The Clingy Relationship—Watch Out: Many people have psychological wounds involving self doubt—their smarts, their looks, or their desirability—and a narcissistic partner can trigger a sense of neediness that an otherwise normal person may not have experienced in many years.
Look at yourself; if you’re in an intimate relationship with a self important partner, it’s possible that the imbalance of power has made you needy. This is a very unhappy place to be. You may even have started to wonder; “what’s wrong with me?”
Often, after a great love affair many a narcissist will grows irritated while solidifying control; while the more needy partner anxiously tries to fix the relationship. Desperation fuels contempt on the narcissist’s part, which further deteriorates the relationship. Contempt is a hallmark of a malignant relationship—a situation we all want to avoid.
The Value of Therapy: The first thing to do is forgive yourself and accept that something needs to be done. Therapy can be a lifesaver if you find yourself obsessively clingy and your partner can’t stand it.
Many different kinds of therapy can be helpful. For example, if you’re depressed, supportive psychotherapy and even, medication can make a difference. Or, if you do trauma work that looks at the hurts of your past in order to overcome them, it will make it easier to find your adult power. And, sometimes cognitive behavioral therapy or more contemporary techniques will give you the strength and wisdom to find your voice again.
Whatever therapy technique is helpful, you will bring back to the relationship a more centered sense of power. This can have the effect of improving the relationship—or sometimes, blowing it up even more. This will depend on how healthy or sick your partner really is.
Remember, narcissism is just a word. People are infinitely more complex than a categorization. (For many, ass-hole is a more accurate concept.) Some are incredibly rigid and mean spirited, while others are just immature.
Once you have your power back, your partner will respond in a number of ways—depending on health and personality factors. Here are three broad based outcomes that you may expect.
The Immature Narcissist: Once you acknowledge you are involved in a disagreeable, clingy relationship with a narcissistic partner, you should seek therapy. This will allow you to become stronger and less needy.
If your narcissistic partner is really a healthy person, the relationship will strengthen because he will become attracted to your newfound strength. Neediness can be annoying, and you may have been pushing him away. If he’s just immature, there’s is a good chance your partner will also enjoy you more because it’s more fun to be in a relationship to an equal, rather than a dependent. Your partner wants a lover who can maintain the spark in the relationship. And neediness is a turn off.
The True Narcissist: The relationship between a unhealthy narcissist and a clingy partner is not as simple to mend, even after treatment or therapy. He or she can be a bully.
Such people simply need to be in control, and are threatened by a more equal relationship. The outcome may not be as pleasant for you.
“You know, I’m really not that into you,”
“This relationship is becoming a waste of my time.”
If you're the clingy partner, these words can be devastating, after all, you may be desperately trying to hold on to the relationship. It’s a power play by someone who needs the upper hand in the relationship. She’ll take advantage by criticizing you into a submissive pulp.
“You’ve gained weight.”
“Can’t you afford to spend more?”
“Why can’t you look like your best friend, she really puts herself together?”
Things may go from bad to worse when you seek help from a therapist and become healthier, because this presents a rebalancing of the relationship. An unhealthy partner may actually taunt you for seeking treatment.
“I think you’re being coached by your therapist.”
“You’re no longer the woman (or man) I married.”
"I don't know you anymore."
Here, the egotistic partner feels threatened and demeans in order to reassert dominance. Yet, if the he agrees to seek treatment and therapy as well, the relationship may be resuscitated; but only if he can deal with his absurd need to be in control.
Tragically, bullying can sometimes escalate to domestic violence, which crosses the boundary between a bad relationship and a malignant one.
The Malignant Narcissist: Being involved with a seriously impaired person can result in a potentially abusive relationship, especially if you play the role of the clingy, dependent partner.
A person like this is obsessed with having complete control of the relationship and is capable of hurting their partner when frustrated. He wants you under his thumb and will do anything to maintain it. This includes bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and even manipulating the system in order to take the children away as a type of punishment.
Narcissistic rage is a term that is well understood by those who have frustrated people like this. It’s scary and dangerous. No wonder partners stay clingy and submissive; this hornet’s nest feels too dangerous.
If you are dealing with a person like this, know that it's a psychiatric sickness. You may want to look at our five part series on narcissism or learn more about malignant relationships in my book, The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Yourself .
When you find yourself scared and romantically involved with someone who you think may be dangerous, seek professional help before the malignancy escalates.
Example: Valerie and Rob were married for about seven years and had two little girls together. On the surface, they looked like the happiest of happy families in the neighborhood.
But behind closed doors, Valerie tormented Rob. With the least provocation, she threatened to walk out with the children and never return. While claiming otherwise, she pursued the power within the household and Rob’s dependency and neediness allowed her to do so.
Valerie was pretty, bright, popular and came from a well connected family. The relationship was not great. Valerie had contempt for her husband, and belittled him constantly. She saw Rob as the source of all their problems. “How lucky he is,” she thought, “to have married me.”
Rob began to grow worried and tired over the threats and realized if he didn’t get professional help, he could lose everything—including his sanity.
Therapy proved to be eye opening for Rob, who began to acknowledge that Valerie was also sick. She needed treatment for creating the malignant relationship they were in. However, once he suggested this to Valerie, she threw a fit and continued to verbally abuse him.
“How dare you say I need a therapist? That’s it Rob, I’m taking the girls and you will never be able to see them again!”
Valerie was too blinded by her rage and selfishness to realize that she was ruining her family and her children’s lives.
Rob held his ground, because he wanted an healthier future for his marriage and his family. After all, bullying and demeaning tactics couldn't be good for the children, nor for his relationship.
From the Couch: This is a case of a crumbling, malignant relationship between a self important wife who wants to punish her clingy partner for standing up for equality and the family’s wellbeing.
This story also illustrates that sometimes, female partners can be abusive towards their male counterparts. While statistically, women are attacked far more often than men, it's good to remember that men can be victims as well. A man reading this may wake up and get the help he needs.
Rob is doing the right thing for his family. The kids need competent parents who treat each other as equals. And, if Valerie can get past her need to control everything, their marriage may have a chance. If divorce must happen, then at least, Rob can start again in a more normal relationship and give his kids a role model they can emulate.And, who knows, maybe over time Valerie will mellow and forgive. I've seen it happen more than once.
Conclusion: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a term that describes physical, sexual, or psychological by a current or former partner/spouse. It is a public health problem that affects millions of Americans but it is preventable. It is much more common for a man to be the perpetrator, but woman can be violent as well. The CDC created a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which shows us that on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. This equals to more than 12 million people over the course of a year!
These statistics depict turbulent relationships that need professional help and guidance before things spiral out of control. While not all these abusers are narcissists, many partners attack when they fear a loss of control. This is an important fact to keep in mind.
Finally: If you're clingy and involved in a relationship with a self aggrandizing person, it may or may not work out. But if you know what you’re confronting (i.e. a healthy or a sick narcissist), then you can seek the appropriate professional help to get your relationship on the right track.
If your partner is relatively healthy, you may have just saved your marriage. If your partner is truly sick, then you will need good guidance, and perhaps help from law enforcement.
Either way, though, getting good professional help can save you and your family a whole lot of pain.
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.