12 signs of emotional immaturity in a relationship, according to psychology

Any relationship expert will tell you that relationships thrive when both partners are emotionally mature. 

But what does that even mean? Isn’t emotional maturity something that we all naturally acquire as we grow older? 

Sadly, no. I’m pretty sure you know an adult or two who still act like kids (more specifically, like brats) when it comes to dealing with challenges. 

The reality is, not all of us have the emotional maturity to be in a healthy relationship. 

No judgment here, though. Sometimes it could be because they had unhealthy role models as kids and as such, don’t know how to handle their emotions. 

In that spirit, the first step to overcoming that is to recognize the signs. Here are 12 signs of emotional immaturity in a relationship, according to psychology: 

1) Poor communication skills

First up, you’ll know someone is emotionally immature when they don’t have healthy ways of resolving conflicts. 

Now, this is quite an extensive discussion, as there are so many ways this manifests. But for the sake of brevity, here are some of those ways, according to Psych Central

  • Passive listening
  • Stonewalling or the silent treatment
  • Dismissing others’ POV
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Interrupting
  • Yelling

And of course, becoming physically or verbally abusive. That one’s a no-brainer. 

With communication styles like this, it would be hard to reason or discuss issues like a grown-up when your partner acts like a child, wouldn’t it? 

2) Blaming others for their actions

Remember when we were kids and we’d get reprimanded for misbehaving, we’d point to our siblings and yell, “He did it! She did it! It wasn’t me!”?

Well, I certainly hope we’re past that kind of behavior. But of course, that would be wishful thinking. 

Truth is, many people are still stuck in zero-accountability mode. 

Masterclass has this to say about accountability: 

“Accountability is a foundational principle of romantic relationships, bonds between family members and loved ones, and friendships.

When people are not accountable, they may refuse to acknowledge how their actions affect their partners, insisting their partner is the only one to blame for relationship problems.”

I’ve been with someone who behaves this way, and let me tell you, it got old pretty quickly. I think I’m a fairly forgiving person, but in the end, the lack of accountability used up all of my goodwill and I had to call it quits.  

3) Lying 

Another childish behavior is lying. Again, I’d like to think we’re now above covering up our mistakes with lies, but a look at these statistics on cheating tells me otherwise. 

And that’s just cheating. That’s not even counting the little lies people say that aren’t connected to infidelity. 

There’s a reason why people put honesty as a non-negotiable in their list of traits to look for in a partner – they want someone they can trust, period. 

They want to feel safe. They don’t want to lie awake in bed at night wondering if there’s something else behind their partner’s words. 

An emotionally mature partner knows that trust and respect form the foundation of a relationship. So they’d never do anything to jeopardize that, at least not intentionally.  

4) Impulsive or reckless behavior

signs youre in a toxic relationship 12 signs of emotional immaturity in a relationship, according to psychology

Have you ever been in a car with a reckless driver? I’m willing to bet you gripped the dashboard so tightly your knuckles went white, didn’t you? 

Now imagine being in a relationship with someone who goes through life that way… 

Because they don’t have the discipline – or more specifically, the emotional intelligence – to curb their impulses and act responsibly, they do things like: 

  • Make big life or relationship decisions without asking you
  • Quit jobs without thinking things through
  • Use alcohol, drugs, or gambling to deal with stress
  • Break up with you during a heated moment
  • Propose marriage or moving in together impulsively
  • Deal with jealousy in intrusive and unhealthy ways
  • Post private aspects of your relationship online without consulting you
  • Engage in dangerous activities for the thrill of it without considering how it affects you

There are many causes of impulsive behavior, some of which are related to mental health conditions. But no matter the cause, there’s no denying it gets in the way of a stable relationship.  

5) Throwing a tantrum

Speaking of impulsive behavior, there’s perhaps no bigger everyday example of it than a temper tantrum. 

I once had a boyfriend who’d go from 0 to 100 when things didn’t go his way. He’d respond to minor annoyances with full-blown meltdowns. 

Like for instance, the time we got stuck in traffic on our way to a dinner date and he got so mad and started ranting and slamming on the horn. 

I’ll tell you what being in a relationship with someone like that feels like – it feels like you’re dealing with a child

Only, that child is a fully grown adult, which then incites fear in your heart and makes you walk around on eggshells so you don’t upset them. 

6) Bullying their partner to get what they want

Or if they aren’t downright bullying you, they’re cajoling or manipulating you and putting on the sweet moves. 

Which, when you think about it, is also a form of bullying – a psychological one.

All because they just can’t take not having their way. 

For emotionally immature people, the concept of compromise is kind of an alien one. 

They see every interaction as a win-lose scenario where they must come out on top, regardless of the emotional cost to their partner or the relationship itself. 

It’s a stark contrast to the give-and-take that forms the foundation of mature, healthy relationships. 

Instead of approaching disagreements with the aim of finding a mutually satisfactory solution, they approach them with the goal of winning, often at their partner’s expense.

Which brings me to my next point…

7) Scorekeeping

Is there anything more childish than keeping score? I remember when I was still a bratty tween and I’d say, “I’m not doing the dishes today, I did it yesterday. Let her (my sister) do it!”

Well, some folks never grow out of this mentality. And unfortunately, that’s a mentality that goes against the grain of what a relationship should be – teamwork. 

Keeping an imaginary scoreboard slowly kills that team spirit. Instead of your partner being your teammate, they slowly become the enemy, the person to beat. 

According to counselor Sheryl Paul at MindBodyGreen, there’s one simple antidote for this: 

“Give for the joy of giving. Give because it makes your relationship run more smoothly. Give because you see that a task needs to get done and you know you’re capable of doing it. Giving is the love-juice that lubricates the rough spots and takes the squeak out of the wheels.”

8) Lack of empathy

Remove toxic person in your life 12 signs of emotional immaturity in a relationship, according to psychology

Another sign of emotional immaturity in relationships is a lack of empathy

Emotionally immature people find it hard to empathize because they often focus more on their own feelings and experiences than on those of others. 

It’s a lot like how a toddler is preoccupied with their own world and doesn’t really have the capacity to think about how other people feel. 

They might struggle to see things from their partner’s perspective or understand how their actions affect the people around them. 

They might also miss cues that someone is upset or needs support, and they might inadvertently hurt their partner’s feelings by appearing indifferent or dismissive.

The result is emotional distance – their partner feels lonely and unseen. 

9) Neediness

Too much clinginess isn’t a good look, either. 

The Attachment Project explains that clingy behavior has its roots in an insecure attachment formed early in life. 

Because of their upbringing, clingy people haven’t mastered the skills for self-soothing their distress. 

It’s a form of emotional immaturity in the sense that they aren’t able to build strong boundaries and need to rely on other people for emotional fulfillment. 

In contrast, emotionally mature people feel secure and have a healthy sense of self-esteem. This enables them to contribute to a relationship without holding their partner responsible for their own happiness. 

10) Holding grudges

Even more so if those grudges are petty. 

Let’s face it – it’s hard to let go of resentment. It takes a lot of maturity to make the conscious and intentional decision to process pain, then release it. 

For those who haven’t quite mastered their emotional skills, this is even tougher. They might not have the tools to work through their feelings to find a fix. And more importantly, to find their peace.

Heck, they might not even realize that inner peace is something they should be aiming for! 

It all comes down to a lack of self-awareness. This means they often don’t see how holding onto these grudges affects not only their peace but also their relationships. 

Without recognizing the root of their discomfort, they’re stuck in a loop – reacting to the surface issues without tackling the deeper emotional work needed.  

11) A lack of depth

Speaking of depth, a relationship with an emotionally immature person can feel like a shallow one. 

Because of one major reason: emotional unavailability. 

What exactly does this mean? 

Simply this – since they don’t have the tools to work through their feelings, as I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to talk about feelings! 

Couples counselor Samantha Burns explains, “Processing emotional experiences could be very overwhelming for [them], or tap into some sort of vulnerability or shame that causes [them] to shut down or withdraw, rather than being able to explain and process these complicated feelings.” 

In the end, it sabotages their relationship because no relationship can last with this kind of dynamic. 

12) An “I-me-mine” mentality

The bottom line is, emotional immaturity means holding a selfish attitude. As you can see, almost all of the behaviors I’ve listed here demonstrate that. 

Again, I’d liken it to how a toddler thinks and behaves. It’s always about what’s in it for them, how something affects them, and almost never about how it affects others. 

The good news is, it’s never too late to start developing emotional maturity. It all begins with a bit of self-reflection, understanding where you might be going wrong, and being willing to make changes. 

For sure, it’s not easy – it will take some humility and effort. But the rewards are absolutely worth it. 

Picture of Roselle Umlas

Roselle Umlas

I am a freelance writer with a lifelong interest in helping people become more reflective and self-aware so that they can communicate better and enjoy meaningful relationships.

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