- People with Peter Pan syndrome find it hard to express emotions, avoid listening to partners, and shirk basic relationship responsibilities.
- The female counterparts in these relationships, known as the Wendy, often enable Peter to continue living a life without responsibility.
- To help them recognize the need for change, end enabling behaviors, like tidying up after them, cleaning their car, or paying their bills.
Many people come to therapy when they feel their relationship is overburdened with immaturity. They may say things like:
- “My partner does not know how to take care of himself and depends on me for everything. It is almost as if I am his mother, and I have to look after his childlike needs.”
- “My partner struggles to establish a functional, long-term plan for his life as an adult.”
- “We’ve been dating for so long now, but my boyfriend doesn’t like to label our relationship. It seems like he has commitment fear.”
If you relate to the statements above, chances are you’re in a relationship with a "Peter Pan" type personality.
Often characterized as "the boy who never grows up," people, mostly men, displaying a Peter Pan-like personality can make maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship difficult. According to one study, people afflicted with this syndrome find it hard to express their emotions, avoid listening to their partner, and shirk basic relationship responsibilities.
A recent study lists five key markers of Peter Pan Syndrome, which include:
- Emotional paralysis. Dulled emotions or an inability to express feelings in appropriate ways.
- Slowness in action. Being apathetic, procrastinating in tasks, and frequently being late.
- Avoidance of responsibility. Avoiding accountability for their mistakes and blaming others.
- Mother-like expectations from partners. Difficulty with maternal relationships and treating future romantic partners as mother figures.
- Tensed relationship with father figures. Feelings of distance from one’s father and trouble with male authority figures.
Much like in the children’s story, the female counterparts in these relationships, known as the "Wendy," often enable Peter Pan to continue living a life without responsibility. They might do this by making decisions on their behalf, cleaning up after them, or offering relentless emotional support without getting anything in return.
Unfortunately, those who fall into the "Wendy" role may not even realize it. This can naturally cause abrasion in relationships and negatively affect the quality of the partnership.
Here are two ways to manage a Peter Pan and Wendy syndrome in your relationship.
1. Help them get a grip on adulthood.
Desiring changes to how a person currently functions through slow and measured steps can help two people in a relationship transform for the better.
As much as we like to say we love people for who they are, remember that at least a little bit of give and take and gradual improvement is necessary for a romantic relationship to flourish.
However, handling the "man-child" of a relationship can be tricky. Fencing them in can suffocate their needs for freedom and play. It’s often better to communicate and advocate for your own needs and desires in the relationship while also allowing them time and space to act in accordance with them.
Do not forget to celebrate your partner’s efforts every step of the way by showing them appreciation and affection. Hold them accountable for what they say they will do and focus on small victories rather than massive behavioral overhauls.
2. Stall your enabling behaviors.
Ending enabling behaviors, like tidying up after them every time they make a mess, getting their car cleaned, or paying their bills, may help them recognize the need for change. Keep in mind that expecting drastic changes is unrealistic. No change can happen overnight. You will have to be patient while you wait to see changes in your partner’s behaviors. Consider these questions while attempting to back out of your enabling behavior.
- Are my actions helping or hurting me in the long run?
- Is it worth shouldering all the responsibilities of a relationship alone?
- Am I truly happy and satisfied in this relationship?
- Can I ignore my current frustration in the grand scheme of things?
Never ask your partner to change who they are. After all, that’s probably the reason you fell in love with them in the first place.
However, it is reasonable to expect people to mature and improve themselves over time. If you feel your partner is perpetually stuck in a juvenile phase and is unable or unwilling to bring about any of the changes you are asking for, you might consider seeking out a new partner whose goals and behaviors are more congruent with yours.
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