What Is A 'Peter Pan And Wendy' Relationship Dynamic And How Do You Spot The Signs?

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Some would argue that there is no such thing as a perfectly equal 50-50% in a relationship, not all the time anyway. Sometimes you're the one putting in more effort, and at other times, it's your significant other who's doing the heavy lifting. 

No matter what you believe about the 50-50% principle, you would probably agree that maturity, communication skills, and taking responsibility are some important elements in relationship satisfaction. Which is why you might notice something amiss if your romantic relationship resembles that of a parent and child. Is your partner unable to hold down a job or take up financial responsibility? Do they move from one relationship to another without properly committing to anything? Do you find the need to pick up after them, take care of them, and parent them from time to time? These are all classic signs of what psychologist and author Dr. Dan Kiley termed the Peter Pan syndrome in his 1983 book, "The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up." And guess what? You've unwittingly become the Wendy in the equation. Peter Pan and Wendy may have warmed children's hearts in books and movies, but in real life, nothing can feel more frustrating. 

Even though Kiley's research findings were presented through an outdated lens of gender and sexuality (via Medical News Today), a Peter Pan and Wendy dynamic can be one of the biggest deal-breakers in relationships even today. Wondering if you're stuck with a Peter Pan? Let's find out. 

How to spot the signs of a Peter Pan and Wendy relationship

California-based clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly told NBC News, "Peter Pans have a playfulness that can be wonderful — yet works against involvement in life's duties; a boyish charm that is both captivating and irritating (due to the avoidance of adult reality)." While in theory, meeting a person with childish awe can feel refreshing, things can start to quickly feel burdensome and exhausting when you find that the partner you're trying to adult with is either ill-equipped or refusing to grow up. 

Slipping into the role of Wendy is often something that happens without you even noticing it, which is why it's important to look for signs. Do you find yourself making all the major decisions in your relationship dynamic? What about responsibilities? Are you the one handling the finances, future plans, and day-to-day tasks? Is your partner unable to express his emotions properly? Do they procrastinate a lot? Do they blame others for their problems? Do you often catch yourself thinking in your head that you feel more like your partner's parent than their equal? Spotting the clues can be a critical first step. 

As psychologist Nathan Brandon shared with NBC News, the problem lies in maturity, more specifically, a lack of it. " ... those who exhibit these behaviors are typically behaving in ways that we might consider someone who is an adolescent to behave," he explained. Contrary to what you might think, however, there's hope.

How to change the dynamic

If you think your partner might be open to respectful, open, and honest conversations about the situation, you have a very good chance of altering things so the relationship moves toward something more balanced. If they're willing to listen and change, then that's great. If they're not, you might need to turn to counseling. If that is also out of the question, you're faced with the uncomfortable truth that your relationship might be in trouble. Perhaps it's time to take a step back and reevaluate things. 

Spotting the times when your involuntary Wendy impulses crop up is important too. For example, if your spouse has left their dishes in front of the TV for the third time that week, avoid the urge to clean up after them. Psychologist Mark Travers terms these "enabling behaviors" in Psychology Today. When it comes to developing maturity, experience is often the biggest driver. Hand over some household and financial responsibilities to them. Give them room to grow up and make sure you celebrate small successes. 

It's important to understand why your partner might be behaving like Peter Pan. Their parents could've been overprotective and therefore stunted their growth in some way. As Travers puts it, "No change can happen overnight. You will have to be patient while you wait to see changes in your partner's behaviors" and also your own.