My friend Laura was shaking like a leaf. She had just received a WhatsApp vocal note from her boyfriend, Mike, who was shouting at her. I was there with her, and Mike’s reaction over something so little surprised me.
Shouting at someone is a common behavior of emotionally immature partners, and I thought Mike was different.
They had to meet close to Mike’s place that night. Laura suggested meeting close to her office instead, as she was working late that day.
He exploded. He called her dumb — because her suggestion was so damned “stupid.”
She answered with a short message, “It was only a suggestion. Don’t shout at me, and don’t call me stupid. I’m not going to engage further in this conversation.”
He then replied that he wasn’t shouting at her, he was just “talking loud” because that’s the way he talks.
Then he repeated that she shouldn’t have made such a stupid suggestion.
He was trying to twist an obvious fact — he was shouting at her, and verbally attacking her.
Not only that, he also wanted her to normalize an unacceptable behavior.
Like my friend Laura, many people get stuck in relationships with people like Mike, and accept toxic behaviors every day without even realizing it.
The reason why this happens is that sometimes it can take months — often years — for someone to realize they are stuck in a toxic relationship.
Not all emotionally immature partners are a lost cause, though.
Some people like Mike can definitely learn to understand that such behaviors are not compatible with a healthy relationship, and improve. It takes a lot of work, but it is possible.
Just keep in mind you are not your partner’s therapist, and it’s not your job to change them. If they become aware of their behavior, they need to seek professional help.
All you can do is encourage them to do so.
There are some behaviors emotionally immature partners have in common — and that you may be able to address assertively.
Remember — these suggestions apply to adults in safe situations. If you feel unsafe, or think you may be in an abusive relationship, seek professional help.
1. They Tend To Deny Their Toxic Behaviors
Like my friend Laura, many people confront their partner when they experience toxic behavior.
While an emotionally healthy partner would immediately realize their behavior is unacceptable — and eventually apologize — an emotionally immature partner will deny or twist the facts.
They will always find a way to describe what they did as acceptable and normal. In fact, they usually try to make you normalize their unacceptable behavior.
There is a reason behind this. As Lundy Bancroft explains in his book “Why Does He Do That?” people who behave this way tend to believe what they do is morally acceptable.
They justify their behavior by transferring blame onto their partner’s actions as its cause.
My friend Laura and her emotionally immature boyfriend
That’s what repeatedly happened to Laura. When she confronted Mike for his toxic behavior, he usually denied the facts as described by her.
In his mind, Laura was too sensitive and loved to start arguments for nothing.
For example, she once told me what happened on a Sunday at her place. She cooked lunch for the two of them.
When he tried the food, he had a look of disgust on his face and asked her, “Hey, did you put lemon and salt in it? This sh*t has no flavor!”
While he could constructively and politely say to her, “Honey, do you think we could add some salt and lemon juice to bring out the flavour?” he choose to convey the same message in the rudest and aggressive possible way.
My friend Laura politely asked him, “I have just cooked you a meal. Do you think it’s acceptable to speak to me like that?”
Predictably, instead of apologizing, he started an argument. For him, there was nothing wrong in the way he had expressed his opinion on the food.
Then, he said she was too sensitive and couldn’t take feedback.
A good way to address this behavior:
If you bring something up and you see things are quickly escalating into an argument — because your partner doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior — don’t engage further.
Let things cool off and readdress the issue when your partner has completely calmed down and is in a better mood.
If this becomes a pattern and your partner never seems willing to admit their toxic behaviors, sadly — and while you will perhaps hold on to the hope that “one day they will change” — it’s probably time to move on.
2. If You Bring Something Up, They Label You as Too Sensitive or Clingy
In a healthy relationship, if you try to assertively address an issue or a behavior you don’t like, you shouldn’t be automatically described as being too sensitive or clingy.
If that is a standard response, there is a problem.
As Kirstie Taylor mentioned in a recent article about gaslighting, a partner with a healthy communication style will see your concern as something to talk about.
They will want to actively work on a solution with you.
If, anytime you assertively bring something up and immediately your partner gets mad at you to the point where everything quickly escalate into an argument, the relationship is not healthy.
I love how Nick Wignall explains it. In one of his articles he says one thing emotionally immature adults often have in common is “they make you feel bad for feeling bad.”
A perfect example of this is what happened to my friend Lisa not too long ago. She felt down as she didn’t have enough time to do what she loved doing.
She told me she was the only one who did anything around the house to keep it clean and tidy and she was always the one taking out the dog.
It was highly time-consuming for her. So, one day she politely asked her boyfriend, James, if he could help with some of the household chores.
He answered that since he prepared the breakfast that morning, it was up to her to clean the whole house and take the dog out.
Then he added that she always looked for ways to start arguments and he threatened to end the relationship.
All Lisa did was politely ask for some help, as she felt he wasn’t contributing much to keep the house clean and tidy. James made her feel bad for feeling bad.
How he reacted was a sign he wasn’t able to communicate in a healthy way.
A good way to address this behavior:
If you have a concern, or there is an issue you would like to talk about with your partner, always address it when you both are in a good mood.
Also, consider that if they are in a bad mood, things are very likely to escalate into an argument.
If you are the one in a bad mood and address the issue with an emotionally immature partner, you might say or do something that triggers a toxic behavior.
So, it’s better if you bring up your concern when you are in a good mood too.
3. It’s All About Them
One month ago, my friend Mark lost his grandmother. It was hard for him, and it still is, as he had a close relationship with her.
The day he learned his grandmother had passed away, his girlfriend, Dana, was with him at his place. It seemed she was being supportive.
Then, out of the blue, she lost her temper with him. Just because he opened the window while the A/C was on.
She started to call him selfish and told him he knew how she suffered from the heat. She told him it was incredible how he didn’t care about her needs.
He told her he didn’t realize the window had been open too long for her — it was approximately two or three minutes . His head was obviously somewhere else.
Then he had to remind her he was going through a very tough moment and politely made her aware it was unacceptable to start an argument about the temperature of the room in such a difficult time for him.
Dana didn’t seem to care and kept calling him selfish.
A mature partner would have ignored the fact that Mark opened the window, even if the A/C was on.
Or they might have suggested in a more gentle way to close the window: “Honey, do you mind if we close the window for now? It’s really hot inside.”
For an emotionally immature partner instead, everything has to be about them, always.
A good way to address this behavior:
Try to ask them “Do you think your behavior is fair and appropriate under these circumstances? What would your friends think of you if they were here with us?” and see how they react.
Mentioning how a third person could see them is a good way to make them objectively become aware of their behavior.
They probably wouldn’t act the same way in front of others.
If they don’t respond positively and remain in a contentious, argumentative mood, then again you have to consider if this is always going to be ‘the norm’ and think about moving on.
It’s better to be single than to live in a toxic relationship where you have no real say in anything.
Shahida Arabi wisely said:
“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have to justify your intuition.”
Emotionally immature people usually reproduce unhealthy dynamics they have learned within the environment where they grew up. Usually, this environment is their family.
If you are in a relationship with an emotionally immature partner, you should always try to address their behaviors. You can help them recognize they have an issue to work on.
If toxic behaviors become a pattern in the relationship – and your partner isn’t willing to correct them and improve – the best thing for you is to call it quits and start an emotionally healthier journey.
If you see things are improving instead, it’s a great sign they are aware of their behaviors and are actively working on correcting them.
Help them through the process and encourage them to seek professional help if needed.
If you work as a team, you can heal the relationship and build a healthier, stronger bond.
Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash
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