Portrait of mature business entrepreneur at office
Emotional maturity is the most important quality of great relationships. Unfortunately, we don’t pick it up simply by going through puberty.
We have to practice it, learn to heal our emotional pain, and slowly develop the character traits that allow us and our relationships to thrive. It’s a long process, but the rewards — meaning, happiness, joy — are worth the effort.
The question is: Where are you in that journey right now?
Doing so will give you an idea of what you’re good at and what you still need to work on — and thus help you get the relationships you deserve.
1. You know what you think is not obvious to other people
Life is not The Sims. There’s no icon over your head telling others you’re hungry, sad, angry, happy, frustrated, or depressed. You have to tell them.
Instead of blaming people for not magically getting you, speak your mind to the best of your ability. Say what you really want, tell people how you reallyfeel, and try your best to be calm and clear in the process.
2. You reconsider your interpretations of what others say and do
Being angry is predicated on knowing what the other person intended to do or say. Most of the time, we have no idea what the real reason was. We just assume we know, and then we get upset.
What if instead, we paused and took time to wonder? Is there some truth in their criticism? Do they just want to help me? Can I let this comment stand without fighting it? Do I really know what they mean? How can I make sure?
Don’t be so quick to judge. Be generous with your interpretations. And — always — ask more questions.
3. You realize you’re wrong a lot and — at times — annoying
Hundreds of biases affect our thinking every waking second of the day. No one is right 100% of the time. No one is kind 100% of the time.
Sometimes, you and I and everyone you know is wrong, stubborn, and a pain in the ass to be around. That’s okay, but be aware of it. Be generous in letting people know. “I’m not fun when I’m hungry.” “I’m not sure I’m right.” “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” These are signs of strength, not weakness.
4. Realizing we all “fake it till we make it” gives you true confidence
In one of his speeches, Alan Watts compares living our everyday lives to acting in a play: “The hero role and the villain role are only masks.”
We’re all trying our best to live up to our many characters. We all suffer from impostor syndrome. We hope we look right to the world, and people won’t know we’re afraid, clueless, and lost. It’s okay. Everyone is.
Emotional maturity is taking true comfort in this fact and letting it fuel real confidence to not care what others think.
5. You make room for your and other people’s vulnerabilities
As you mature, you realize friendship is not only about the good times but about creating space to be vulnerable, and you offer that space to others by sharing your own troubles as well as listening to theirs.
You’ll both feel less lonely and see past each other’s mistakes because you know they’re cries for help, not attacks. You respond with love when others show fragility, and you address your own as best as you can. This includes but isn’t limited to the small things like getting enough sleep, eating well, and not discussing big issues in a rush or moments of anger.
6. You take comfort not in delusion but in your ability to survive
One of my best friends once gave me a framed picture. It reads: “If Plan A doesn’t work, don’t worry. The alphabet has 25 more letters.”
Despite being fragile, humans are also incredibly resilient. Except for death, everything is survivable. Trust in your ability to piece yourself back together. Trust that tomorrow can be a good day. Not all will go right, but what goes wrong can be fixed, learned from, or at least accepted. You will survive.
7. You forgive easily because you know life is not black and white
The world isn’t filled with good and bad people, just people. We all shine one day and then disappoint the next. Our environment greatly shapes our choices.
When others make bad decisions, look to their context, not their character. Are you out to get someone? Of course not. Neither is anyone else. Everyone is doing their best. Sometimes, it’s just not good enough.
When that happens, show people compassion, and give them the benefit of the doubt. It makes life less of a battle and more of an expedition.
8. You accept yourself for who you are and don’t overcompensate
You’re as easily swayed as anyone else by life’s unpredictable current. When you are, extend the same courtesy of compassion to yourself. Don’t punish yourself so much. Don’t get lost in your shortcomings.
9. You realize there’s no time for passive-aggressive behavior
Life is short. It’ll be over way too soon. There’s no time for bottling up negative emotions. When something stings, try to pull out the thorn immediately. Tell people where it hurts. Help them help you.
The faster you can go from pain to processing, from feeling to sharing, the faster you’ll alleviate your own and other people’s suffering.
10. You remember your problems won’t matter as much tomorrow
Tomorrow can be good, but today is just a day. One in a sea of sunrises, each of which brings its own problems but also washes some of yesterday’s away.
Presence is great when we use it to remember our smallness. Make tiny choices today. Fix something small. Take a walk. Get away from the big picture. Tomorrow will be a new day.
11. You draw patience and calmness from cautious idealism
Idealists move the world forward — but only if their feet are planted firmly on the ground. Mature people believe in a good future, but they don’t force that future to arrive immediately.
Always double-check your high hopes. What failures can you account for in advance? Expecting setbacks will give you more emotional bandwidth to accept them, stay patient, and try again in a calm and composed manner.
12. You bring a healthy dose of skepticism to your relationships
There’s a difference between being good-natured and being gullible. Yes, you should believe in the best of people and hand out many trust advances, but, sometimes, even good intentions lead down a muddy road.
No single person will solve all your problems. Everyone carries their own baggage, no matter how polished they look on the outside. Be grateful for the good relationships you have, and be suspicious not just of your impulses towards other people but also those towards yourself.
13. You see compromise as a strength, not a weakness
Will Smith has a great analogy for unconditional love: “I think that the real paradigm for love is ‘Gardener-Flower.’ The relationship that a gardener has with a flower is the gardener wants the flower to be what the flower is designed to be, not what the gardener wants the flower to be.”
There is no such thing as a problem-free life. Sometimes, the only way to move forward together is to settle on a different path than either party would have chosen on their own. This is not a weakness. It’s a sign of growing up.
14. You appreciate people’s imperfections as part of a larger balance
When you stop looking at life solely in ideals and absolutes, you can begin to appreciate what’s actually there. You’ll start to see the yin and the yang in every situation.
Maybe your partner is stubborn, but he’s also strong. Maybe your friend is emotional but also empathetic. What about you? Each imperfection reflects strength. Value the balance so we can all move forward together.
15. You settle for “good enough” and celebrate the little things
When he asked the waiter in his favorite tapas bar how he’d remained so cheerful over the ten years he’d known him, Michael Thompson got the following response: “There is no reason to be angry.”
No matter if you entertain millions or slide potatoes across the table, “good enough” is always available if you choose it. Perfection doesn’t exist, and even what’s frustrating can be all you need today.
Celebrate the little things. Buy a Snickers. Tip the waiter. Have some tea. Be grateful that you’re not sick or in a courtroom and that the sun decided to shine for you today. There is no reason to be angry.
This article first appeared on Medium.