If the Shoe/Slipper Fits … Wear It with Style!

Relationship maturity… Probably a topic that you’ve not heard much about … and certainly something that is rarely practiced. 

Yet such maturity is absolutely crucial for an ongoing happy, healthy, fulfilling relationship. Whether that be a marriage, a love relationship, a parent-child relationship, or a relationship with a friend.

For something as vitally important to a relationship, why do we not hear much about it, much less practice it? I believe that perhaps the most important reason is that relationship maturity is actually countercultural.

Let’s start with the definition of relationship maturity. The definition itself will reveal some of the ways it is countercultural. Relationship maturity is embracing the commitment level of the relationship and honoring it (and the other person) in thought, word, and deed; with the singular goal of maintaining the integrity of and promoting the growth (and healing) of the other person and the relationship. All while becoming and giving your very best. 

Why Do We Lack Relationship Maturity?

Why is this countercultural? Because these days we seem to be all about “letting it all hang out.” Saying what we think and feel without filtering it. Putting others in their place. Casting blame and denying responsibility. Blowing up. Walking away in anger. Leaving relationships. Dropping bombs. 

There is no room for vibrant and fulfilling relationships!

What are the other reasons? Research has revealed these factors:

1. The status of our parent’s health (and mental health) has a great impact on relationship maturity. The more physical sickness and mental health challenges we are exposed to as children tend to hinder the development of relationship maturity.
2. Neglect as children has a major effect on the development of relationship maturity. Whether that involved lack of care, being abandoned when parents divorce and the other parent is not regularly present, or parents who were simply too busy to meet the needs of the child. Research indicates that relationship maturity is learned by healthy parent/child interactions, observing healthy interactions between the parents, and having a healthy home environment.

3. Abuse or trauma. Abuse by a parent or a caregiver (such as a teacher, coach, nanny, etc), stymies relationship maturity development. Any trauma, whether it occurred to us as children (or we witnessed it), also freezes our relationship maturity development. We can be successful professionals, and yet have the emotional development of an 11-year-old, which leaves our relationship maturity as that of an 11-year-old. 

Regardless of why we may not be fully developed in relationship maturity, we can change that at any time. Research has clearly indicated that coaching or counseling for any of the above three reasons is very effective in helping us develop our relationship maturity. I also believe the fact that you are reading this article sets you on a path to maturing beautifully.

What Does Relationship Immaturity Look Like?

Before looking at what relationship maturity looks like, it might be helpful to first look at what might be more familiar to us: relationship immaturity.

Here is a general overview of what relationship immaturity would involve or look like:

  1. Resort to personal attacks when challenges arise
  2. Making decisions about the relationship without involving the other person
  3. Disrespecting and trampling on others’ boundaries
  4. Practicing emotional blackmail and bullying
  5. Impulsive emotions
  6. Using the past, or secrets shared when vulnerable, as weapons
  7. Launching into lectures and shaming tirades when mistakes are made
  8. Withholding love when the other doesn’t give what is wanted
  9. Denying responsibility at all costs
  10. Blaming partners (or something else) consistently
  11. Lacking integrity, spinning stories to make themselves look good or feel exonerated
  12. “Reacting” in most situations rather than stepping back and charting a healthy response

By the way, one of the key clues to recognizing you are in a relationship with someone who lacks relationship maturity is that they are very, very draining. You will find yourself fatigued, even when not involved in an argument or other drama.

What Does Relationship Maturity Look Like?

Here is a general overview of what relationship maturity would involve and look like:

1.  Emotional Mastery

First, there must be some level of emotional mastery in order to excel in relationship maturity. Emotional Mastery is the ability to clearly identify and share every emotion, determine the gift available to you with each emotion and using the gift of the emotion to chart a course forward that empowers you and those you are in relationship with. 

Many people misunderstand and believe that emotional mastery is the ability to deny your emotions or stuffing them, or acting them out on a whim, or even worse, using them is a weapon. Emotional mastery is about choosing the appropriate response and course of action, instead of allowing the emotion to master you and your choices.

2. Long-term commitments

Those who have relationship maturity can maintain their love and dedication after the novelty of the relationship wears off. They understand that keeping that commitment requires work and dedication and they seek new ways to grow and keep the relationship growing.

3. Sincere humility

Many people misunderstand, thinking that having humility means that you think poorly of yourself. What it actually means is that the individual does not need to draw attention or adoration to himself or herself. Instead, a humble person shines the spotlight on others who have contributed to their growth, their development, or their success. There is no sense of arrogance about them.

4. Safety

When a person with relationship maturity is present, there is almost a sense of sacredness about the relationship. They work diligently to keep it safe by what they say, how they say it, what they do, and by always honoring any vulnerability shared. They identify, and willingly avoid, those things that might feel “unsafe” to their partner.  This includes communicating with former relationships on Facebook or other social media; going out to bars without their partner; and sharing information with others learned through vulnerable conversations

4. Provides solutions

When addressing challenges, a person with relationship maturity has solutions.  It is a top priority. When facing frustrations, relationship maturity guides us to avoid criticisms, complaints and judgements. Maturity focuses us on the desire that is always behind the frustration. Thus, when these inevitable frustrations are given voice, maturity gives voice in the form of a solution… a positive, specific, behavior change request. Always looking for a win/win, instead of pointing out the faults of the other.

5. Character, not feelings

When relationship maturity is present, feelings are considered, but maintaining the integrity of the relationship, the other person, and self, is a greater priority. We are able to look at long-term outcomes instead of short-term games.

6. Expressions of gratitude

Relationship maturity is aware that keeping the relationship harmonious is dependent upon sincere and consistent expressions of gratitude. Research has long shown that when two people practice gratitude with one another, there is a release of oxytocin, which enriches the depth of the connection. Relationship maturity does not wait for a challenge, but actually prevents challenges by expressing gratitude regularly; making sure there is plenty oxytocin in the relationship.

7. Self-discipline and genuine

Those who practice relationship maturity are very self-disciplined. I’m always amazed in my office when we have a productive discussion where one is attempting diligently to explain what they want and need. When the other understands, validates, and commits to meeting the need, it is a beautiful moment. But it is all too often spoiled by someone relationally immature when they say something like, “Now I’ll do my best but you’re going to have to remind me.” Those who are relationaly mature make their own notes and discipline themselves. They take those actions necessary for the growth and healing of the relationship. In addition, they are self-motivated to read and learn new things that create growth; in themselves, in the relationship. This invites the other to grow.

Genuineness is not only present in, but also very important to, relationship maturity. When we are genuine, we notice our mistakes, accept responsibility, and self-correct. When the self-correction involves asking forgiveness, or making amends, relationship maturity has no struggle whatsoever in doing any or all of those things from a place of true sincerity.

8. Communication skills

Relationship maturity practices and continues to learn about great relationship skills. It learns to listen carefully, and to put away the “lawyers and analysts” that sit on our shoulders chattering, preparing a response. It learns to empathize and validate. It knows that doing so is not necessarily agreeing. But maturity can put aside one’s own thoughts, judgments, and feelings long enough to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. Those with relationship maturity do not hide behind sayings like: “I’m just not a good communicator.”; or “I just don’t put things in words as well as others do.”; or “I don’t think it’s important how I communicate.” Relationship maturity realizes that those are false excuses. Those with maturity thus commit themselves to taking courses, reading, coaching, or whatever it takes to improve communication skills.

9. Love in word and deed

One of the things I often have couples do is to write a list of 100 things that make each of them feel loved, and that cost less than a dollar. We tend to love others the way that we desire to be loved. And although there’s nothing wrong with that, it often misses the target of the other’s needs. 

When I make the assignment, most people are amazed at how they are unable to produce the list. If you do not know what makes you feel loved, how on earth is your partner supposed to hit that target? So take some time, read some books, ask others.

After developing and exchanging your list, I give people these guidelines: doing 5-7 of those things on the list daily keeps your relationship status quo; doing at least 15-20 of those things daily releases a greater flow of oxytocin between you; but doing 25+ things daily from their list ensures healing and deeper connection.

You may say that those would take hours and hours daily. Not when your list is broken down to the truly small, but powerful, meaningful things, such as:

  • Wink at me
  • Hold my hand
  • Text me that you love me for no reason
  • Look me in the eye and say you love me
  • Refill my drink

The truth is you could do 25 of those before you ever leave the house in the morning!

10. Daily prayer

Last but not least, say a prayer for your relationship. Regardless of your religious beliefs, research tells us that prayer is a powerful thing. Statistics report that slightly more than one in every two marriages will end in divorce. When people attend church together, statistics reveal that the probability of divorce goes down to one in five. But for couples who say a prayer for their relationship each day, the statistics drop to one in 20. When I teach my premarital classes, I tell couples that regardless of religious beliefs, they would do well to hold hands every night and pray, in unity, “God bless our marriage.”

In closing, research reveals several things about those who practice relationship maturity:

  • They have greater self-confidence
  • They have better ability to regulate their emotions
  • They are more empathetic
  • They have better social skills
  • They have better communication
  • They have better boundaries
  • They have less depression and anxiety
  • They have stronger immune systems

Regardless of your current level of relationship maturity, you can begin to improve it today. Your relationships will improve dramatically, and along with it, your fulfillment.

Make note of three ways that you could begin growing your relationship maturity and practice them consistently for the next 70 days. You will begin to note the difference almost immediately!

You can have extraordinary relationships. You can improve your relationship maturity. You and your relationships are worth it!