It takes maturity to stop being dependent and empower yourself in a relationship. But you may be surprised to hear that the skill of how to be emotionally mature in relationships actually can be learned.
Here are the most important practices you apply today to achieve emotional maturity and have better, more intimate and profound relationships:
1. Take Responsibility for Your Needs
Often, people enter into relationships, expecting their partner to meet all of their needs: social connection, emotional support, and family. Some even rely upon their partners to financially support them, or meet all of the sexual desires. More often than not, they simply anticipate their partner to meet these needs without telling them what they are in the first place.
Emotionally maturity means knowing that all of your needs are wonderful. And that they won’t all be met, and that no singular person can possibly meet all of them. It means expressing your needs as clearly as you possibly can, and updating your partner when they change.
2. Find Resources to Meet Your Needs
Instead of expecting your partner to meet all of your needs, we encourage you to amass a village to meet them.
Are you a museum fan, live music aficionado, or sports fanatic – but your partner isn’t into it? Make sure you have people in your life with whom you can share your favorite activities. This is particularly important if these are activities your partner does not enjoy. Equally important is it to find people who can support you emotionally when your partner is not around. It may be sometimes beyond your partner’s capacity to give you the support you need, so you make sure you have trusted sources to turn to.
When it comes to your sexual needs, you need to decide whether you and your partner have a monogamous or non-monogamous agreement. If you are monogamous and your partner is not meeting your sexual needs, you have a couple of choices: for one, you can discuss an open relationship. But if that’s not an option and you want to stay in the relationship, be prepared to live with the disappointment of not having your sexual needs met. If you are in a non-monogamous relationship however, you can get your missing sexual needs met elsewhere.
3. Take Responsibility for Your Feelings
Another important practice for behaving emotionally mature in a relationship is taking responsibility for your feelings. And – being aware of and in touch with what your feelings actually are.
Many people skip over their feelings or try to control them. They never actually acknowledge to themselves that they have feelings. And regardless of what they believe, these emotions have a huge bearing on the daily decisions they make.
So, if you haven’t done so, it’s time to start this practice. Become aware of what you are feeling in any moment – and then, much like in meditation, simply acknowledge it. Don’t judge it, shame it, or try to make it go away. The next step is to find vulnerable ways to share those feelings so you can stay connected to the people you love.
4. Remind Yourself of the Validity of your Feelings
It is also important to remember that your feelings are valid.
To be emotionally independent, you need to be aware that your feelings are not always necessarily a response to things happening in the moment. They can be reminders of your life lived, of joy and pain, love and trauma. So when you have strong negative reactions to something your partner says or does, realize it may be because it brings up some old, underlying feeling of pain.
Taking responsibility for and paying validity to your feelings means becoming aware of the wounds you carry with you. Try to stop and recognize when and why you have a strong reaction to something. Blaming these responses on your partner is not realistic. So it expecting your partner to never step on one of your landmines. People sometimes talk about “emotional baggage” in a very negative way. But the truth is – everyone has past hurts that still impact them. If someone tells you they don’t have any emotional baggage, they don’t know how to be emotionally mature in a relationship.
In addition to knowing your wounds, emotional independence also means not anticipating your partner to have the same feelings as you. When saying “I love you” to someone, make sure you are ready to deal with whatever response they have. People take different amounts of time to fall in love. It’s common to have different feelings about all sorts of things as you develop your relationship.
5. To be Emotionally Mature, Own Your Choices
We all start out in a dependent role as children, with our choices being made by other people. It’s only too easy sometimes to carry this feeling – that our choices are not our own – into our adult lives. Plus, the social messages we receive about relationships emphasize compromise and relationship longevity at the cost of personal self-expression.
The truth is – unless you are in a financially or physically abusive relationship, it’s important to remember that you are choosing your life everyday. Realizing a less dependent existence requires you to make conscious life choices and step from a victim role to a place of self empowerment. As an example: stop counting on someone else to change so you can be happy. This attitude is very disempowering but happens in relationships all the time. If you are thinking, “My partner needs to [fill in the blank] and then my life will be better,” you will likely wait a long time for a better life. The same goes for the negative of “When my partner [fill in the blank], it makes me feel horrible, so they need to stop.”
Instead, look at the situation as your choice. “My partner [fill in the blank] and I’m choosing to stay in the situation.” This sentiment moves you out of emotional dependency. From this place of acknowledgment, you can then decide if it’s really a choice you want to keep making. Which leads to the next step: accepting your partner for who they are.
6. Accept Your Partner for Who They Are
A couple came into our relationship coaching practice once, talking about each other as “future Ben” and “future Alexis.” They each believed their relationship was going to improve once they became these better, future versions of themselves.
If you are looking at your partner and waiting for a different version of them to show up someday – you have some serious acceptance work to do. While people do change, deep personality traits rarely do. And altering personal habits is generally a very long, slow process that has to come from strong internal motivation.
If you want to empower your partner while at the same time empowering yourself, you must work to accept your partner (and yourself) for who you are. You might need to let yourself feel some disappointment about who they are in order to truly accept them. Often however, on the other side of this disappointment, you find deeper intimacy because you aren’t waiting for a different person to show up. This means you can actually be with the person who is in front of you. Part of being emotionally mature in a relationship is about learning to be more understanding. The basis of this growth is acceptance.
7. If Necessary, Reconfigure Your Relationship
Once you have accepted your partner for who they are, you might ask yourself: “Do I want to continue to choose my partner as they are? Or is there something about them – or perhaps the way they want me to be – I know I will not be able to sustain?” If you can answer this by consciously choosing them and want to keep doing so – wonderful.
If you find however that you no longer want to be in a relationship with them, we suggest you reconsider simply breaking the bond you have. Instead, work to shift your relationship to a different configuration that is sustainable. One where you can still be connected, but are no longer suffering.