Emotional levels of maturity

At various times we all function at different levels of maturity. This is particularly true of intimate relationships and often varies markedly from our functioning in the workplace. At different times in close relationships we may function like an emotional infant, child, adolescent or adult depending on the circumstances and our own personality. The chronological infant feels a need but is not able to communicate beyond a cry; it must wait for the parent to divine and meet its needs, becoming very angry if the parent is absent or inattentive. The adult who remains an emotional infant treats another like an object to meet his needs. He says, “I want what I want when I want it, and you are just an object to give me what I want.” This person can be a tyrant. He may get what he wants through intimidation, but love doesn’t last.

The child can communicate a need, but is still dependent on adults to respond; the child acts out his feelings of pain, fear and resentment if his needs are not met as he is not adult enough to openly discuss and negotiate them. The adult who behaves emotionally like a child acts out his resentment covertly through distance, pouting, whining, clinging, deception, withholding, or placating. He does not present his honesty and his adult ability to negotiate.

The adolescent is in rebellion against parental authority, in effect saying, “Don’t tell me what to do!” The adult who is stuck emotionally at the adolescent level of development can not give his partner what she wants without feeling controlled and resenting it. Thus, whatever the partner asks for is experienced as control and feels like he is being treated like a child. Thus he either cannot give what is wanted or does it with resentment. Thus the capacity for mutual concern is largely absent. Love cannot be sustained under these conditions.

The emotional adult is able to negotiate the fulfillment of needs with others, taking all needs into account. He is capable of mutual concern, of not only expressing and acting on his own behalf and of taking responsibility for his own behavior and happiness, but also of caring how it is for his partner and of nurturing their relationship within his ability to make it fulfilling for both. The work of a relationship requires that both partners be able to function as emotional adults enough of the time to resolve problems and offer mutual support and caring. They do this for the pleasure the relationship can offer them when it functions well. They understand the pleasure that is possible, the sustenance, support and comfort it adds to their lives, and they are willing to give their relationship the time and attention needed to help it function well.

~ Lori Heyman Gordon

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