When He Won’t Grow Up

Many women ask me the question, “How can I make him grow up?”

Many men are mature, respectful, and excellent at getting things done. Yet this immaturity thing is a more common complaint than you’d think.

Women who ask me about this are struggling with boyfriends who don’t want to settle down. Husbands who won’t agree to start a family. Men who put the selfish pleasures of youth first and their responsibilities last.

It makes things difficult for the women who love them.

These men don’t pick up after themselves. They forget to do what they promised. They waste hours on video games or internet surfing.

And the women in their lives are stuck with all the work.

When it feels like he’s the child and you’re the parent trying to insert some discipline into the situation, your relationship is in a very precarious place.

You feel resentful. He feels smothered. You try to change him. He thinks you’re nagging.

Professor Harry Overstreet, a popular writer and lecturer on psychology in the 1950s, once wrote:

“To the immature, other people are not real.”

That’s a good explanation of why it’s difficult to live with an immature man. He exists inside his own world. You can enter his world—which you do every time you cook, clean, and look after him—but he can’t follow you into your world. He can’t see how his behavior affects you.

For many women, the answer is to bid goodbye and try to find someone more emotionally mature next time.

But that’s only half the problem.

Because the other half of the problem is why you tolerated that situation in the first place. Why did you fall for a man who was childlike in so many ways? Why did you continue enabling him when it was clear he was never going to pull his own weight?

Sometimes women fall in love with immature men because the role of motherhood feels so good. As any woman with a child can attest, it is incredibly fulfilling to mother those you love. If you find an immature man, you don’t even need a child; you can mother him.

In fact, for many women it’s hard to avoid the tendency to mother a man. It’s a way of showing how much you care. You want to do nice things for him, look after him, take care of him, and make sure no harm comes to him. Who wouldn’t?

But stray too far into mothering territory, and you lose the sexual charge that brought you together in the first place.

He didn’t fall in love with his mother. He fell for YOU.

He chose you as his romantic partner. Not his caregiver, personal assistant or maid.

If you find yourself taking on those roles more and more, slowly extricate yourself. You are not in the relationship to serve him. You are in the relationship to love and be loved.

Erich Fromm writes in The Art of Loving:

“Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’
Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’”

Mothering a man makes him need you. You’re indispensable in his life, because you do everything for him. He may feel greatly attached to you, but it’s not mature love.

Mature love puts the commitment to love first. It says, “I love you because I have made the choice to love you and only you. I can live without you, but I choose not to.”

You can’t force an immature man to grow up by confronting him. If there’s one thing that turns men into stubborn children who refuse to play nicely, it’s blame.

A much better alternative is to stop enabling him.

When you enable someone, you give them help that perpetuates the problem rather than solves it.

If you always step in and pick up after him or take up the slack, then he doesn’t experience any consequences to his behavior. He knows you’ll save him.

It can hurt to see someone you love make a mess of his life. But, if he does, that is his choice. You can’t live his life for him.

When you stop taking on the role of his mother, and he experiences the first taste of consequences for his actions, he may get angry at you. He may blame you for not stepping in and doing everything for him.

But that’s okay. He needs to know that things have changed. You don’t want a co-dependent relationship. You know he can manage his own life. You’re going to show your trust in him by not stepping in and micromanaging his affairs.

Will that keep the relationship together?

It depends on him. Does he want to be a man or stay a boy?

A boy will always want another mother. A man will want a strong woman at his side. Choose to be strong. That way he will reveal whether or not he has the potential to become your match.

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