity.

In this episode, we’re diving deeper into this topic by examining four additional characteristics. From struggles with healthy communication to difficulty engaging in hard conversations and conflicts, we’ll unravel the intricacies of emotional immaturity and how it impacts intimate relationships.

Join us as we uncover valuable insights to cultivate deeper connections and intimacy with your significant other.

In this Episode

9:27 Dependency and validation: Key characteristics of emotional immaturity.

13:15 Challenges of emotional engagement and relational depth in emotionally immature relationships.

20:34 Unilateral decision-making and emotional detachment.

23:00 Avoidance, defensiveness, and blame-shifting.

28:10 Communication challenges and manipulative behaviors.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Recognize and acknowledge your own emotions and reactions in relationships, as self-awareness is the first step toward emotional maturity.
  • Practice emotional regulation techniques to manage impulsive and reactive behaviors in intimate interactions.
  • Cultivate empathy and understanding for your partner’s feelings and experiences, fostering a balanced exchange of emotions and support in the relationship.
  • Establish and maintain healthy boundaries to protect your emotional well-being and promote autonomy within the relationship.
  • Seek opportunities for personal growth and development, such as therapy or self-help resources, to address areas of emotional immaturity.
  • Engage in open and honest communication with your partner, addressing issues and conflicts with a willingness to listen and understand.
  • Consider couples therapy as a collaborative effort to navigate emotional immaturity and strengthen relational skills.

Mentioned

​​11 Signs of Emotional Immaturity in Relationships & Ways to Deal

Signs of Emotional Immaturity

ERP 410: What Are the Signs of Emotional Immaturity in Relationship?

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About Today’s Show

Let’s get started in today’s episode. To remind you, this is a part two. If you missed part one, I want to encourage you to check that episode out first, as we are really diving into the characteristics and signs of emotional immaturity, and I covered the first five characteristics. Really just to even back up on around the topic, I had interviewed a guest who was using the terminology “emotional immaturity” interchangeably with “emotional abuse.” I got a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, and I had several requests to focus on this topic and do a little bit more to offer information. And what I did was really look at several articles and did my best to synthesize and organize the information, as I felt the similarities in categorizing, so that I could offer you these nine characteristics. 

To revisit, the intention of these episodes around emotional immaturity is to help build awareness. It’s not to weaponize or even try to pathologize people that might be underdeveloped in the emotional realm, and really to bring attention to the opportunity. Because what we’re learning here is that these skills can be learned. And what we’re going to be talking about in the next episode is how emotional immaturity gets developed, or how emotional maturity doesn’t develop, and there are certain circumstances and reasons. So when we can provide the opportunities and the circumstances to learn, that we do have the ability to do this, if one is willing and able to participate in developing these skills. 

To summarize the five characteristics that I discussed in the last episode. Number one: difficulty regulating emotions and handling stress. Number two: emotional impulsivity and reactivity. Number three: low frustration tolerance and rigidity in thinking. Number four: lack of self-awareness, emotional depth, and empathy. Number five: making it all about them.

To be clear, one doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics to be emotionally immature. As I mentioned in the last episode, most people exhibit emotionally immature behaviors from time to time, but what we’re looking at is a pattern of behavior. Again, with the goal of bringing opportunity to develop emotional maturity.

This morning at breakfast, my husband was asking me about emotional immaturity, and he was wondering out loud. I wonder, the percentage of adults in the US that are emotionally immature. And we talked about the fact that it’s a continuum. He’s like, is it ever-evolving, or do you arrive at a certain place? And what I was responding to was, I think it’s both. 

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“I think we’re always evolving in our maturity, and also, we do get to a certain level of functionality where we can have difficult conversations, we can confront differences that might feel like a conflict and engage in win-wins, or try to work together to have resolutions and solutions.”

As well as communicating about emotions and how one feels, engaging in emotional conversations and being empathetic and understanding. Also some of the things that we’ve talked about. 

I’m going to talk a lot more about how to develop emotional maturity in, not the next episode, but the following episode. As I said, I was going to have several parts to this topic as there’s a lot to cover. I’m not even doing it full justice, I realize. But again, the goal is to begin the conversation; giving you language, giving you some understanding of the terrain here, also providing opportunities to deepen in your practice. Also, if you’re wanting to know more, I’ll give more resources as well.

The sixth characteristic of someone who exhibits emotionally immature behavior is someone who engages in dependency behaviors, need for validation, and also has difficulty with boundaries. So someone may have the tendency to seek positive attention or even rely on it. So they might fish or they might set up certain conversations. As we talked about previously, are a little bit more sensitive to criticism, constructive feedback, or even difficult conversations. So they might steer towards positivity or even things that are likely going to make them look good.

The dynamics may be that the person that struggles with emotional maturity may seek a lot of validation for decision-making or what they’re thinking or feeling, and they may even rely heavily on their significant other to deal with life challenges, or even making big decisions. If I look at a composite of many clients, I’ve had clients who describe carrying a lot of the emotional load. Almost as though they have to stay positive, they have to be even tempered, or even be more of the stable one. Because again, their partner has those roller coaster moods, maybe unpredictability, that high reactivity. So there’s this sense of emotionally, I have to be a little bit more solid so we can stay stable as a couple; we can’t both be all over the place emotionally. 

Then also, carrying more of the load mentally, anticipating the needs of the other or the family, as a way to reduce stress. So we talked about the one that struggles with the emotional maturity has difficulty tolerating stress of day-to-day living, or low frustration tolerance. So one in relationship can be more prone to try to mitigate stressors ahead of time, so that things are a little bit more easy and flowing. So to not cause opportunities for more of a disrupt for the person that, again, struggles with these things. Also, social load, for reasons already described. As having a difficult time, understanding people, or going to a more deep emotional conversations and cultivating that more relational glue in even friendships. The partner that has a little more of that emotional maturity may be a little bit more networked socially, might have an easier time establishing and maintaining social relationships, so likely will carry a little bit more of that load as well. So these are just a couple examples. Again, I’m not covering everything. But as you can see, one that is less emotionally mature would maybe rely on the more mature one.

In the upcoming episode, I’m going to talk a little bit more about the person who’s in relationship with someone who’s emotionally immature. But I will say here, as you can probably tell, the one that’s carrying more of this load can feel an unhealthy dynamic, and might feel burdened or even drained by this need for validation. It feels one-directional. It’s not this give-and-take and interdependence. It’s more relying heavily on one to be the mature one and the stable one. Fast forward, in a long-term relationship, this can be quite problematic. 

I’ve actually worked with clients in hindsight, as they explored their previous relationships, and relationships of quite substantial amount of time together. I’m talking 10 to 12 years, 20 years, and looking at the pattern of behavior of being the one carrying many aspects of the relationship. As I just mentioned, social, financial, and emotional, and mental, just the logistics in the domestic, in a way to keep the relationship buoyant. They often remarked something to the effect of: “I did all the heavy-lifting, and my partner never had to do the hard work and really grow in these areas. And while it made sense at that time, in a lot of ways, it was a disservice to me, and it was also a disservice to my partner.” 

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“The pattern or the dynamic in relationship can actually enable the emotional immaturity. This is where the dependency can actually result into a more enmeshed relationship or even what people might call codependent relationship, instead of the emotionally mature, interdependent intimacy that is more optimal.”

And boundaries. Boundaries are typically challenging for someone who is more emotionally immature, where their boundaries may be too strong and too rigid, as we mentioned about the mental rigidity; having difficult time working together, having a hard time compromising. It’s almost as if it’s my way. This is, I think, where some of that dominance can occur, that there’s little capacity for negotiating, or as I said, compromising. Also, with boundaries, it can be challenging when the partner is attempting to set boundaries. They might take it personally, take it as a personal offense or a sign of rejection. Thus, they may have a difficult time respecting boundaries, and may have a difficult time honoring those needs. They may, again, feel this insecurity or even feel threatened by the partner’s limits and boundaries, which makes for a very difficult time in building intimacy. Knowing one another, knowing preferences, why things matter, the deeper layers; the limits, the boundaries. So there’s a caring for one another, showing up for one another. That makes this very difficult.

This brings us to number seven: a limited ability to engage emotionally and relationally. So people who struggle with the emotional maturity, as we discussed, where perhaps they’re not reflecting, taking the time to understand their emotional world, may be more emotionally unavailable. As I was just mentioning here, the emotional connection is the glue typically, for intimate relationships. This allows for the meaningful conversations, the ability to feel loved, to feel heard, to feel seen, to feel understood, validated, cared for. And when there’s a limited capacity or the emotional immaturity, someone is less likely to engage in this arena, which could leave the partner feeling a great loss, feeling alone, feeling as though they’re longing to connect more deeply and not able to with their person. I believe I’ve mentioned in previous podcasts, and I believe this is still true, that the biggest reason for divorce and separation is the lack of emotional intimacy. Again, where partners feel disconnected, feel alone. It’s hard to feel hopeful about continuing relationship in this way.

Someone who struggles with emotional immaturity likely has a great difficulty, or is just simply unable to express their feelings. Perhaps they ignore their feelings, as they don’t really know what they’re thinking or feeling. Or perhaps they even think that expressing emotions is a sign of weakness or vulnerability, and thus they continuously turn away from their emotional world. 

While I’ve talked a lot about someone who is more emotionally immature having a difficult time having hard conversations, it’s also true that they may struggle to express affection or love. These are positive emotions, yet they’re still emotions that can evoke vulnerability and discomfort. Saying I love you, saying I need you, and wanting connection, reaching for connection, that can be a difficult thing. Also, when one is not facing their feelings or their issues or concerns or grievances, things can fester, and perhaps this can look like it turns into a grudge. In relationship, partners are going to be bothered by one another from time to time. However, partners with this emotional immaturity may harbor these upset feelings, hold on to grudges. For example, let’s say the partner that struggles with the emotional immaturity felt hurt or felt offended or slighted about some interaction with their significant other. But they didn’t say anything, and let’s say it keeps happening, and then it’s just there, unresolved. Then let’s say there’s another issue that starts to be a trigger about a totally entirely different topic, but perhaps evokes similar feelings of not feeling cared about or feeling disrespected. It could be, you name it, any of the difficult things that we might feel in relationship. And when an issue arises, it might reach a threshold where that partner unloads, has that outburst, or perhaps brings up a laundry list of things that they’ve been holding. 

As we know with the research from the Gottman Institute, they tell us that for us to address an issue with a significant other, we really want to ideally target one scenario, one issue, rather than bringing a whole laundry list. But again, for the person that has great difficulty having these conversations, it’s not easy to confront. Therefore, when they finally do, it’s like everything’s there. Then the partner on the receiving end can feel stunned, or even I’ve had people say: “I had no idea! It was like six months later, or even years later, when they finally brought it up.” 

Another way that emotional immaturity can manifest under this category of limited ability to engage emotionally and relationally, is making decisions together, where they may make decisions unilaterally. If we’re having a difficult time engaging in solving issues together or confronting those difficult conversations, they may attempt to make big decisions without consulting their partner or taking their partner into account. Perhaps they don’t ask for help, they tend to do things alone. Or maybe they assume that they’re not going to get their needs met, so they make perhaps even drastic decisions without including their significant other. This could be moving. It could be getting another job. It could be ending a relationship. It could be ending a job. This is extremely difficult to maintain the sense of trust and working together in a relationship, because it feels like one is just doing things unilaterally or solo. 

Lastly, under this category, it’s related to what I already mentioned. But it’s a step further, in that one who is more emotionally immature may put up walls, being more emotionally detached or unavailable or difficult to reach. I know I already spoke to this, but this is where perhaps one can do the stonewalling or just operate in this real isolated way, even though they’re in relationships, so their partner typically feels alone. Even sharing time together can feel like it’s difficult to connect and bond. It can feel like even pulling teeth, trying to reach the partner or draw them out. and then sadly, this can run into the territory of more emotional abuse, which is neglect, is avoiding. I’m going to talk a little bit more about the differences, and one of the elements here is control, an attempt to control. 

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“Oftentimes, people who are emotionally immature, there’s no intent to control. It’s just lack of skill.”

But this neglect, feeling unattended to, not responded to. Again, referencing the Gottman Institute, one of the things they really strongly advise for the health and success in intimate relationship is responding to each other’s bids. When we comment, when we reach, when we communicate to our significant other, non-verbally or verbally, having them respond is really key. Hopefully positively, or at least neutrally. But to have a negative response or a lack of response is really detrimental. 

The eighth characteristic of someone who struggles with emotional immaturity is having trouble with difficult or hard conversations, or conflicts in general. Someone who exhibits this emotional immaturity may have difficulty taking accountability. This makes a lot of sense in that if one is prone to feeling shame, or inadequate, or incompetent, or lack the confidence, then they will do a lot, work hard to say it’s not their fault, or not be to blamed. Said another way, they don’t want to own their mistakes or apologize for them, or may even have the victim mentality. Like it’s everyone else’s fault, or poor me! 

Another way that this manifests is avoiding or being unable to address an issue together. So they may engage in avoidant behaviors rather than facing those difficult situations or conversations. They may change the subject. They may make a joke or avert a partner’s attention, totally distract. They may say they don’t want to talk about it, but then never revisit the topic. This, again. makes a lot of sense, as they’re lacking the skills or lacking the confidence in having repair or resolving conflicts effectively. They might have this stance of move on, and like it never happened, and let’s just pretend that everything’s fine. Again, if this happens from time to time, it might not be that big of an impact. But we’re looking at the repetition of this, the accumulation of this. If this happens over and over again, it can become quite difficult to have the depth of intimacy in relationship, when partners can’t resolve issues together. 

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“One of the beautiful things about resolving a challenge together or even a conflict together, whether or not it’s coming up with a compromise, generating a new solution, getting to a win-win, is the learning and the deepening and the understanding and the opportunity to show up for one another. Even though there’s great differences, that can build that sense of depth and intimacy.”

Another way of avoiding issues is defensiveness. So this is when one partner will bring up a topic, and the other partner will just defend. “No, that’s not true!” Or talk about why they’re justified. All the reasons why it made sense, the way they did what they did. They will have a difficult time holding space and really validating and understanding what their partner is presenting. This is, again, difficult. Because we want to have a safe space where partners can come together, look at issues, work out solutions to complex challenges, without feeling attacked. Again, even around slighter issues, things that are not big ticket items, someone who has a difficult time turning towards these conversations will just feel defensive chronically. Likely, the person in relationship may feel like they’re walking on eggshells. 

Another way of experiencing this avoidance is blame, which is closely related here. But again, rather than taking responsibility for their actions and their emotions, they will blame others; they’ll blame circumstances. They’ll have all types of excuses, and it will seem as though, and likely it will be, that they’re very convinced. Because again, the inner constellation of this is avoiding this shame, avoiding feeling at fault, but also not having the skillset or the repertoire to negotiate this difficult terrain. It’s like a no-go zone.

Where this can start to enter into the emotional abuse realm is where it’s a total denial, a dismissal, or even the gaslighting. Denying they’re part of the conflict or issue, which is part of the defensiveness and some of the things that we’ve talked about. But perhaps even being actively dismissing and denying of their significant other. Like, “You’re being overly-sensitive, or you’re crazy. I didn’t remember that, or we didn’t talk about that. Or you forget a lot of things lately.” So it’s almost really denying their partner’s reality or their experience. “Relax, it’s no big deal!” Those type of things, or even lying to get out of uncomfortable situations or conversations. Then, we already discussed this, but this is also another way that one will not engage in these emotional relational conversations, is attacking with a high degree of conflict. Having a strong reaction, or name-calling, and using really harmful ways of defending themselves. 

The ninth characteristic of someone who struggles with emotional immaturity is having a difficult time communicating in healthy ways. Now, we’ve been talking about this a lot throughout all of these different characteristics. As I mentioned in last episode, there’s a lot of overlap, as you’re hearing, and they relate to one another. But it does seem worth having its own category of just struggling to communicate in healthy ways. 

Effective communication involves expressing one’s emotions, needs, and concerns, while being able to listen to and understand others. That’s the give-and-take. That’s the mutual responsiveness going on in relationship, optimally or ideally. Communication is difficult for people with this emotional maturity, as we’ve talked about. Being able to identify their emotions, process their emotion, be able to articulate and communicate their emotion, expressing it to another. And it makes sense, right? 

So what I want to also say here is, when one is having this difficulty, it’s not as though they don’t have emotion. It’s just they don’t have the skillset to process the emotion, having the scaffolding to turn towards, have language, and be able to communicate. So it’s almost as if there’s all this emotion happening underneath the surface. It’s almost like, I imagine the kink in a water hose, that it’s all getting trapped there, hence the blow-ups or the emotional roller coaster. It’s like, it’s all there. But it’s just there’s no real access to that flow, to be able to have an outlet, to have a conversation, to feel like there’s going to be a positive result to feeling one’s emotions. Instead of expressing their feelings, needs, and desires, they may consciously or unconsciously resort to things that can start to enter into the territory of emotionally abusive territory. Again, we’re going to talk about what the differences are in the upcoming episode. But it’s worth noting that these behaviors can be very harmful. That is, they will resort to manipulations. Again, instead of communicating directly, they may orchestrate things in a certain way to get what they want in a manipulative way. So that they set up things so that it goes the way that they want, rather than having a clear conversation. Or perhaps they may even engage in guilt-tripping, or passive-aggressive behavior, where they won’t say what they need or feel. They’ll feel resentful, or they’ll be upset about something. But they won’t say it directly, and they’ll demonstrate the aggressiveness in passive ways, or even maybe not so passive ways. But they’re not dealing with it directly. All of these things make it very difficult to have a clear, honest, regulated conversation in a relationship. Also, this difficulty and this lack of skillset makes it difficult for them to have empathy and an understanding of their significant other, which makes communication difficult. Communication is a back and forth, is a shared experience. 

I believe I mentioned this, and I want to note it again. 

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“Emotional maturity or even immaturity is on a continuum. We all display some immature behaviors from time to time. It’s the consistency that interferes with the ability of forming healthy relationship, navigating challenges, leading a fulfilling life.”

That is worth exploring more strategies around how to emotionally grow and develop. Again, this is where getting support can be very, very helpful. 

As you’ve been listening to these nine characteristics, and I realize each characteristic was more of a bucket, as I had some points that I felt fell into that category. You may be wondering, is this a mental illness? I have a few articles that I referenced, and I’ll make sure to put the link to those on today’s show notes. And what people are commenting on that have studied emotional immaturity, is that it’s not a mental illness. It is a psychological trait characterized by an individual’s inability to handle and regulate emotions in a mature and healthy way. In another article, it was stating this. 

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“While emotional immaturity isn’t always a sign of a mental health disorder, it has been associated with narcissistic personality disorder and emotionally abusive tendencies. That being said, it’s not always the case that an emotionally immature person is either a narcissist or abusive.”

We can see that the neglectful attitude towards emotional health correlates with people who experience depression, anxiety, or even have difficulties with anger management, and also have insecure attachment tendencies. Now in the next episode, I’m going to be talking about where the emotional immaturity comes from. Really, this is a lack of having the support of being able to develop more emotionally mature ways. So I encourage you to stay tuned and check that episode out. I so appreciate your taking this time to explore the topic of emotional immaturity. 

Let’s do a quick summary of the characteristics that we covered in today’s episode. Number six: dependency and need for validation, and difficulty with boundaries. Number seven: limited ability to engage emotionally and relationally. Number eight: trouble with hard and difficult conversations, or even conflicts. Number nine: struggle to communicate in healthy ways. 

If this topic resonates for you, I want to invite you to share with me. Again you can email me directly, [email protected]. Put in the subject line: Emotional Immaturity. I would love to get your input and feedback on this topic. Particularly because I’m doing a series of episodes, and I will have an opportunity to really hear from you. Oftentimes when we have topics, I’m interviewing a guest, and that interview is typically recorded several weeks prior to it going live. So there’s not as much time to get your input and your feedback. So this is an opportunity, I’d love to hear from you. Again, you can reach me at [email protected]

Thank you, thank you so much for spending your time with us here on the Empowered Relationship Podcast. It’s an honor and a privilege to support you in this journey of cultivating long-lasting intimacy with your significant other. Until next time, I hope you take great care!

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