It’s easy to say that you expect maturity in a relationship, but do you know what it looks like to be a mature partner?
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Aside from the physical, there are three types of maturity:
Emotional maturity describes one’s ability to understand and appropriately respond to their emotions and the feelings of others.
Mental maturity is the ability to take in new information and balance it against your previous assumptions1.
Spiritual maturity is the ability to understand your core values and find ways to use them to connect with yourself and the world around you.
There is no single age that a person matures. In fact, studies suggest that people reach different kinds of maturity at various times in their lives2. That being said, studies suggest that women mature emotionally by their mid-thirties, while men reach emotional maturity in their forties.
You might look at someone who is practical but optimistic as having a certain level of maturity. But being mature in a relationship is more than just having a positive attitude. It’s being able to handle negative situations without being more reactive to our thoughts and feelings than to the world around us.
Because we can only learn from our experiences, it can be hard to notice when you react to your partner based on your own bias. (A bias is a personal, often flawed, judgment about the world around us.)
For example, if you’ve been cheated on before, you might feel suspicious of your current partner in the right circumstance. Even if he’s always been faithful, you might feel anxious if he hides a text or starts changing his behavior. You would probably assume he’s hiding something.
Assumptions can strain a relationship. Worse, they can lead to a lack of trust on both sides.
Someone who isn’t emotionally mature would take how they feel as fact, without any more investigation. They might go through their partner’s phone. Instead of talking with him, they might ask friends to spy. They might make an accusation they can’t take back.
A mature response, in this case, would be to recognize why you feel the way you do and look at the situation for what it is. You have anxiety because someone hurt you in the past. You are noticing similar behavior in your partner now. But you also recognize that he’s never been unfaithful and has told you you can always talk to him if you’re worried.
The first response hurts the relationship and breaks trust. The second encourages communication and connection.
Mental and emotional maturity impact how we experience relationships. In his Triangular theory of love3, psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed that there are three main components to love. These are intimacy, passion, and commitment. There are 8 types of love that are a combination of these components.
Sternberg’s theory suggests that mature love, or consummate love, is a balance of all three. This is what most people would think of as unconditional love. A romantic relationship like this requires deep trust, connection, and a willingness to work through issues.
The short answer is yes, but not in a hurry4.
Maturity can be shown through actions, but the process of developing maturity requires a change in the way one thinks. As a person learns to develop an understanding of how others feel and why, their brain structure changes. This is not an instantaneous process.
There are a lot of ways to practice maturity in a relationship. Below are a few places to start.
The myth that women are “more emotional” than men is just that, a myth. Women tend to be more sensitive to emotions than men5, resulting in higher emotional alertness6. But that alertness does not automatically translate to understanding or control.
Taking responsibility for how you feel is one of the first requirements for being mature in a relationship. That means recognizing that what you feel is due to the way you are thinking in response to an event in the world7. Your feelings are your own, and you can choose how to respond to them.
Building an understanding of what you want and why can help you learn how to be mature in a relationship. Recognizing your ability to enforce your boundaries will help you to build resilience8, which is your ability to handle difficult situations.
When setting boundaries, make sure you are focused on yourself. Don’t say “I don’t want him to…” but instead, “I want to feel or experience…” It’s easier to maintain boundaries when they’re not reliant on someone else’s actions.
A lasting relationship is one where both partners take active steps to respect boundaries. That means that recognizing your partner’s boundaries is equally important to maintaining yours.
Practice asking yourself how you can make sure you are honoring your needs and his when you make decisions that impact both of you.
Being a good communicator is a large part of learning how to be mature in a relationship. Communication is about more than what you say. It’s also about your body language and how you show the other person you are engaged in the conversation.
When you and your partner talk, face him and put away distractions. Nod along as he speaks. Smile, laugh, frown. All of these physical actions show him that you’re paying attention.
Striving for a deeper, mutual understanding is how to be mature in a relationship. Practice deep listening - that is, listening empathetically to hear the truth of what the other person is saying.
When you are deep listening, your focus is on what your partner is trying to communicate in its entirety.
When your partner is telling you something, practice comparing what he’s saying to the things that are important to him. For example, if he invites you to lunch, ask yourself if he’s seeking a deeper connection.
Mature relationships are based on trust. Being honest and avoiding gray areas can help you avoid assumptions, overthinking, and excess anxiety. That’s not to say that you’ll never experience anxiety, but honesty doesn’t leave you guessing.
You may feel upset sometimes when you receive an honest answer. That’s totally normal. Practice thanking your partner for their honesty, anyways, and be honest with them about how you feel. (Remember, you’re responsible for how you feel and act!)
A lot of people don’t know how to be an adult in relationships because they don’t know how to handle difficult conversations. When they are feeling attacked, they might double down on their point or even lash out.
Expecting yourself to be perfect in these situations is unreasonable. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t apologize for hurting your partner. A good place to start is to name the hurtful thing you have done and itsimpact on your partner.
Everyone makes mistakes. That means your feelings are going to be hurt sometimes. Holding grudges only builds resentment. Choosing forgiveness is how to be emotionally mature in a relationship.
Forgiveness does not mean that your partner has a free pass to disrespect or hurt you. It just means recognizing that no one is perfect.
Mature relationships do not mean relying on each other for all of your emotional support. Emotional closeness with friends, family, and the people who make up your support network is essential to your wellness.
Spending quality time with them, away from your partner, can help you maintain your independence. Schedule some time, at least once a week, to be with your friends.
It makes sense that you and your partner would have shared hobbies. But unless you’re dating your clone, you probably have other interests.
Spending time apart to focus on your interests can be mutually satisfying for both you and your partner. As you build mastery in something completely unrelated to him, you can build your confidence knowing you can find common ground again.
Part of learning how to be mature in a relationship is getting comfortable with being alone. Taking time to focus on self-growth and reflection can lead to a higher level of emotional independence.
Schedule some time, once a week, to be by yourself, doing something you enjoy.
At the heart of Sternberg’s theory about the types of love is Consummate Love, often called mature or unconditional love.
Accepting your partner unconditionally doesn’t mean that you pretend he’s perfect. It’s recognizing that he is wonderful and flawed at the same time. It’s understanding what is important to him might clash with what’s important to you. It’s choosing to respect each other anyway.
Learning how to be mature in a relationship is hard. But taking ownership of how you show up in your relationship is an act of self-love.
Maturity will always, eventually, lead to reminders of the flaws we wish we didn’t see in ourselves. But it also leads to a strong sense of self, which can help you build yourself into the person you want to be.
Everyone wants a better life for their partner, especially when we see them struggling. A mature person recognizes that sometimes, the help their partner needs is not something they can give.
Resist the urge to try to fix everything, especially if it relates to health or finances. Instead, let your partner know that you’re there. Help them connect with resources.
Learning how to be emotionally mature in a relationship can be an uphill battle. A person’s ability to practice these skills might be negatively impacted by their past family and romantic relationships.
Speaking with a professional can help you to identify and overcome some of the obstacles keeping you from a mature relationship. You might seek out a mental health professional if you believe there is a mental health concern that impacts your ability to act in a mature manner.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to force yourself to become more mature overnight. But you can make a commitment to yourself to practice being emotionally mature in your relationships.
Therapy can be very helpful if a mental health condition prevents growth, such as significant mood swings, anxiety, or depression. For a lot of people, working with a professional coach can be just as beneficial.
Studies suggest that women are mentally and emotionally mature in their mid-thirties, on average. But emotional maturity takes practice and dedication.
Studies suggest that men are mentally and emotionally mature around age 43, on average. This does not mean they can’t mature earlier. Emotional connection has become a big talking point, and men are being encouraged to engage with their feelings earlier.
A mature relationship depends on both parties practicing their skills. If you’ve been researching how to be mature in a relationship, I hope that these points will give you a good starting point.