Romantic relationships can be so close they almost feel like family, but that doesn’t mean you should ever feel like the parent to your boyfriend or girlfriend. If you’re struggling with a childish partner, here are 10 tips to help you deal. After all, you have better things to do than teach an adult how to act like one.
Look to their childhood.
You may or may not have known your partner when they were younger. But look for clues about their family dynamic and upbringing. Did they have a difficult childhood? Was their mother anxious and overprotective? Does their relationship with their parents seem overly attached? Though it may not be an excuse for their bad behavior, understanding your partner’s childhood and family life can help you treat their childish tendencies with a little more compassion.
Talk to your partner like an adult.
How you talk to your partner may be just as important as what you say to your partner. It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking down to a childish partner. But this only reinforces their childish behavior more. Avoid criticizing, scolding, or speaking sarcastically to them, especially during arguments. Instead, when you’re frustrated with their behavior, remain mature yet assertive.
Honor their needs.
We all have needs in relationships, but your partner may not know how to ask for them. This can lead to some immature behaviors to try to get your attention. For example, they may use the silent treatment, make hurtful jokes, or even stomp around like a child when they don’t get their way. This behavior isn’t okay, but initiating a conversation about what they really need may give them a new, more mature outlet to express themselves.
Set a good example.
To deal with a childish partner, make sure to set a good example for the kind of mature, adult relationship you want. Model what you want to see. If you want them to help with chores more, make sure to be responsible for your part of the housework. Or if you want them to talk about problems calmly, stay calm during arguments. Sometimes, taking the high road will encourage them to eventually do the same.
Let them care for you.
Allowing yourself to be cared for may seem like a strange way to deal with a partner’s childish behavior. However, when there’s one childish partner, there’s often one “adult” partner too. To let go of this unhealthy dynamic, it’s important to practice interdependence. When you’re interdependent, you both balance independence and some healthy dependence too. You can help each other and show each other care and affection. If you’ve been taking on the parent role, remind your partner that you want to be cared for too. Ask for a massage or share a problem you’re facing. This can momentarily take them out of the child role and into a caregiver role.
Allow them to make mistakes.
Be honest with yourself: are you trying to protect your partner? Do you sometimes tell them what to do so they avoid getting hurt? Do you try to shield them from making mistakes? They may act childish and make questionable decisions, but sometimes, that’s okay. It’s not your responsibility to save them. Just like with actual children, making mistakes can be a learning experience for your childish partner. In fact, it may be exactly what they need to finally grow up.
Spend time apart.
If their childish behavior is hurting you or if they’re using you as a crutch, sometimes the best solution is to make yourself unavailable. Spend time with your own friends and family or enjoy time alone. Either way, this gives them an opportunity to use their own resources and reflect on their actions.
Set clear boundaries.
Every relationship needs boundaries, especially if one partner behaves immaturely. Clearly state your expectations, what you won’t tolerate, and the consequence for a crossed boundary. For example, if they have a temper tantrum-like reaction during an argument, tell them that you will only talk when they can remain calm and respectful. If they start yelling or calling you names, you will end the conversation. These boundaries make it clear that childish behavior is unacceptable in your relationship.
Don’t punish them.
Be careful to not mix setting boundaries with punishing your partner. Boundaries serve the purpose of protecting you and your well-being. Punishments, on the other hand, are meant to teach children a lesson. When dealing with a childish partner, avoid treating them like a child with manipulative or unproductive punishments. Instead, focus on caring for yourself and protecting your energy. Keep consequences focused on what is best for you, not focused on controlling their behavior.
Appreciate good behavior.
Finally, show appreciation when they get it right. While punishment can be harmful to your relationship, positive reinforcement is a healthy alternative. When your partner takes responsibility, make a point to show your appreciation. If they fix a past mistake, thank them. Appreciation encourages the mature behavior you deserve from your partner.
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