When it comes to happiness in marriage, success in life, and fulfilling our calling, little is more important than emotional maturity.
It’s a little ironic that I’m writing this post, the first in our series on emotional maturity, on the day of the U.S. election. But there you go–and infer from that what you will!
But I think that we don’t talk about maturity enough when it comes to marriage. We talk about love languages; we certainly talk about sex (at least I do!); but do we talk about developing habits that contribute to peace and happiness overall?
Central to that is emotional maturity, and I’d like to focus on that throughout this month.
Often marriages are in trouble or become difficult because one or both partners is rather emotionally immature. When you’re the one who is immature, you can be hindered in making necessary changes to your marriage, and you could make things worse. When it’s your spouse who is immature, you may feel like your life is about managing their emotions, rather than actually dealing with underlying problems.
As we start this series, let’s look at four markers of emotional maturity:
Emotionally mature people recognize that they can change their life
A sign of maturity is that, if your life isn’t going the way you want it to go, instead of blaming others, you figure out what you can do about it yourself. Sometimes you can’t completely fix a situation; there may be too many things working against you. But maturity means you recognize where you do have choices, even if they’re small ones, and you make use of those choices.
Your primary focus is not blaming others for the past, but rather moving ahead.
This doesn’t mean that you take responsibility for causing your problems. That may be entirely out of your control. You may have been injured in a car accident; you may have grown up with an alcoholic mother or abusive step-father; you may have married an abuser who hurt your children, too.
You didn’t cause these problems.
But when you do have problems, you take the responsibility to move forward, even in small steps. Even if it’s simply to ask for help because the task is overwhelming, or to admit that you can’t do it all and instead get treatment or counseling, you’re the one who says, “something has to change,” and you try to make that change.
Think about someone you know who is always ruminating on how terrible their life is. You can likely think of ten things they could do differently right now, but they seem to always refuse to do even the smallest things to make life better, instead telling you all the reasons that life isn’t fair. And, to be honest, chances are they do have a lot stacked against them, and their life is objectively difficult. But maturity is realizing that no matter how much is against you, you can still act differently. You still have the ability to choose how to respond.
But maturity also means that we are able to see problems with clear eyes.
Often emotionally immature people don’t necessarily blame others–but they continually blame themselves. No matter what problem happens, they assume that they should have handled it better. It must be a character flaw. There must be something severely, irreperrably wrong with me. They’re unable to move ahead because they’re in the thick of self-hatred. Emotional maturity rises above initial defensive, angry, or hurt reactions and asks, “now, what do I actually do?”
Note: Victims of abuse can often feel as if everything is their responsibility and nothing is anyone else’s. This is a natural response to the emotional abuse that they are suffering. If your spouse is telling you that their bad treatment of you is not their fault, but is completely your fault, please call a domestic abuse hotline, or please see a licensed counselor trained in abuse dynamics.
Also, trauma can make it very difficult to see that you have choices or to move ahead. That’s why it’s so important for those who have experienced trauma to see licensed trauma therapists to help. When the brain has been affected by trauma, moving forward can be just about impossible. But there is help, and please seek it!
Emotionally mature people take responsibility for the things that are their responsibility
Maturity is not only about how you see the outside world, and recognizing that you can do things differently; it’s also feeling the moral responsibility to live up to your responsibilities!
If you’re a parent, you take responsibility for your children. That doesn’t mean you’re never tired or exhausted or overwhelmed or stressed. But you do realize that you must keep them fed, educated, happy, and healthy, and if you aren’t able to do that well, you get help. You realize that even if your emotions aren’t in a great place, your children still need you.
Emotionally mature people also recognize that they should be doing what they can to contribute in the realms where they should be responsible.
The apostle Paul, for instance, famously wrote “whoever does not work should not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). That doesn’t mean that we all need to work outside the home, but it does mean that we should all be contributing.
I get far too many emails from people married to emotionally immature spouses who often get caught up in hobbies or having fun or doing things they want to do, and leave the work that does need to get done undone. Then the other spouse has to do far too much to pick up the slack.
Maybe you’re married to someone like that. Maybe your spouse works only sporadically, because they’re pursuing a dream–but that dream is not realistic, and they’re not working that hard at it anyway. Or maybe they flitter away the day, and you work all day and then come home and also have to make dinner and do the laundry and make sure the kids do their homework.
Maturity means recognizing that work does need to get done, and bills do need to get paid. Yes, we are to rest, and rest is important. But we were created for work, and part of being human is taking responsibility for the things entrusted to us.
Do you find it hard to split work at home? You may also enjoy:
Emotionally mature people don’t blame others for their own emotions
Emotionally mature people recognize that their emotions are just theirs. And so when emotionally mature people are overwhelmed with negative emotions, they recognize that this is not someone else’s fault, and they do something about it.
They do not go into rages and yell at everyone in the home. They do not try to manipulate others into doing what they want. They recognize, “I am being irrational right now, and I need to stop.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that your spouse didn’t do something that annoyed you, or hurt you, or discouraged you. Other people certainly impact our emotions, and it’s okay and even healthy to recognize that! Emotional maturity is also about handling it properly when people do treat us inappropriately or treat us badly. It’s about recognizing when you’ve gotten into bad patterns that trigger your anger or disappointment, and minimizing those patterns or drawing proper boundaries. But what you don’t do is use your own negative emotions to threaten, manipulate, or scare others.
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
Emotionally mature people recognize their impact on others
Just as you can change your own life, you also impact those around you–and emotionally mature people are in tune to how their actions impact others.
For instance, if your spouse is dead tired every night and doesn’t want sex, an emotionally mature person doesn’t just respond to the fact that your spouse doesn’t want sex; an emotionally mature person asks, “why is my spouse dead tired every night?” And you may realize that it’s because they’ve been looking after the kids and making all the meals, while you’ve had down time. So you recognize that you have contributed to your spouse’s exhaustion.
Or if your child is whiny and fussy on an outing, you recognize that this doesn’t mean your child is “bad”; it could be that you arranged your day so that your child missed several naps, and you forgot to bring toys for your child to play with.
Sometimes, of course, other people are acting up and it really does have very little to do with you. But an emotionally mature person is able to look at the root cause of a behaviour and ask, “is this something that I contributed to?”, and then is able to respond appropriately to that.
Part of maturity is recognizing that everyone’s behaviour is highly dependent on environment. When we’re tired, stressed, hungry, lonely, we’re not going to react as well as we normally would. An emotionally mature person recognizes that both in him or herself and in others. When others react badly, they’re able to separate the behaviour from the individual and ask if there are underlying causes–causes that they themselves may have contributed to. Instead of expecting children, for instance, to act like angels when you’re out on errands, and berating them when they don’t, you expect children to act age-appropriately, and you do what you can ahead of time to make temper tantrums less likely. But you don’t blow up at a child for acting in an age-appropriate way.
Emotional maturity, though, isn’t fixed.
In many ways, maturity comes with age, experience, and motivation.
I know many young people who are very mature, and many older people who are not. But unlike character, which is often very resistant to change, emotional maturity can change when you decide that you want to live differently and when you start taking concrete steps in the right direction.
None of this, then, is meant to say, “you are a bad person.”
Actually, quite the contrary! I know lots of people who aren’t that mature when they get married, but I’m not overly worried about it, because I know their character is good, and that they will move in the direction of their character. What I’d like to do this month, then, is talk about how we can grow in maturity, and also how we can help those around us grow in maturity, too.
So can I ask a favour? I wanted to include some stories in today’s post to illustrate what it may look like if someone won’t take responsibility for their own lives; for their own emotions; for the things that are their responsibility. But I didn’t have time because, quite frankly, we were working so hard at The Orgasm Course launch which ended last night at midnight!
So if you all leave some stories, I’d love to include them later this week to flesh this out more, because I really think this is important!
Posts in the Emotional Maturity Series:
- Four Markers of Emotional Maturity
- Do We Use God Language to Avoid Maturity?
- 2 Keys to Handling Stonewalling Behavior
- 6 Ways to Grow in Emotional Maturity
- A Book List to Help with Emotional Maturity
- What Does Emotional Maturity Look Like (Podcast)
- When Christian Resources Perpetuate Your Spouse's Immaturity
- What if Emotional Maturity is a Skill Guys Can Learn?
- How Anger is Like an Iceberg
- What is Real Masculinity?
And check out 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage--my book that covers emotional maturity. Plus there's a FREE group study you can take with it!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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