Longevity and age are not signs of a mature relationship any more than they are indications that we have matured mentally and emotionally ourselves as individuals.
Years may provide the opportunity for maturity to happen—it’s rare to find a person who is mature at 20 in the same way that it’s rare to find a relationship which is mature at two years—but they don’t mean it actually will happen.
Maturity is a stage of development, of ripening, and relationships that have reached maturity carry certain hallmarks—evidence perhaps, of a couple’s appreciation of, and commitment to, both the relationship and themselves.
There is no clear line between immaturity and maturity.
It’s a process that starts at the beginning of a relationship and can continue as far as a couple is willing to travel with it. It’s not necessarily a gradual process either. There are periods when a relationship seems to develop exponentially, spurred on towards deeper connection and understanding by circumstances such as major career changes or the need to jointly face issues that have come up.
Then there are other periods when we get busy and barely have time to do anything other than work, eat and sleep—times when everything else is put on the shelf for a while. Growth happens in fits and starts.
There are several characteristics, though, which I particularly associate with relationships at the more mature end of the spectrum—traits that those at the earlier stages can look up to and respect. One of these certainly has to be good communication, by which I don’t mean simply the ability to talk to each other—which, in itself, is a fairly basic requirement for any form of relationship.
Communication is a deep subject and has several aspects to it.
At a simple level, good communication skills mean an ability to find words which will convey what we are feeling, thinking or sensing in a way that can be understood by another. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, though, as we naturally have different styles of communication.
Some of us are straightforward and factual in the way we communicate, while others favor the subtle and less direct approach. If our style doesn’t line up with that of the other person then it takes a lot more effort to find words that will be interpreted by another in the way that we intend them to be. A couple that has devoted time and energy to developing their communication skills will be aware of their own style as well as their partner’s, and can adapt to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and unintended hurt.
But good communication skills also include the ability to listen properly, which is more than simply hearing the words of another.
There’s a world of a difference between the kind of listening we do in a seminar or when the radio is playing and what is needed when we’re having a meaningful conversation with a partner. Deep listening needs an open mind and an open heart. It needs a willingness to try to quiet our minds and emotions enough so that we can fully hear what another is saying.
And, since communication is both verbal and non-verbal, that quiet receptivity also allows us to more easily receive the energy and emotion which is being communicated along with the words. Indeed, there are times in a mature relationship when non-verbal communication is much more powerful than any words could be.
As if that isn’t enough, there are yet more aspects to communication which also show up in a mature relationship.
One of these is an awareness of when communication is necessary. Over time, two people who have matured in their connection seem to know instinctively what needs to be talked about and what doesn’t, what is important to discuss and what isn’t. These subjects are going to vary not only from couple to couple but also from time to time, depending on trust, stress and whatever else is going on in the relationship at the time.
Knowing when to communicate is one thing—being willing to do so is another. And willingness to communicate is a key factor in building up trust—both of which are also hallmarks of a mature relationship.
So often we may know what needs to be said, and may even have the skills to articulate it, but we may hold back out of fear of the consequences. It’s not an easy thing to have the “hard” conversation with someone close to us, knowing they may be hurt or angry by what we have to say. And that hurt or anger doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct consequence of what we want to convey.
There are times when we, or another, can be overly sensitive or have a tendency to over-react, making it difficult to have a straightforward conversation even about routine subjects (finance, for example). There’s nothing worse than having to walk on eggshells around a partner, knowing something needs to be discussed and yet fearing the outburst that may ensue—or feeling so vulnerable that we’re unable to allow our partner to open up fully and say what they need to say.
To mature in a relationship requires an ability to have those hard conversations—to be willing to patiently wait while the right words come to express what needs to be expressed and to deal with any fear, hurt or anger that emerges as part of the process.
When I was writing The Beautiful Garden I used the phrase ‘learning to put the sword away” as a way of describing something that is also a common trait of mature relationships.
Over time we can have a tendency towards building up a heap of resentment and anger in longterm relationships, the result of numerous small, real (and perceived) hurts. The relationship itself can even become part of the heap, another cause of stress rather than a source of joy and comfort. Part of our work, in keeping a relationship healthy, is to make sure the heap remains more molehill-sized than Everest-sized and not to close down and become guarded under stress.
Otherwise, the “sword” of anger becomes almost permanently drawn and ready for attack. Recognizing that we have a tendency to draw the sword unnecessarily—and then choosing to deliberately put it away before we “stab” our lover with another put-down or sharp retort—helps us to move to a place where we can more readily identify and articulate the deeper issues. It also helps us avoid skirmishes or even full-scale guerrilla warfare in our relationships.
The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt,” while not entirely true, unfortunately does have some relevance to relationships that have been on the go a while.
Without space to change, staleness can spill over into frustration and boredom—a common reason for couples who end up bickering and “drawing the sword” on each other. Relationships that have ripened into maturity have, at some stage, recognized the importance of allowing space for each person to grow and develop in whatever way they need to—while also accepting that this may trigger fear or insecurity along the way and finding ways of dealing with those as they arise.
In the same way that there are cycles and growth patterns in nature, we each have our own natural cycles and periods of expansion/contraction. These may coincide with a lover’s or they may not, but trying to remain as we are when we first meet is unrealistic and, in the long run, damaging not only to us but to those we come into close contact with.
On the other hand, allowing enough space to facilitate growth and change keeps a relationship fresh and vibrant, creating a way for energy to flow in and out. As we renew ourselves and our partner does likewise, we have the opportunity to get to know our “new” selves and to connect anew with our lover.
Below all this, however, lies another level—a commitment to honoring our own personal journey through our lives and the lives of others.
When we set aside time and energy to facilitating our own process of maturation, we gradually become more aware of, and able to work with, our natural patterns of response and behavior. In turn, we are more able to accept our lover’s journey into maturity as well. Without this respect for each individual’s personal journey, a relationship will remain short of its full potential to ripen into a connection that is truly nurturing for both.
And at yet a deeper level still, as a relationship matures, there is an opportunity to consider what it is we are fundamentally committed to.
Are we committed to ourselves as individuals, or to each other? Or perhaps to the relationship as an entity in itself? Or do we have a commitment to something beyond the personal?
“If we are dedicated to Love, to being channels for allowing Love to flow, then our willingness to deal lovingly with another is not about whether or not we are happy with them—it’s about recognizing that it is more important…to feel love than to feel its absence.” ~ The Beautiful Garden
Living in this latter space of being dedicated to a wider, impersonal, force is not for everyone, but for those couples who are drawn there, life is never the same again—in an incredible, though sometimes scarily open, way. For some, the term God is how they view this wider force. For others, consciousness or love are the preferred terms.
However it is labelled, though, it requires that a couple can put their egos to one side when necessary in favor of a wider dynamic of which they are but a part.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran