Some men sulk, throw tantrums and generally act like big babies - and their wives let them get away with it instead of helping them grow up.
Women who instead help their husbands become adults will, according to an article in the current issue of Redbook, a Hearst Magazine, wind up with a happier, sexier marriage.The men who act like babies often are involved in a problem left over from their real childhood.
"In early childhood, the mother is everything to the child - a strong and powerful nurturer," said Dr. Robert E. Gould, a New York City psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College.
"But a boy, in order to develop his masculinity, rebels against the mother. And because this separation takes place before he's developmentally ready to be free of her nurturing, the result is a hidden, emotional dependency that has not been fully worked through, and that, forever after, he has to compensate for."
Gould said such men turn their wives into surrogate mothers. But that makes them need to reassert their masculinity by becoming more macho and controlling.
"They can't admit their needs - they don't even recognize them," Gould said. "So they act out in a way that covers up those needs."
Because such a man denies his emotional needs, he can't truly relate to others and he becomes lonely.
"He hasn't learned to relate nearly so well as a woman does," Gould said. "He's had to learn how to beat other people down to get ahead."
Women sense these unmet needs in a man and try to fill them.
"Women have always been reluctant to address men's shortcomings for fear the men couldn't handle it," Gould said. "And many men can't take criticism - they're not so big and strong and masculine as they pretend."
He said that until relatively recently, many women had to work out non-confrontational ways of living with men because their role in life was to be strictly a wife and mother. Today, women have more economic independence and more choices.
As a first step, a women can take better care of herself.
"Finding other outlets and focusing less on your husband will make his shortcomings seem less catastrophic," Gould said.
When a woman is dealing with an overly dependent man, the focus has been squarely on him. By doing things for herself, she may give her husband the impetus he needs to finally grow up.
There is nothing wrong with having needs or leaning on a partner - the trouble starts when the demands or dependency are one-sided. By helping men be more open about their needs, wives can make their husbands become less needy. That may mean undoing some of men's basic training about what it means to be strong.
"Men who don't show their feelings are considered to be strong," Gould said. "It's so well-known, it's a cliche - the Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart image of tough, laconic men who hide their emotions but are incredibly strong and courageous."
Gould said this is very different from a woman's strength, which involves being open and giving. Men would welcome a chance to show more dependency - if they could do so without being seen as weak. Women are generally more adept at "reading" emotions and identifying needs, so they can provide a safe place for men to learn these skills and let down their defenses.
In creating that safe place, however, women may have to lose their own long-held beliefs about masculinity.
If women stop complaining about their egocentric husbands and start understanding them and helping them understand themselves, Elena Latici wrote in Redbook, they might find their husbands climbing out of the crib and becoming grownups.