What, exactly, is a "mature" relationship? Does it mean you and your partner never fight? That you suffer through a rampantly terrible partner with a forgiving expression? Is there an automatic upgrade when you get married? Answer to all of the above: no. Adults can have very immature relationships, and they tend to be tricky spaces. But if you're in a mature partnership, you have a wider capacity to handle things, deal with problems, and let certain issues go without harping on them. It's all about how we handle emotions as we grow up, and what that means for our security.
Dr. Susan Heitler, writing on maturiy for Psychology Today, explains it in terms of "emotional age." What is acceptable behavior in children, in other words, is not acceptable in adults, and if your emotional age is too low, you'll be prone to problematic responses. Heitler mentions "emotional escalations" (like pouting), poor impulse control, the constant need for reassurance, and the inability to listen in arguments as signs of emotional immaturity. If you're emotionally mature, though, you'll be able to deal with sh*t Like An Adult.
There are certain issues that can be real signs of a relationship's maturity or immaturity, on topics ranging from sex to attention to time management. Let's take a look at a few of them, and see why mature people can let them slide while immature people can't let 'em go.
1. A Partner Not Answering Calls Or Texts While Busy
If you're in a mature relationship, you're secure and cool enough to let your partner operate without a surgical attachment to their communication device. Why? Psychology Today's fantastic comparison of mature and immature approaches to relationships (which is worth a read to understand precisely what maturity looks like in a committed romance) reflects on this particular problem. Mature love, according to their definition, "waits, respects, gives the benefit of the doubt, listens, [and] trusts."
This means that mature people are able to allow partners their own space, and not immediately interpret an unanswered call or text as cheating, disrespect, a loss of face, a sign of lessening affection, or anything else unstable. They're able to trust and be secure, without immediately jumping to emotional, potentially irrational conclusions. Small things aren't immediately made into signs of bigger things; he or she just hasn't picked up their phone in a while.
2. A Partner Not Doing The Chores Once In A While
This isn't so much a "let it slide" thing as a "forgive and don't resent" thing. Relate, a relationship therapy charity, makes the point that forgiveness for minor infractions is a necessary part of any mature relationship. If your partner doesn't do something you've asked or expected them to do, the temptation to hold it over their head forever can be seriously powerful, even in couples with a lot of time under their belt. (Note that I'm talking about small failures here, like not doing the dishes, not infidelity or abuse.)
Relate's explanation of the maturity of forgiveness is interesting. They say that forgiving and not holding a grudge involves "allowing yourself to be vulnerable ... letting go of your anger and letting go of the ‘moral high ground.’" It takes a significantly mature couple to be able to let stuff like this go and take the "loss of face" that involves.
3. Friend Time Sometimes Cutting Into Couple Time
This isn't the sort of thing that's allowed to happen regularly, but the concept of security, of trusting that the relationship is strong enough to admit other pursuits and priorities, becomes important again here. If a friend is having a crisis or just wants to hang out, and your partner prioritizes them for a little while, it can be handled without the relationship collapsing into a heap of recrimination and guilt.
Beth Leipholtz, writing on mature relationships for The Huffington Post, calls this the absence of the "screeching halt" or complete panic, particularly if the friends in question are attractive. A mature relationship can take short-term shifts in priority because of the understanding that, in the end, the relationship is always first in line.
4. Natural Dips In Libido And Sex Frequency
Sexual appetite ebbs and flows naturally throughout long-term relationships. We're not all sex bots. How we cope with that is a good sign of our emotional stability and maturity. Dr. Roger K. Allen's division between emotional immaturity and maturity gives us a bit of perspective on this one. According to him, immature people are reactive to situations, want to avoid rejection, and focus on getting, while mature ones are proactive, want to grow, and focus on giving.
If you're immature, you're going to immediately react to your partner's lower libido by panicking, being resentful that you're not getting what you want, and worrying that they no longer like you. A mature person will likely recognize those feelings and communicate them, but in a less worrisome, more constructive, we're-a-team approach.
5. A Partner Not Always Being In Perfect Form
If you're a relationship grownup, you're capable of allowing your partner to not be absolutely wonderful all the time. People have off days, grumpy periods, jokes that fall flat, and low moods. Maturity means taking this as a part of the whole, rather than thinking it's a cause for worry or concern. It also runs the other way; you won't constantly worry about being "perfect" for them, either.
One of relationship therapist Dr. Nancy Wesson's 15 traits of a "healthy" relationship is that "people pleasing is kept to a minimum," on both sides. This means that you don't expect your partner to constantly attempt to be "on" for you, and you don't feel the need to be "on" for them.
6. Disagreements On Various Issues
Relationships involve arguments. You're two people with distinct opinions and experiences; every so often, they're going to clash. Whether you're able to tolerate that or you react with horror, anger, and insecurity is a direct reflection of your maturity.
Let's go to psychology to explain this a bit. Sonoma State University's introduction to the various psychological "types" of relationships, from the healthy to the decidedly unhealthy, describes the most mature type as the "individual-assertion relationship," in which both partners' wants and requirements are respected and their differences are appreciated. In that kind of relationship, partners have "an ability to tolerate ambiguities ... enough flexibility to deal with issues without getting locked into their 'positions' [and] a need to be open to finding new solutions." If you're mature, you can tolerate a bit of argument without too much concern.
7. A Partner Needing Alone Time
Your spouse or partner needs to go sit alone in a room with a book or a cat or a blank wall for a bit? Mature relationships can handle that. (My husband, an academic specialist in medieval poetry by day, needs time with Red Dead Redemption when sh*t's bad. It's his thing.) Dr. Randi Gunther, writing for Psychology Today on the transformation of romantic idealism into sustainable maturity in relationships, calls this "[encouraging] disconnects for privacy and for reflection." If you're in a mature partnership, you won't need the constant presence of the other person or climb all over them like a vine; you're capable to giving them time out when they need it, to deal with their own stuff, and then come back to talk about it if they want to.
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