7 Signs You’re Dating an Emotionally Immature Adult

As a therapist, I work with a lot of very unhappy people each day.

And while there are many reasons for unhappiness, there’s one factor that magnifies emotional suffering more than almost anything else:

Few things make us more miserable than being in an unhealthy romantic relationship.

And how do people find themselves in unhappy relationships? Often it’s because they got into a long-term relationship with someone who was emotionally immature.

On the other hand, one of the best things you can do to improve your mental health and happiness is to avoid getting romantically involved with emotionally immature people in the first place.

Here are a few red flags to watch out for…

1. They’re All Talk and No Action

If I had a quarter for every time I heard the following, I’d be writing this essay from a villa in the French Riviera:

I can’t believe I didn’t see it earlier… He talks a good game but he just never follows through on anything.

The reason we all tend to fall for people who talk a good game but never follow through stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what falling in love really means.

Contrary to the Disney mythology, falling in love is a transaction: Two people find each other sexually attractive and work like hell to convince the other person that they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Of course, with 10 years of unhappy marriage under your belt, it’s easy to see in hindsight that 90% of what they claimed was crap. But in the moment—when your brain’s flooded with oxytocin and every fiber of your being is vibrating with sexual energy—you tend to focus on the good stuff and ignore some pretty obvious warning signs.

Because, after all, your body doesn’t care about your future marital bliss—all it cares about is your genes getting passed on.

Now, I have nothing against falling in love. It’s one of the greatest feelings and experiences we get in life. And there’s no reason you can’t have it and a happy long-term relationship. You just have to be willing to look for the not-so-good stuff from the beginning. And one of the most important parts of that is noticing discrepancies between words and actions.

Here are a few examples of what it looks like when someone’s actions don’t line up with their talk:

  • They tell you they’re fine with you spending time with friends on Saturdays but then give you grief about it all week.
  • They say work-life balance is really important but routinely spend late nights at the office.
  • They explain how open-minded they are about your unorthodox political views but make sarcastic comments about them whenever politics comes up.

No matter how gorgeous or funny they are, if you get involved with someone who can’t consistently line up their actions with their words, you’re going to be miserable with them.

So do your future self a favor and just say no to psychological stunted Romeos and emotionally immature Juliets.

2. They’re Unwilling to Be Vulnerable

Happy long-term relationships are built on trust. And trust requires intimacy—the ability to freely share and be honest with each other about everything from your hopes and dreams to your deepest fears and insecurities.

But when you’re not able to be intimate, it creates gaps in the relationship. And eventually, these gaps grow into gulfs. Create enough gulfs in your relationship and at best you turn into very civil roommates. But more commonly, it leads to chronic resentment and loneliness.

But here’s the things: while almost everybody can be intimate in some areas of their life, they often struggle in other areas:

  • Maybe they have no trouble with sexual intimacy, but ask them to talk about their childhood and they freeze up and shut down.
  • Or maybe they’re perfectly capable of being intimate with their dreams and aspirations, but refuse to talk about failures and losses.

The reason some people have a hard time being intimate often comes down to issues of emotional vulnerability. They have a hard time opening up and being honest if it exposes certain painful emotions that they’ve kept locked away.

And while emotional vulnerability is something that can be worked on and improved—and along with it, the capacity for intimacy—they have to be willing to do it.

So, when you’re dating or considering getting into a long-term relationship, look carefully for signs of difficulty with emotional vulnerability. And if you find some, try to look for signs that your partner is at least willing to try being more emotionally vulnerable:

  • Are they willing to at least talk about painful past experiences or memories?
  • Are they willing to try therapy or counseling to work through difficulties with vulnerability?
  • And perhaps most importantly, do they acknowledge their difficulty with vulnerability?

We all have weaknesses and sensitive spots, things we’d rather keep hidden. But if you’re going to get into a long-term relationship, it’s essential that you find someone who’s willing to work on themselves, even when it’s painful.

3. They Make You Feel Bad for Feeling Bad

Guilt-trippingGaslighting… Call it whatever you want, but when your partner constantly makes you feel bad for feeling bad, it’s time to move on.

One of the problems with dating someone who’s emotionally immature is that the relationship always ends up being about them. People with chronically low self-esteem and major insecurities are always looking for ways to feel better. And often this comes at the expense of other people.

For example, emotionally immature people tend to criticize others often. By pointing out how someone else is bad/incorrect/stupid, it makes them feel good/clever/smart. Because they can’t figure out a healthy way to feel good about themselves, they point out flaws in other people which, temporarily, makes them feel better about themselves in comparison.

One particularly subtle but pernicious form of this is emotional guilt-tripping—making someone feel bad about feeling bad.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you’d like your partner to spend less time on their phone when you’re together. So you bring this up with them and a difficult, emotionally-charged conversation ensues. Eventually, your partner tells you that “Well, if you weren’t so insecure this wouldn’t even have been an issue.”

That’s emotional guilt-tripping. They twist a perfectly normal feeling in you—frustration that your partner often isn’t very present when you’re together because of their phone—and try to frame it as something bad.

Don’t fall for it. And if it becomes a pattern, that’s probably a sign that you’re dating someone who’s emotionally immature.

If your partner’s too insecure to respond in a mature way to genuine feedback and criticism, they’re probably not worth your time.

4. They’re Unwilling to Try New Things

If there’s one thing I hear over and over again about what is causing dissatisfaction in a marriage or long-term relationship is rigidity:

  • She never wants to try anything new for holidays—it’s the same old routines year after year after year…
  • I’ve asked him many times if he could start helping out with some of the chores around the house and he just never does.
  • I’m really worried about our finances, and even though I’ve suggested lots of budgeting ideas or talking to a financial planner, she just refuses to do anything differently.
  • He’s so stuck on parenting our kids the same way he was parented… He just can’t see that maybe we need to do something differently or at least learn about some different options.

On the other hand, one of the best signs that a romantic relationship will work out in the long-run is if each person demonstrates a willingness to try new things and learn to do things that are unusual or uncomfortable.

The key, of course, is to separate out talk from behavior.

Everybody is going to say they’re open to learning new things, experimenting, taking advice and feedback, etc. But when you’re dating, you need to look for evidence that they’re willing and capable of this.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the person I’m dating take feedback and criticism well? Or do they get defensive and argumentative?
  • If I suggest doing something new or out of the ordinary, do they try to embrace it or only go along with it grudgingly?
  • When they get stuck or have a hard time with something, do they ask for help or seek out advice?

Flexibility and the willingness to adapt in the face of adversity is one of the single greatest attributes when it comes to choosing a partner. Not only will you be able to get through tough times together with a minimum of stress and conflict, but your partnership will just be a hell of a lot more fun.

When you’re dating someone, look for behavioral evidence of flexibility and the willingness to learn and try new things.

5. They Insist on Getting the Last Word In

Now you might have read this subheading and thought to yourself:

Yeah, yeah, so they like to get the last word in. It’s annoying, but that can’t be a deal-breaker, right?

Look, we all try and get the last word in every once in a while. We all like to feel right, and justified, and that we’ve “won” the conversation (as stupid as it seems in retrospect).

What’s problematic is if you notice a consistent pattern of having to get the last word in during conversations and disagreements.

If someone can’t help themselves from always needing to get the last word in, it’s often symptomatic of much more troubling underlying issues. Namely, they’re too insecure to tolerate acknowledging someone else as right. Their ego is so fragile that it can’t take “losing” even a single argument, regardless of who’s actually right.

That’s bad news.

If they can’t handle being wrong about where they parked the car, how are they gonna handle being wrong about forgetting to book a DJ for the wedding or missing your kid’s piano recital?

It might seem like a little thing that’s easy enough to tolerate, but it’s often a sign of much bigger problems below the surface.

If you’re dating someone who insists on getting the last word in, maybe you should insist on going your separate ways?

6. They Constantly Ask for Reassurance

Constant reassurance-seeking is often a sign of chronic anxiety and dependency issues.

Perhaps the biggest myth people buy into when choosing a partner is the idea of complementarity as a good basis for a relationship:

  • He’s so confident and self-assured that it really helps me with my anxieties and insecurities.
  • I love how social and gregarious she is. She really helps me get out of my shell.
  • I love how clever and funny he is. Our conversations always make me feel so much smarter.
  • She’s so independent and creative. As a life-long rule-follower, she really helps me push the boundaries when I need to.

You hear couples say stuff like this all the time. And while there’s nothing wrong per se with a partner who’s temperament or preferences complement your own, it’s dangerous to rely on them or think that they’re always beneficial:

  • No matter how confident you are, it’s never going to fix your partner’s insecurities.
  • No matter how sociable you are, it’s not going to change the fact that your partner’s an introvert who generally enjoys low-key activities with a few good friends.

If you’re dating someone with significant issues of self-worth, anxiety, and low confidence, you cannot fix them no matter how many times you reassure them and tell them it will be okay. In fact, there’s a very good chance that you reassuring them makes their anxieties worse.

What’s more, it’s very likely that over a long enough period of time you begin to resent them for it. You will resent the fact that they increasingly rely on you to make them feel secure and confident, and consequently, that they use your confidence as an excuse not to work on themselves.

Does this always happen? Of course not. But I see it constantly!

Now, I’m not at all suggesting you absolutely shouldn’t date or get involved with someone who struggles with anxiety or insecurities. My point is that you should think very carefully about it.

And if you do, make sure you see good hard evidence that they’re willing to seriously work on their own insecurities independently of you.

7. They Don’t Know What They Want

It’s emotionally-risky to get involved with someone who can’t articulate or at least explore what really matters to them.

The reasoning is pretty straightforward:

  • Few things are as predictive of long-term satisfaction in a relationship than having deeply compatible values.
  • If the person you’re dating can’t express a handful of things that really matter to them and why, that suggests they don’t really know what their values are.
  • And if the person your dating doesn’t know what their values are, how can you possibly tell whether they’re compatible with your own?

Now, having a clear set of values and principles is a complicated thing that often evolves over time.

For example: When you’re in your 20s, maybe friendship really matters to you as a value. But when you’re in your 40s—with 3 kids and mortgage—maybe hanging out with your buddies isn’t quite as important as it once was compared to other values like family and financial stability.

So when I say be careful of dating someone who doesn’t know what they want, it doesn’t mean they have to be strictly adhering to this or that formal value system.

What you’re really looking for is someone who regularly thinks about their values, can articulate them reasonably well, and actively works toward them.

So, how do you know if they know what they really want? Ask them!

  • What are some principles in your life that you try to always adhere to?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • Tell me about a value you used to hold but have changed your mind on.
  • What values have you inherited from your family?
  • How important are formal value systems to you (e.g. religious commandments)?
  • What values do you think it’s important that we share and see basically eye-to-eye on?
  • What are your political values? Ethical values? Career values? Creative values?

When you ask questions like this, what happens? Does your partner get uncomfortable and evasive? Are they willing to explore these, even if they are a little uncomfortable? Do they give genuine, heartfelt answers or do they respond in cliches and superficialities?

Everybody has values, no matter how ill-defined or vague. And eventually, those values will matter a lot in your relationship.

Be carefully dating someone who isn’t mature enough to think about and be willing to talk about their values.

All You Need to Know

Few things lead to more chronic unhappiness and stress than being in an unhealthy long-term relationship. And the reason so many people find themselves there is that they get involved with emotionally immature people who simply aren’t capable of being in a healthy relationship.

If you find yourself dating seriously and considering a long-term romantic relationship or marriage, keep a close eye out for the following warning signs of emotional immaturity:

They’re All Talk and No Action

They’re Unwilling to Be Vulnerable

They Make You Feel Bad for Feeling Bad

They’re Unwilling to Try New Things

They Insist on Getting the Last Word In

They Constantly Ask for Reassurance

They Don’t Know What They Want

Of course, everybody does these things sometimes. But if you find yourself dating someone who does several of them consistently, with no willingness to acknowledge them or work on them, just be careful.


Jean June 8, 2020 Reply

Great article and an important one for daters to read. I wish I read it before marrying. I felt a little flip in my belly and your article explains why. Getting divorced IS always a big deal in money, social group, family and emotions. Some folks do not realize this before they say I do.

Vaani June 8, 2020 Reply

So true

Nick Wignall June 8, 2020 Reply

Thank you, Jean. You know, the big impetus for writing this in the first place is how much pain I hear about from my clients who are stuck in unhappy marriages or going through divorces.

I suppose it’s the things I hope my daughters will understand when they start dating.

Sharon June 8, 2020 Reply

Love this article. Hits on all points. It is affirmation for me; and equally serves as a self-reflective tool.

Nick Wignall June 8, 2020 Reply

Glad it was helpful, Sharon!

Robin June 8, 2020 Reply

I really enjoyed the article. Too bad I couldn’t have read it four marriages ago. Though I too believe that I had some emotional immaturity myself. So it didn’t work being involved with emotionally immature guys.I Have now discovered that being on my own without a partner has made me the happiest and healthiest of all.

Nick Wignall June 8, 2020 Reply

Great point, Robin! We’re all a little emotionally immature in our own ways. Key is to recognize it.

Olgalita June 8, 2020 Reply

4 marriages… Wow… Long way to become happier and face emotional inmaturity and possibly work on it. We suffocate ourselfes with society standarts rather than working on whats really important before we start any relationship.

Marcia June 8, 2020 Reply

Thank-you as l am a little mix of all that in some form as is the other people in my circle. Knowing we r all in this together Let us b who we r peace with others as much as feels comfortable. Move on if u have too.love anyways but leave.

Nick Wignall June 8, 2020 Reply

You’re welcome, Marcia.

Claudia June 8, 2020 Reply

Thank you so much for this refreshing article. I just got divorced after 30 years … separated for four. I know it takes two to tango, but I see so much of my ex-spouse in your article.
I am single and at peace. 🙂

Ver June 8, 2020 Reply

I really have issues with the just last one, especially being unable to give genuine answers, i always respond with cliches, how do i work on this? I could really use help in truly knowing what i want.

Olgalita June 8, 2020 Reply

If you dont know what you want, listen to your heart. Meditation, swimming and long walks help to reconnect with soul. Our generation is overall emotionally inmature as we do not dedicate enough time to stop and listen to ourselves, work on ego issues and patience…

Roz June 8, 2020 Reply

Little too late for me. Second marriage and all these signs were there. Now I’m paying for it, and am living with a roommate instead of a supportive husband. I now try to tell the younger women to really consider the personality of the one they are claiming to be in love with.

Jen June 8, 2020 Reply

Roz, me too! Second marriage, & I felt it in my gut but optimistically ignored it, hoping I could “make it work”, regardless. I came with three children from my previous marriage, & together we also had a child. I’ve invested 8 years & unimaginable love, tears, heartbreak, & desperate attempts at heartfelt conversations. He just couldn’t open up, be vulnerable. He hasn’t touched me in 8 months. It gradually & painfully got to that point,(intimacy anorexia) & now we are roommates, as I figure out how to support my family without him someday. Hurts like hell because I truly loved him, but the resentment from lack of everything grew like a monster. All consuming. I feel you. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Sending love.

Aizighode Obinyan June 8, 2020 Reply

Thank you. This is an insightful and relevant article.

Nivedha Ney June 8, 2020 Reply

Awakening One ! The content was crisp and clear . I’m sure this will be helpful and reach out to someone or the other . Keep writing . All the best . See you in heights ✨

Andy Salter June 9, 2020 Reply

Sadly this sounds like every woman I have dated !!
I think it’s best just to stay single at this point!

Thomas Luke June 9, 2020 Reply

Great article ! I cannot stop to wonder if it’s possible to find someone without at least one of these traits.

Tracey June 9, 2020 Reply

Great article! Very enlightening for me and past partners. I’m saving and sending to girlfriends for them to read and process! Thank you!

Mise June 9, 2020 Reply

Absolute truth, and is never too late to start all over ALONE than trying to find love in all the deserts of the world

Pedro Arias June 9, 2020 Reply

I think an important thing to be thinking when reading articles like this, more importantly than “7 signs you are dating an emotionally immature person” is “7 things I should be mindful of in myself.” It’s all well and good to look out for these things in our partners, but often in relationships people do these things to each other.

Gabe June 9, 2020 Reply

I’d argue some strong counterpoints. The most obvious issue, finding someone that ticks every one of these boxes is downright impossible. Secondarily, people change over time. Even if you do find someone who’s the perfect match on this checklist, it doesn’t mean they’ll still be the perfect match ten years from now. I appreciate the list as some important things to think about, but as it’s been presented, and as readers are interpreting it in the comments, maybe it should be made more clear that, as with so many things in nature, there are many exceptions and these are moreso “big ideas” to consider, not hard rules to engagement.

Mel June 9, 2020 Reply

If we took all your points into consideration I dont think anyone would ever marry anyone, ever! We all come with these flaws on a continuum and if willing, have the ability to grow and mature over time. One key is to do it together over 30, 40, 50 years of marriage. That’s why there is “work” to be done in all marriages.

Takalani June 9, 2020 Reply

Ndaa! Bloem approves

I’ve learnt alooot

Sidd B June 9, 2020 Reply

The article is fab….. And is useful too for the one who are facing this problems…..so this was asm…. Would love to read more article from this guy.

Julie June 9, 2020 Reply

Great article – wish I had read it 10 years ago. But it’s never too late to learn. Thank you!

Cathy June 9, 2020 Reply

I totally agree with you. Many times we still hang on to those relationships even after noticing the signs because we expect people to change to our likeness. I wonder if they ever mature though at their old age 🤔🤔

Gift June 9, 2020 Reply

Smiling. I feel we hang on to those relationships because we are scared to start over.

Reynard Natividad June 23, 2020 Reply

I like the article. It is also nice to reflect whether or not it is us or them being the emotionally immature in the relationship.

Chloé Peters July 3, 2020 Reply

This article is great!! Compliments to the writer ♡
I as a woman read this article as the “emotionally unstable person and then a placed my boyfriend on the receiving end of my behaviour and then Vice versa. Still it seems I have more of the symtonatic behaviour, however we do hear hear you and because you make so much of sense please put out another article on ways we can better ourselves from this that you have discussed. Hope to hear from you soon !!

Mwangala Milupi Imbula July 4, 2020 Reply

I love the article, very educative. Its realy difficulty to date such a partner, it affects negatively to the other partner who is always trying to accept and understand..thou for how long…sad.

Local Cause July 4, 2020 Reply

I have a problem with this article saying that guilt-tripping and gaslighting are the same thing. They aren’t. The former is an emotional manipulation tactic used to put blame and responsibility on the victim, whereas the latter is a manipulation tactic used to make the victim question their sanity and grasp on reality. The two tactics are indeed related, but widely different from one another. I feel that they can be included in the standard slew of dirty tactics that people like narcissists use to manipulate others, but still need to be differentiated from one another.

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