There are many definitions for emotional maturity, but they boil down to the ability to understand and manage your emotions. It would make sense, if emotional maturity is a key predictor of marriage satisfaction, to assess people who are unsatisfied with their marriages for emotional maturity.

    Emotion is at the heart of emotional maturity. If I can understand what I am feeling, then I can learn to manage what I am feeling. Rarely is this emotion a surface emotion. Surface emotions are the ones that don’t answer the question, “What is it about this that upsets me?” Anger, frustration, and resentment are surface, or secondary, emotions. In other words they are the forward facing feelings behind which a primary emotion lies. After we get past the secondary emotion, we can zoom-in on the primary emotion and manage that. Primary emotions are things like envy, jealousy, and shame.

    Here is an example. A husband says to me, “I am very frustrated (secondary emotion) with my wife.”

    “What is wrong?”

    “She keeps judging our daughter for mistakes she has made in her life.”

    “How does that frustrate you?”

    “Because I want to protect my daughter and I can’t.”

    “Let’s assume that your wife is not the problem, but that there is something going on inside of you that spilling over into your relationship. Are you ashamed (a primary emotion) of your wife?”

    “No, if anything I am ashamed of myself.”

    “How did you get there?”

    “When my wife does that, it is a reflection on me that after all the years of marriage I haven’t been able to keep her from doing that. When it comes to changing her, I have failed.”

    “Do you really think it is your job to change your wife? God and us are the only ones who can change us. I think if you were to stop playing God, you will be relieved of the duty and sense of failure for what your wife does and therefore mitigate the shame because what she does will no longer reflect on you.”

    If this husband can track this trail of thinking, he will be better able to understand how he feels, manage how he feels, become more emotionally mature, and find greater satisfaction in his marriage.

    Could it be that what is going on between you and your spouse is actually what is going on inside of each of you?