The last two posts on Psychology Today have been part of a series on clingy intimacy, centering on those who fall in love with people with narcissistic tendencies. This often works out poorly for the more dependent party.
Yet, what if your partner is completely normal and just can’t stand all the anxiety you generate? It may be upsetting to hear, but an overly clingy person can push a more psychologically healthy partner away; and sometimes it’s the real problem in the relationship.
In this post, we’ll look at the impact of clinginess and what you can do about it. For this purpose, you’ll need to understand the genesis of dependency issues in an otherwise healthy man or woman. Plus, we’ll examine what it’s like to be clung to. A lot can be done on both sides to make the relationship hum again.
Neediness Pushes People Away: When the relationship is no longer in the “whirlwind romantic” stage, you may feel the need to cling too much in order to maintain what you had. “What’s wrong?” “I feel like you are not there.” Anxiety occurs because you sense a change, but you may be responding to something completely normal.
It’s a burden to have to deal with a clingy lover. “Everything is fine.” Will you just stop it?” The irony is that as you push your concerns forward, you partner may just decide it is too much to deal with.
While it’s fine to test the temperature of a relationship, be aware that your neediness may undermine a stable bond between you and your partner. And, if you are that partner, you may want to read this piece and have some empathy. There’s a lot that can be done to keep your love fresh, despite the upsetting tension that anxiety can bring.
The Role of Childhood: You may have not had the easiest of childhoods. Perhaps you were endowed with an anxious nature and always worried. Or, maybe you were a reactive child who often took things the wrong way. Many people who are anxious as adults were also anxious as kids.
Perhaps, you struggled and constantly lost the battle for attention. You felt like you were invisible and regarded very little; or your sister or brother were considered smarter or more attractive. Childhood is supposed to be carefree and happy-go-lucky, but yours was far from this. These are psychological wounds that trigger the desire to cling onto whoever enters your life.
Maybe your parents went through a horrendous divorce or your dad was never home. Or, perhaps you were bullied in grade school and those scars remain. There are many reasons that adults become clingy lovers. In our piece, “The Field of Intimacy,” we review how falling in love actually activates old fears. You may have sealed over though your adult life, but love breaks through, and can drive you batty.
“I know I’m really pretty and smart, so why do I obsess all the time?”
“I worry that he is going to leave. I wonder if there is something that I can do.”
This is a common theme in relationships and in marriage. The irony is that most clingy people are perfectly fine in casual relationships, or when their partner is crazy about them, and not the other way around. Disaster strikes when they really fall for some man or woman. Then, neediness can take over.
When People Settle for Less: If you’ve been hurt in the past, it might be easier to hide behind emotional barriers than confront your fear. Many people are like this. A common solution results in dating beneath you in order to feel safe and comforted in the relationship. You may not need to cling to someone who you feel is not worthy of your love.
You may wonder why you are dating a man that you don’t really respect. For instance, you may feel good as the strong male taking care of an adoring woman, but you really are not crazy about her. Or, you are a woman who wants to be loved more than she loves — thinking it’s safer that way. Many settle for less as a self protective act.
Just know that early wounds often have a powerful effect on who we choose as a mate; and there may be consequences for years to come.
When You Foster Rejection in Your Lover: In the past, two pieces we looked at showed how a narcissistically inclined partner can trigger neediness in someone who is predisposed to anxiety. But, your partner need not have any psychiatric problems to get annoyed at a demanding and anxious lover.
So, you fall in love, have a phenomenal romance and have become quick lovers. Now, because of your past, you become vulnerable and display extreme neediness in the relationship. It’s so weird, because you have not been this needy in a long time. You worry that he will leave you and cling even harder. But this begins to hurt the relationship. Your clingy dependency annoys him and he distances.
You push more.
“Can’t we talk this out?” “I need you to talk to me!”
“Why are you not responding to my texts, don’t you know how that makes me feel?”
Neediness has its roots in the injured and entitled life of the child.
Example: She says something hurtful and you have the right to demand reconciliation — right now. The equation in your head is: she hurt me, now she has to fix it, otherwise I will continue to suffer — and it’s not fair. The problem is; she may not be ready.
Your frustration triggers a sense of desperation. And, you are flooded with all the ways she’s hurt you since the beginning of time. No wonder you’re obsessed with every little mishap in the relationship and “need” to talk about every little thing that happens between you two. She gets no space, because you need an answer now, like a young child. Neediness can trigger a strange sense of entitlement — because when you are clingy, you also become self-righteous.
You expect an apology whenever something goes wrong in the relationship. But she doesn’t feel like she hurt your feelings or even owes you an apology. Or, maybe she just needs time to cool down. Providing space can sometimes be the best solution for both of you.
Then, you continue to push and her annoyance develops into verbal abuse. She begins to yell at you, wanting you to grow up and leave her in peace. But of course, this does the complete opposite. You grow paranoid that she doesn’t love you anymore and might even be seeing someone else. You realize your clinging has turned you into a complete mess and you’ve lost control over everything, especially the relationship.
Yet, it’s not impossible to regain control.
Insight from the Movies: The romantic-comedy film, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days shines a comedic light on clingy relationships. Andie (played by Kate Hudson) is a writer, who wants to show that she can drive any man away by making ‘classic female mistakes.’ She conspires to date Benjamin, who is also secretly ‘dating’ her to prove to her advertising company that he can make any woman fall in love with him; a plot twist reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Andie plays the role as the clingiest girlfriend Ben has ever had, as she constantly calls him, interferes with boys’ night out and even moves in without consulting him. She also acts overly sensitive and possessive, putting a strain on the relationship. However, Ben doesn’t want to lose his bet and puts up with Andie’s mess.
The movie ends with a happy ending as the two fall for one another and come clean about their secret bets. However, this happy ending isn’t always the case in real life, especially with real clingy relationships.
From the Couch: There is a turning point in Andie and Ben’s relationship after they meet with a couple’s therapist. The therapist suggests they spend time meeting the other’s respective families. This therapeutic advice proved to help build a real bond that established a genuine relationship between the two, as they grew vulnerable with each other.
This is important. There is nothing wrong with being vulnerable, especially with someone you consider to be your lover and partner. But vulnerability must be a two way street. Relationships work when both partners can count on each other and the power dynamic is more or less equal.
What You Can Do About Your Relationship:
- Be an Adult: Respect your partner the way you expect to be respected and treated. If he needs space sometimes, find the strength to give it to him.
- Give Space: If you have an issue with a person who is not a great talker, then strike when the iron is cold. She may be open to a discussion when you are both less regressed and angry.
- Get Therapy: If you are needy and in love, look closely at your family of origin which may have been a source of hurt that is being triggered now that you’ve entered the field of intimacy. He can’t fix your wound, only you can.
- Watch Out for Depression and Anxiety: These disorders are more common than you may realize and can interfere with stable thinking. Both can injure your self esteem and make you needy — and both can be treated; it can only help your relationship.
- Your Partner May Be Part of the Problem: Most relationship issues are created by two people. Does he have narcissistic tendencies that make you feel second best? Or, perhaps, she’s simply not into you, and it is time to grieve this relationship. Facing hard facts is often better than feeling tortured day in and day out.
- Abuse is not Acceptable: If your partner is physically, verbally or sexually abusive, you must get help and find safety. Your neediness may be part of a dependency that gives him terrible power over you. Under these circumstances, you will probably need outside help. Get it.
The Good News: Most neediness is small and annoying, not life threatening. If you are in a terribly malignant relationship, get out. But, if your partner is more or less normal, neediness can be a burden that she simply can’t handle.
If you are willing to save your relationship, acknowledge that your excessive possessiveness is detrimental to the relationship. Seeking the appropriate professional help can help guide you onto the right track to save your relationship or marriage.
Do your personal work. Give space. And, love her for her needs as well as yours.
It may just work out.
You can hear Dr. Banschick on The Intelligent Divorce radio show as well.