ERP 416: What To Consider If You Are In a Relationship With An Emotionally Immature Person — Part Four

By Posted in - Podcast March 19th, 2024 0 Comments

Emotional maturity stands as the cornerstone of a thriving and meaningful bond between partners. Yet, navigating the intricate landscape of emotional immaturity within relationships presents its own set of challenges.

In this episode, we delve deep into this crucial topic, shedding light on how emotional immaturity impacts the dynamics of relationships and providing invaluable resources to aid individuals in navigating this intricate terrain.

Building upon insights from previous episodes, we explore methods for identifying signs of emotional immaturity, understanding its roots in development, and differentiating it from emotional abuse. The overarching goal of addressing this subject is to foster awareness and encourage deliberate efforts in honing emotional and relational competencies.

Join us as we uncover key insights into recognizing and addressing emotional immaturity, paving the way for stronger, more resilient relationships.

In this Episode

08:23 The challenge of recognizing emotional immaturity in relationships.

20:19 The emotional toll of carrying the relationship load.

28:22 Stability challenges for the emotionally mature partner.

29:03 Strained enjoyment.

29:49 Coping with lack of intimacy in relationships.

32:11 Struggle with confidence and conflict resolution.

34:29 Practical steps for addressing emotional immaturity in a relationship.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Reflect on your partner’s emotional immaturity patterns and consider their impact on the relationship.
  • Engage in open communication with your partner about their emotionally immature behaviors and their willingness to address them.
  • Evaluate your own reservations and relational needs in the partnership.
  • Establish and communicate healthy boundaries to protect your well-being.
  • Offer support to your partner as they work on developing emotional maturity.
  • Seek professional help for both individual and couples therapy to address emotional immaturity in the relationship.
  • Take proactive steps to break dysfunctional patterns and foster healthier relational dynamics.
  • Stay committed to the ongoing process of personal growth and relationship improvement.


What is emotional immaturity and how can it impact relationships?

11 Signs of Emotional Immaturity in Relationships & Ways to Deal

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

ERP 411: What Are the Signs of Emotional Immaturity in Relationship? Part Two

ERP 413: How Does Emotional Immaturity Develop & the Difference between Emotional Immaturity and Emotional Abuse? Part Three

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins






Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 


Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Let’s get started in today’s topic, again, what to consider if you are in relationship with an emotionally immature person. Now what I have found, when someone is gleaning and begins to recognize significant signs of emotional immaturity, they may begin to ask themselves: How come I didn’t see these signs earlier, and/or why did I attract this person? Like, what is it about me that I said yes to this? So when I really underscore significant signs of emotional immaturity, again, if you’ve listened to the previous podcast episodes on this topic, you’ve heard me mention that every person has some degree of showing signs of emotional immaturity at times. So we’re talking about a pattern of behavior, and when one is really unable or unwilling to turn towards their emotional development, this can be problematic. So for one, that’s in relationship with someone who is more emotionally immature, and they’re asking themselves: How did I get here, why? 

What I want to say here is that it takes time to get to know someone on a much deeper level, knowing them in all seasons and under different circumstances. Now, I know this seems like I’m stating the obvious. 

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“When we are in those beginning phases of bonding with another, we might even call it the honeymoon or romance stage, it is highly fueled by the neuro-chemicals that are giving us a high, if you will, and we don’t have enough information. So the brain is likely going to fill in the blank.”

This is where we would call it in psychology, projecting. We are placing our imagination or our assumptions, expectations on the other, without really knowing what’s true. So in this beginning phase, which may last from nine months to 18 months, depending, we will likely feel as though we have enough information and we know who the person is. Yet, some of that is going to be based on our own assumptions and expectations. So giving enough time and space to really look at what someone is showing you. Are their behaviors congruent with what they’re saying? How do they show up when they’re disappointed, when they’re grieving, when they’re angry, when they have issue? How do they handle conflict? Some of the things that we’ve discussed, we can actually look at a little bit more openly and honestly. 

Often, what will happen, if we fast-forward, and someone is asking themselves: How did I get here, or why did I not see this? If there’s enough time and space to really reflect and explore and unpack, they may even recognize times where they felt a gut sense, or they had a warning sign, and they didn’t pay attention. Or perhaps they overrode it, or gave their person the benefit of the doubt. There are many ways in which we can suppress or even ignore some of these indicators. Again, we care deeply about the person and we want to be with them. Again, just to be super crystal clear here, if someone is exhibiting signs of emotional immaturity, that does not equate to: Oh, this relationship is over, or that it should be ended. It’s more of a recognition that there are skills that need to be developed for more healthy relating. So I’m going to give you some support around that. 

Before we do, I want to continue to just highlight a couple of things that interfere with being able to recognize this earlier, and that is that the emotional immaturity, on a subconscious/unconscious level, may feel familiar. We might not even recognize. It might not be a contrast to what we’re familiar with, what we’ve known and what we’ve grown up with. Particularly, in our early relationships, our family of origin, where emotional maturity was not modeled. It’s almost as if it’s the norm. It’s the way things are. So the person perhaps might not even question the emotional immaturity, because it is so familiar. This is a common experience, and it may take many different forms. As we’ve already discussed, emotional immaturity can have many facets, many characteristics. So the dynamics that are developed will be different, or could be different. 

Even in my last session yesterday, working with a client who is in a position of leadership, has many employees, and really describing her nervous system, her rattle – her spiraling, if you will, in her words – and getting some constructive feedback, negative feedback. And what her experience growing up is that she didn’t get a lot of positive mirroring, positive affirmation. If anything, one of her parents was more volatile and had emotional outburst and anger outbursts, and she felt compelled to feel some level of responsibility, feeling as though she should pay attention to what she could do or say to help the situation, which then created this pattern. That the way in which she can earn love is through earning, through perfectionism, through proving or doing something. 

So how this translates for her in her life, across the board, in relationship, is that she’s very prone to focus on the negative feedback. But also, simultaneously feeling the emotional threat of that. Her nervous system, her response and what’s underneath that is also this longing and this real attachment need of feeling valued, and feeling worthy, and feeling like her experience matters, and that she can be seen and that she gets to exist. Like, that wasn’t a part of her experience. She had to jump into this hyper-vigilance. So one of the things we were discussing, could it be instated? Could there be some boundary or standard that she implements, given that she is in a position of leadership, that the way in which feedback is given, that there is also recognition to positives? Because that’s also equally helpful in learning: what are the strengths, what’s working, as well as where am I feeling challenged, where are my complaints, or where am I feeling concern? To give a little bit more stability and balance. This is helpful to regulate, and then to be, for her, a little bit more open to looking at some of the areas of growth. 

What’s often true is that we will participate in certain relational dynamics unknowingly, unconsciously, in ways that perpetuate some of these old, even harmful, hurtful, and even dysfunctional patterns. Remember, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, they talk about how we have this picker. 

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“It’s almost like, in the amygdala, the part of our brain that stores all the bad things that have happened to us, and it recognizes, and it almost identifies very, very quickly in a significant or potential partner or a potential significant other, that this seems familiar.”

The idea here is that there’s a recognition of it, in the hopes that: Oh, we can repair this, we can have reconciliation, we can have healing here. So there’s an attraction to try to work it out. But if we’re unconsciously participating in it, we actually don’t have the skill, nor are we actually evolving the dynamic; we’re just repeating the drama. This essentially perpetuates this very painful dynamic. 

Unfortunately, if these dynamics perpetuate, it can lead towards someone beginning to distrust themselves, or even feel a level of confusion and disorientation as to what’s real. Is this me, what’s happening? I have a client that comes to mind, and she tells me, very early on in her relationship, she recognized warning signs and felt the problem in the dynamic and what was happening between the two of them. Even on her wedding day, she recognized that it didn’t feel right, she didn’t want to marry him, and yet she did anyway. Fast forward, she’s in the process of getting a divorce and just recognizing more clearly now, the ways in which she was compromising herself, ways in which she was participating in a dynamic that was unhealthy for her. If we look at some of her early learning and life, having a narcissistic alcoholic mother, and also a father who was alcoholic and workaholic. The two of them were separated and divorced, so there was a lot of disrupt in her early formative years around relationship and consistency and being responded to, feeling as though her experience mattered. She often felt like she had to earn, prove, and do the right thing to get a sense of belonging and connection.

In many of the examples that I’m referencing, often it’s the case that one partner is over-functioning, perhaps people-pleasing, maybe even over-giving, and the other is perhaps a little bit more contained, withdrawn, avoidant, or even as we’re talking about in the sense of emotional immaturity, is underdeveloped. This is often the case and could even correlate with the attachment styles, with one being a little bit more of that anxious tendency, where the other one is a little bit walled off and avoidant and maybe even denying or dismissing the value of emotional and relational skills. 

I know that particularly in the past, I resonate with a partner that over-functions, over-gives, and perhaps in the domain of emotional and relational skill, over-functions. In the first few episodes, I was holding space for the experience of the person that is underdeveloped in the way of emotional maturity, and in this episode, I’m trying to hold a little more space for the person that is demonstrating more emotional maturity and perhaps is holding a lot of the weight of the emotional intimacy in relationship, particularly when one partner isn’t as emotionally developed.

Let’s turn towards the common ways that a partner is impacted by their significant other’s emotional immaturity. Typically, when someone is having that experience, being with someone who is underdeveloped emotionally, may feel burdened, may feel drained, as they’re carrying most of the emotional load of their relationship. They’re tracking the emotional tone, the health, the well-being for both partners, as well as the relational bond. As I mentioned previously, they may do a lot of extra work to mitigate challenges, to eliminate stress or to reduce stress. They may attempt to anticipate their partner’s needs and trying to get their needs met, so that the partner isn’t even having to identify their need, ask for what they want, negotiate that. It’s already given to them. 

Free Portrait of Couple Together Stock Photo

“When the relationship has had enough history, sometimes it can even be the case that the partner will have some fear, or even dread about their partner’s emotional outbursts or responses. So again, there’s this attempt to stabilize, to equalize, to balance, to counteract some of the difficulty that their partner has in regulating their own emotional state.”

A partner may even take on more of the domestic work, social planning, parenting and decision-making, again to reduce the stress and conflict with the partner who has difficulty engaging in a more productive manner.

A client comes to mind in this regard, and that she would describe the division of labor between her and her husband. And while she’s the primary breadwinner, she would also describe doing the majority of the domestic and parenting work. She would give me all the list of things, like basically handling everything. If she would go out of town, all the food and the meals would be prepared and already cooked and in containers, and instructions laid out for both her husband and her child. I mean, it was just extensive what she was doing. All of this, she would describe, to reduce the amount of stress on her husband, in service of him being in a better emotional state. So that she didn’t have to endure his outbursts, his anger, his reactivity, and his dysregulation. This was all an attempt to help things go more smoothly, and there was a huge load to this.

If emotional immaturity is a part of the relationship in any significant form, it often puts a lot of stress and strain on the relationship and the partner. I’m going to list some ways. This, again, is not a comprehensive list. But it is something to consider, again, around the dynamic here. So typically, as I’ve just spoken to, the partner will feel some level of being emotionally drained, whether or not they’re compensating for their significant other, or perhaps they’re doing a lot to help their partner along; they’re wanting this more emotional depth and intimacy, they’re wanting empathy, they’re wanting mutual understanding, they’re wanting to collaborate. I have a client, he describes just the amount of work that he does to try to get his wife to approach some of these conversations, be more engaged emotionally, be more responsive and attentive and caring to him. Yet, this is an area that she finds very threatening and difficult to turn towards. So there’s a tremendous amount of heavy-lifting that he does to help provide some of this turning towards in the emotional, relational way. This is of course in hopes that he’ll get some of his needs met, and it’s in service of trying to help her along, and there’s a great cost and expenditure to doing this. 

Another drain on a more emotionally mature partner, is that if there are difficult conversations to be had or tough decisions to be made, that this partner will likely be the front-line, the person to have those conversations, to take those actions, to perhaps even take the lead in initiating what should be done, where the partner that struggles to engage may not be as participatory. Over time, this can be difficult for the partner, as they may feel alone, they may feel as though they’re having to carry the relationship in this regard. 

Another common complaint that I hear from people that are in relationship with a partner who is underdeveloped emotionally, is that in the attempt to repair after a conflict or a fight, so to speak, that there will be an attempt to discuss, to have learning, to try to empathize, to understand, to build repair. The partner that’s more emotionally mature will offer: “Here’s what I’ll do differently. Here’s how I’m considering you. Here’s how I can move forward in a way that supports you.” Then they look, and they wait, and they hope that their partner will also contribute or say what they’re going to do differently. And when it doesn’t come, they might even prompt: Is there anything you’re thinking about, or is there any way that you’re going to take action? And when they still don’t get anything, this can again feel like they’re alone or they’re carrying the relationship, and also tend to feel like: Are you with me? Are you willing to take any ownership here? So it can feel as though they’re the only ones that are taking ownership or taking acknowledgement for their part or their role in the dynamic. 

The second category, I already spoke to this, is having fear of the partner’s emotional state. So this could be walking on eggshells, again, sensing or seeing a lot of reactivity, anger outbursts. Or even for the partner that’s been with a partner that’s had a lot of anger outbursts, may even feel some level of a trauma response. That they’re seeing their partner display dysregulation in various ways that can feel upsetting, scary. Then again, if we look at the partner who’s over-functioning, they may even have experiences in their upbringing where they had to be more mature than their chronological age. That can look like “parent-ification,” where the child is more mature or behaving in more mature ways than perhaps even the parent. So they’ve learned to be the peacekeepers, the mediators, the helpers, and yet, their experience is that there’s some level of fear and trauma here. So this could also show up in relationship, where they’re having a trauma response or anticipating their partner’s emotional reactivity, and be a little hyper-vigilant to that. 

When looking at the impact of the more emotionally mature partner, the third category I want to speak to, which is similar to what I just described, but is that they’re experiencing more emotional instability in the relationship. Again, this emotional roller coaster, or perhaps it’s even hard to trust or feel secure that things are okay. They may feel some uncertainty and insecurity, that if and when their partner has a concern or even an issue, that they’ll bring it up, or that they’ll let things build and it will come out in unproductive or even damaging ways. That can feel very precarious and unpredictable. 

Fourth. Partners may not, at times, even enjoy interacting with their significant other. Perhaps it feels difficult to enjoy a time together. Let’s say their partner is being disgruntled or grumpy or in a bad mood. It just might be difficult to be around. It might be difficult to enjoy whatever activity has been planned or the trip that they’re on. It’s almost as if the mood of the partner becomes the thing that takes over, becomes the focus. It’s what’s the most important thing in the room. I’ve had many clients describe how draining and negative this feels, and that they want to feel happy and enjoy their partner, and yet this feels what’s most dominant. 

Number five. Sometimes partners will feel as though they’re settling for less, a sense of lack of intimacy, and that they are attempting or contending with having to accept less in relationship, particularly emotionally. That emotional intimacy is lacking, they feel a void, and they’ve really made attempts and try to engage their significant other, and with little result. 

Now, it’s worth mentioning, as I’m describing this, as it may sound as though this is a one interaction. Yet, this is, again, accumulation of many, many, many, many experiences, and sometimes even years of experiences. To say that when we talk about emotional intimacy and being met in this way, that it could be a void, or it could be an active dismissal, where the partner is defending, is denying, is dismissing, deflecting. So it’s this active turning away that can be extremely painful. Often, the glue of relationship is the emotional connection, and that often comes from when partners are able to be more vulnerable, share the inside parts, have these more meaningful heart-to-heart sharings, whether or not it’s the longings or the love, or whether or not it’s the fear and the worries or the concerns or the insecurities or pains, that these things help partners become close. 

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“When a partner struggles with emotional immaturity, they tend to not be more vulnerable, they tend to turn away or be walled off, and they’ve decided that this is a no-go zone.”

This could also even be physically, sexually, that they don’t want to access more of that uncomfortability. That they may have a certain way that they’re comfortable in being intimate sexually, but that there’s many other aspects that they won’t engage in that more vulnerable reveal.

The sixth experience that people typically have when they’re in relationship with a partner who’s emotionally underdeveloped, is that they may lack confidence in the partnership, working together to address challenges and coming up with creative solutions. Again, they may feel as though their partner will avoid sensitive topics. So it’s almost as if there may be concerns or conflicts or differences that have been identified, but never get circled back to. If you will, get swept under the rug or get avoided. So there’s all these pending items or outstanding issues. So likely, they are going to repeat, because there’s no real solution or way in which the couple can work together. So again, conflicts don’t get resolved, they don’t get addressed, and it’s hard to feel as though the couple is growing, or there’s progress being made. 

In the article titled What is emotional immaturity and how it can impact relationships by Emily Whitton, writes: “Being with or being involved with an emotionally immature person can be challenging. It can even lead the person to question their own sense of self or revert to regressive behaviors. In more complex situations, the other person in the relationship may develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression,” which again makes sense. When we look at the long-standing pattern here, that it would likely impact the mental health of the significant other. 

Research has shown a direct link between emotional satisfaction in relationships and the emotional maturity of the couple. So that’s huge. Emotional satisfaction correlates with the emotional maturity of the couple. This was written in the article clinically approved by Jenny Jacobson and written by Rachel Pais, titled: 11 signs of emotional immaturity and relationship and ways to deal. 

Now let’s turn our attention to what steps you can take to address the concern of emotional immaturity in your relationship. These are suggestions, things to think about, steps to potentially consider. Number one, examine the bigger picture of the behavior. So speaking of emotional immaturity, looking at what types of things they are immature about. Again, as I’ve mentioned, all of us engage in emotionally immature behaviors at times, and we all have underdeveloped aspects of ourselves, perhaps weaknesses or imperfections. So as you look at the bigger picture, again, as I referenced before, when we look at the concept of emotional immaturity, it can be helpful to look at the bigger pattern of behavior. Also, I would highly encourage visiting the episode about the difference between emotional abuse and emotional immaturity, because that will be really important to consider. Because the impact of the behavior, the intention, the frequency, the severity, all of those things are very important, as you think about how to address this as a concern in your relationship. 

Number two, does your partner have self-awareness about their emotional immature behaviors or tendencies? Are they open to addressing and developing more skill? So in this aspect, can you bring up the behavior? Can you have a conversation? Can you acknowledge how the behavior is affecting you? Again, with the communication, if you’re able to talk to your significant other about your concerns, some of the emotionally immature tendencies may begin to get resolved by just the conversation and the communication. 

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“Really, when we look at healthy relating and partnership, ideally, both partners are able to address their concerns, want to improve together, and they can navigate these issues in a way that they’re able to collaborate.”

Now, again, this may take several iterations. But there’s the forward trajectory of this. Under this second point of being aware and open about emotional immaturity, it goes without saying, but that your partner is willing to work on developing more emotional maturity. Now, that does take some effort and a process. But just even the acknowledgement and the willingness could go a long way. 

Number three, do you have reservations about the relationship? Oftentimes, if the partner is carrying such a load, they may not even stop to consider their reservations, what their needs are, and how to resolve them. So I’m going to list a few of the relational needs, and perhaps if you are considering, again, the reservations or how the relationship is working for you, bringing pause to really evaluate here, these are some things to consider. Does your partner exhibit empathy? Again, this is not necessarily always. But do they offer empathy? Are they able to access empathy, emotional empathy with you? Because sometimes, again, without it at all can cause a lot of harm and damage to a significant other and to the relationship. 

Is there intimacy: emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, sexual intimacy? Are they able to access vulnerability? Are they able to go deep? Do they keep things a little more superficial or surface level? It can be very frustrating for people who want to have a deeper connection, and their partner is unable to go deeper with their thoughts or feelings. Again, whether or not that’s due to their trauma history, perhaps neurodiversity plays a role, cultural factors, again, a lot of the family systems, that this may be difficult to engage with. Emotional safety. Do they have a difficult time controlling their emotions, again, the anger, outbursts, the regulation? While we can all have a difficult day or have incidences where we’re not our best selves, we’re looking at the pattern of behavior; what feels inappropriate to the situation, or may even seem out of control, or they’re unable to calm down. A fourth relational need is to feel as though you can work with your partner, the ability to collaborate. Can you resolve conflict? Can you repair? These are huge in the way of looking at the relationship bigger picture, and are your relational needs being met? Again, do they avoid conflict at all costs? Are they able to circle back, and can they engage at some point to come to some type of resolution, or even to take a step in the direction of resolution? 

Looking at your relational needs here could help you identify areas where you have reservations, and that’s important to look out when you’re looking at the addressing emotional immaturity in your relationship. 

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“If you’re having resentment, or you’re feeling that these are some areas of non-negotiables and boundaries being crossed, then this is going to play a part in working towards emotional maturity in relationship. Because there’s baggage; there’s unresolved issues.”

Okay, number four, which is developing healthy boundaries. So this is really being in the practice of perhaps recognizing where you’re over-giving, over-functioning, and compensating. Also, drawing limits, where perhaps you’ve engaged where you feel uncomfortable, or it’s not safe, emotionally or otherwise. So being more clear, recognizing what makes you feel uncomfortable, identifying what you will and will not tolerate, and really recognizing what you’re going to do to take care of yourself; to remove yourself from the situation, not participate, and that you can communicate this with your significant other. Here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what I’m no longer going to do. Really doing your best to abide by that, stick to that, and work on being consistent, in service of your care and what you’re participating in, for your well-being. Once you start implementing that, does your partner respect your boundaries? Sometimes, people who struggle with emotional immaturity will take someone’s boundaries as a personal attack or be offended. So if they’re able to respect your boundaries, that’s a really good sign. 

Number five, offer support. Now, this can come from previous points, particularly if you’ve been able to have a conversation with your significant other, there’s awareness, there’s acknowledgement, there’s a willingness to work on developing more emotional maturity, and that some boundaries are in place, and there’s respect there. That then, perhaps, together, partners can create a supportive environment, so that there’s not blame and attacks and criticism around the emotionally immature behaviors. That there can be a plan in place, so that it can feel more encouraging and supportive to take emotional risks. 

Number six, seek professional support. Particularly for the partner that is able to identify or is willing to acknowledge the emotional immaturity, that they can get some individual support, someone who’s qualified to help them really build skill in this arena. As well as getting couples’ support, to address the patterns and the moves and the tendencies, and also build new ways of relating, build emotional maturity. 

As we go through these steps and considerations, your answers to these questions, and really looking at these different steps, will likely give you a better indication as to if you can move forward with your significant other that exhibits signs of emotional immaturity. Also, how to know if the relationship is workable or if you should move forward with your significant other or your partner? Again, these are all very individual responses and answers, and probably is going to take some time and effort, and you’re going to likely get more information that will be good indicators to you as to how to move forward. 

Again, to remind the purpose of addressing this topic of emotional immaturity, again, is to bring awareness, to bring more consciousness to the opportunity of developing our skills, both emotionally and relationally. Both to break dysfunctional relational patterns, and to build more healthy relational dynamics. This requires both partners to participate and be responsible for the climate and the health of the bond. 

Signing Off

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.


Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching