You might feel like your partner is being too clingy if they need constant attention or if they're dependent on you to make them happy. It can often leave you feeling a bit exhausted. So where does it come from? And what can you do to stop it?
What does "being clingy" mean?
Clinginess can manifest in a variety of ways, but it might include constantly asking for reassurance, needing to maintain contact all the time or leaning on you heavily to maintain their emotional wellbeing. Sometimes, it can literally mean clinging to a person — constantly requiring physical touch and affection.
The effect of this ‘clinginess’ is often that you end up feeling a bit exhausted — tired out from the emotional demands of keeping your partner happy, or even beginning to feel resentful that you’re being put in this position.
And at the more extreme end of the spectrum — where your partner constantly needs to know where you are, or gets upset or angry if you don’t meet their every expectation or want — it can begin to feel quite controlling.
Where does clinginess come from?
While it can be tempting to simply see it as a quality of someone’s personality, this isn’t always the whole story. Clinginess can be a caused by a variety of things.
Very often, it can be caused by low self-esteem or insecurity. Expressing a strong need for attention can be a manifestation of the fear that a partner either doesn’t like you, or that they’ll leave. This may be something this person struggles with generally and has done for a long time, or it may be something caused by a specific relationship experience in their past — a partner cheating on them or breaking things off without warning, for example.
It can also be a manifestation of attachment styles learnt earlier in life. Our attachment style describes how we tend to form relationships with others and how we relate to them. Different attachment styles mean differing sets of behaviours within relationships. Someone who seems to need constant reassurance may have an anxious insecure attachment style.
It can also be a sign of you and your partner having different ideas on what level of affection and attention you want in a relationship. What you may see as clinginess they may simply see as a reasonable request for their needs to be met.
How to talk to your partner about being clingy
It’s important to talk about the topic of ‘clinginess’ as it’s one of those relationship issues that can widen over time if left alone. If you’re not careful, a vicious cycle can develop — you back away because you’re feeling they’re clingy, which in turn causes them to panic and intensify the behaviours that caused you to back away in the first place.
It’s much better to try to intervene before things get bad. That can mean having a conversation early — sometimes, earlier than you feel might be natural. It’s much easier to talk about stuff like this before things have become tense or there’s been a series of arguments.
When it comes to approaching sensitive issues, it’s often as much about how you say things as what you say. Try to approach the topic directly, but also with some sensitivity. It can often be a good idea to express things in terms of how you’ve been feeling — ‘When you get angry that I haven’t texted back, it makes me feel…’, as this can sound less like an attack and may be less likely to make your partner feel defensive or hurt.
Often, the setting of the conversation is important too. Going outside to talk — to a park, or a cafe - can sometimes be helpful. It can make the conversation feel less intense or personal as you’re conducting it in public, and being in a new location can take you out of the patterns of conversation that you may have gotten into at home.
Why it's important to talk about being clingy
While talking isn’t guaranteed to resolve the problem, it will give you a chance to negotiate towards a better sense of understanding together. Sometimes, just hearing your partner’s side of the story — and having a chance to express how you’re feeling about things too - can be enough to help you get things back on track.
If the cause is that you have different expectations of the relationship, then you may be able to figure out a way of doing things that works for both of you. By negotiating respectfully and listening to each other, you might be able to figure out a level of affection and contact that you’re both comfortable with.
When it comes to the other reasons — a lack of self-esteem or an attachment style that’s been in place for a long time - the journey may be a little bit longer or more complicated. If this is something that’s consistently been an issue in your partner’s life, it may be useful for them to consider individual counselling so they can begin to figure out where these behaviours are coming from and how they might control them. Of course, your understanding and support will be an essential part of this journey, so talking things through properly together will be an essential first step.
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