Tips For Navigating Different Maturity Levels In A Relationship

When they say age is but a number, they're not wrong. You can be 40 and dating someone 25 and not feel the age gap at all, or you can be 25 and dating a 50-year-old and feel like you're the parent. People mature at different rates, in different ways, and some, like those who have Peter Pan Syndrome, never really mature at all. "Most of the couples I know say that they feel like they're the same age," psychiatrist Dr. Loren Olson tells PsychCentral. "We have a chronological age, a psychological age, a physical age, and a sexual age. Age gap couples frequently are compatible in the last three."


But whether you're dating someone your age, or someone who happens to be younger or older, if the maturity levels don't match up, there can be issues. As much as one should try to get the best and most fun out of life, something that immature people excel at, there are still times that call for being a grown-up — a fact that someone who may not be on the same maturity level as you can understand. However, who we fall in love with isn't usually dependent on maturity levels. If you're in a relationship with someone whose maturity isn't quite on the same page as you, it's not about giving up. It's about learning how to navigate it.

Analyze the discrepancy in maturity

Because psychological age and chronological age don't always line up, it's important to see where the major discrepancies are and how important they are to you. "People in mature relationships have learned to value direct communication, active listening, respect, and commitment, along with empathy, accountability, a mindset of making amends, and a harmony of thoughts and actions," psychologist Pragati Sureka tells Bonobology.


What this means is that there's an emotional maturity in the relationship, at least to a degree, from both sides. But just because a person is emotionally mature and can handle, with ease, these aspects of the relationship, it doesn't mean they're psychologically mature enough to face other challenges of a relationship. But on the flip side, maybe you're not up to their level of emotional maturity even if your psychological maturity surpasses theirs. It's about a give and take, and deciding what the discrepancy is and what you're willing to work on. 

Ask yourself what the upsides are to the relationship

If you happen to be the more mature person in the relationship, having a less mature partner can be fun in a lot of ways. As Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. writes for Mind Body Green, having a partner who's a "child at heart," can bring a sense of balance to a relationship where one partner is constantly being the grown-up in every situation. Someone who still enjoys being a kid can bring out the inner kid in you, the one you perhaps had forgotten was there, even when your stress level is through the roof and you really need it. 


However, if the less mature partner can't accept that not every day should feel like an adventure or a fantastic outing at the carnival full of cotton candy and rollercoasters, then it's time to examine just how much of this actually might be a downside instead of an upside to the relationship. 

Figure out if change is possible

Getting back to that whole Peter Pan Syndrome, if your partner really cares about the relationship and you've discussed the maturity discrepancy — in case they haven't noticed and maybe they honestly haven't — but they don't want to change or are simply incapable of it, then you have a bit of a problem on your hands.


"Trying to change your partner's level of commitment or ambition will only frustrate you both," psychologist Patrick Cheatham tells Healthline. "It's about setting a tone of adulthood and seeing how they respect and respond to that... All relationships involve compromise and negotiation, but hopefully you can find some middle path between changing someone and enabling them."

Even if their attempt at change is baby steps or, as Cheatham points out, finding a middle path, then that's a move in the right direction. But some people just can't do it. Some people are actually incapable of being mature. 

Question whether they're holding you back

People who have different maturity levels usually find themselves at different places in their lives — not just in their careers or how they handle situations, but in their ability to move forward and the want to move forward. Not everyone has ambition and goals — and that's fine! — but if you're the type of person who's literally reaching for the stars and your partner has no interest in evolving in any aspect of their life, then they just might be holding you back. 


While they're content to stay put and you have dreams to set the world on fire, then that's something to think about, then talk about with your partner. It's hard to move forward in life when your partner can't (or won't) support you. You want your partner along for the ride, but if they don't want to jump into the passenger seat, then it can be difficult to navigate how you're going to make the relationship work.

Examine if there's really a future there

When there are different maturity levels in a relationship, not only can that prevent personal and professional evolution, but it can also stand in the way of the relationship moving forward too. For example, moving in together or marriage are likely to be terrifying ideas for your partner.  "An emotionally immature partner likely does not think ahead and plan a future with you, but rather lives in the moment," couples counselor and dating coach Samantha Burns tells Bustle. "If [they] do see a future together, [they'll] probably have a lot of difficulty articulating and communicating this vision."


If someone has the psychological age of 23 at 35, you simply can't expect them to have marriage or any sort of serious commitment on their mind yet. It's at this point that you have to examine if you want to wait until their maturity level reaches their 30s or find someone else who's on the same page as you.

Discuss realistic expectations

One of the major problems when it comes to dating someone who's not as mature as you are is that they see things through rose-colored glasses, so to speak. Which, although lovely, is rarely a good idea if you're going to get along in the real world. "Mature people realize they must not idolize each other," psychologist Pragati Sureka tells Bonobology. "They know that all idols have feet of clay. They see each other as real humans with limitations and weaknesses."


It's fun to daydream, but if your partner is constantly living in a fantasy world where they're blind to what they're both incapable and capable of and they don't have the necessary maturity to realize that at, say, 45 their band isn't going to be the next One Direction, well, that just might have to be a dealbreaker. Unless, of course, you believe in your heart that your partner is the next Harry Styles in the making, which might mean you should check your maturity level too. 

Consult a therapist

No matter how much we love someone and try to help (read: change) them, it's sometimes simply impossible. There's only so much pushing your partner toward adulthood you can do while constantly feeling like an annoying parent. It's when it becomes too much, that it's time to get your partner a therapist — either for just them or for both of you. As Dr. Jenn Man writes for InStyle, your attempts at helping your partner may already have them perceiving you as a "nagging mommy," which isn't only bad for your relationship, but it's not healthy for either one of you. They're not a child and it's not your job to teach your partner how to be grown up.


And since your partner definitely won't be taking the necessary steps to find a therapist or counselor, it's up to you to do that. Whether it's face-to-face or telemedicine, find your partner someone who specifically deals with these types of personality traits.

Know when it's time to let go

No one is perfect. No one is mature at all times and if they were, that would be pretty darn boring. But when there's a discrepancy in your maturity levels in your relationship, one that you have to deal with day in and day out, either because of an actual age gap or a psychological age gap, then it's time to re-evaluate what you're getting out of the relationship, what you think it's possible of becoming, or whether or not you're wasting your time.


There is a possibility that therapy can help, but if you're dating someone with Peter Pan Syndrome and they're over 30, you really can't expect a huge miraculous change. Sure, these types of people are fun, but if you're looking for a partner, then you need to let them go. You can't parent someone who's either too lazy or too scared to grow up and face the realities of life.