You don’t consider yourself clingy, but you find yourself obsessing too much about the relationship. You ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?”
You married a really solid guy and now a few years later, he’s always complaining and it feels tiresome. You ask yourself: “Why is he acting like such a baby?”
Intimacy is a gift and a curse. It is the way of things. When intimacy works, we’re in bliss. Love opens the door for real happiness.
Yet, over time, intimacy also opens us up to our wounds, our pains and our fears. For some it’s angry intimacy, for others it’s co-dependent intimacy, etc. Here, we will return to a discussion of neediness. It’s destructive and there’s a lot you can do about it.
Nature vs. Nurture: We all have psychological wounds from early life, some more and some less. For many, it can be because of a reactive nature. You experienced more hurt or rejection because you were wired to react more than others and developed a narrative of damage.
Or, you may have had an environmentally imposed injury; your father was abusive or unavailable, your mother was depressed or your older sister was favored and you were second best. Most often the wounds from childhood are a combination of nature and nurture.
Then, you go through life having sealed over these wounds. Human beings are remarkably adaptive. You go to college, get a job, date without problems and then you fall in love and enter a truly intimate relationship.
Here’s the rub: With true intimacy, you’re in touch with love, and yet, the door to these early wounds open up.
“I obsess too much about my boyfriend. I can’t help it.”
Deep in your soul, if you feel second best in some way, you’ll worry that he or she will leave you. That is the start of the obsessive life of clingy intimacy.
It Starts with Falling in Love: In The Narcissistic Ex series we described the narcissistic personality, which can be found in both men and women. Whether it is an egotistical preoccupation with self, success, aspirations, desires, and how others perceive one—these can all fall under the category of a narcissistic being. While such people can be compelling, they are a terrible match for someone who is clingy.
Dependency can fuel and intense romantic link because egoists love to be desired and crave admiration, while the clingy partner supplies that need. It all feels magically grand and urgent. After all, “this relationship is so unique and powerful.”
Here’s the problem: Clingy lovers are insecure, but it's often latent and they’re not aware of it.
If you’re a well-adjusted adult you’ve probably covered up the hurts of childhood quite well. So, intimacy with a brilliant, but arrogant partner can hit you hard. Over time this wonderful love affair can trigger your worst fears, because if your beloved has some of these problems, you may be involved with someone who can’t really love you.
The narcissist loves being in love. They are not in love with you, but in love with being in love with you. This is a crucial point. You may love him, and feel loved, but the drama of this love may not have the depth that you require. And, once embedded in the field of intimacy, you feel trapped – and anxious.
And, he or she may just feel annoyed.
The relationship between a narcissist and someone with latent neediness may initially thrive. Often a romantic, he'll shower his partner with love and compliments - and she'll respond in kind. The sex and intimacy can be amazing. Quickly, their relationship will blossom into a whirlwind romance; and love is blind.
Yet, before you know it, things become unbalanced as our hypothetical egoist begins to lose interest and the needy partner yearns for more. He’ll criticize, she’ll obsess and he’ll imagine a better love elsewhere. The intimacy will fizzle and slowly begin to disappear. This results in a lot more clinginess.
Example: Samantha, a woman in her mid 20s, with less than conscious abandonment issues. She was brought up by her mother, and has only faint memories of her father who left the family when she was in grade school. Samantha began to display clingy elements early on in her childhood. She had strong fears of being left alone.
Through her teens, these fears abated, and Samantha matured nicely into adulthood unencumbered (at least she thought) by her wounds.
Samantha met Thomas at an art gallery. She was drawn to his charisma and ability to shine in the room, let alone his good looks. He also found Samantha attractive and asked her out for drinks that evening. They hit it off and became fast lovers.
At a glance, their relationship was like a fairy tale. Samantha and Thomas were infatuated and only had eyes for each other. The sex was phenomenal and they clicked on an intimate level.
Yet, before the pair realized it, their relationship began to deteriorate.
Thomas’ arrogance and selfishness began to trigger Samantha’s latent abandonment issues. He spent less time at home and more time at work and with friends. Samantha’s self-esteem and trust began to plummet, as she began to blame herself for their crumbling relationship.
“I obsess too much about my boyfriend. I can’t help it.”
Samantha began to feel unattractive and sought reassurance that everything was fine. Thomas reassured; but was annoyed. Soon, Samantha began to grow suspicious of Thomas’ behavior. The sex was no longer phenomenal and their intimacy had become a one-way street, with Samantha clinging on (no pun intended) to their relationship because she believed she couldn’t live without him.
From the Couch: This relationship is destructive for Samantha. Given her struggle with dependency, Samantha really needs a stable and available man. Many women pick unavailable and dynamic types like Thomas in order to unconsciously solve the wounds of childhood. It fails.
While most people with self centered traits are not out and out narcissists, people like Thomas are compelling lovers, and often bad partners. Samantha is probably best off getting into a good therapy and reconsidering this relationship. She has a vulnerability that mixes very poorly with a self centered lover.
Yes, narcissists can be deceiving. They are great at being in love. But, they are not, by and large, in love with you. They are in love with the wonderful high of being in love; and a needy, worshipping lover can work just fine.
Here is the good news: If you step up and deal with your clinginess, there’s a chance for the relationship. This will be dependent on whether or not your partner has deep psychological issues - or just has some normal selfish traits.
This is an important topic because so many nice people find themselves in relationships that make them feel weaker - and not stronger. I see this all the time as a psychotherapist. In our next piece in our Intimacy Series, we'll look at effective ways to deal with the egoist/clingy dyanmic. After all, it doesn't reallly work for either party involved.
A Preview: If you invest in yourself, truly get stronger and re-establish a more equal relationship, your partner may value you more. This is an old trick and it works.
Clingy behavior can annoy the healthiest of partners. It’s truly irritating to be second guessed all the time: “stop with all this anxiety!” A little normalcy can be just what the doctor ordered. That being said, I would seriously recommend finding a partner who doesn’t trigger your old wounds. It’s probably a more grown up solution.
On the other a hand, if your partner’s a real narcissist, your independent voice may be interpreted as critical - and the response may well be scorching rage. A lover with this character style knows how to hurt you because they’re so self righteous in their outrage. This can trigger clinginess, so a good therapist may be required to help you find a constructive response (and perhaps, find a way out).
Conclusion: Being entrapped in the field of intimacy with someone who is slowly traumatizing you is not healthy; nor is it a thriving relationship. For some, falling in love can be a destructive experience. It’s probably a good idea to get a good therapist, mature a bit, and decide if this difficult relationship really meets your needs.
The Intelligent Divorce book series, online course and newsletter is a step by step program to handling divorce and intimate relationships with sanity.
You can hear Dr. Banschick on The Intelligent Divorce radio show as well.