Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Overcoming Neediness

What to do when your relationship goes from intimate to clingy

It’s one thing to be close to your boyfriend; it’s something else altogether to be clingy.

You hate it. He hates it. And it feels like you’re both trapped.

Clinginess is a form of dependency, which is not, in itself, a bad thing. But when it deepens into desperation, watch out! Let’s look at how some people get clingy and what can be done about it:

Normal Dependence: Yes, a good relationship involves a certain sense of dependence or, as Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) calls it, interdependence. We are not built to be alone. When you’ve had a bad day, you would expect your partner to comfort you, just as you should be there for him, if he comes down with the flu. Mutual dependency is one of the hallmarks of health in a relationship.

Good relationships are flexible. Sometimes you need him. Sometimes he needs you. And often you just enjoy being with each other, in a sense of mutual comfort. If he is out late, you may be jealous or upset, but it passes quickly because you know that you are safe.

Clinginess is Dependency Gone Wild: Clinginess stems from a void in the person, and it’s rooted in damaged self-esteem. You just feel incomplete unless you are certain you “have” your partner.

To put it simply, the formula of the ideal relationship is: 1+1 = 1. Meaning, for a healthy relationship, you need two complete people - two whole, well-functioning individuals who come together and form a new whole.

The romantic fantasy, however, is that ½ + ½ gives us the “1” we want. We feel that we are desperately incomplete and only a relationship can make it right.

Desperation in a relationship is a recipe for disaster.

Look, no one is one hundred percent complete. We all lack something and look to others to help make things right. The ancient philosopher, Plato (The Symposium), described a graphic image of this kind of love: imagine two people who had been attached somehow before they came into being. According to this image, when you fall in love, you’re actually joining back up with your other half. Nice fantasy, but is that what you really want?

Love is like an Energy Field: It’s a Field of Intimacy. Once you feel those special vibes with someone, you feel good. A loving relationship gives a confidence boost. The problem arises when you begin to NEED your partner to lift you up. Once you are captured by the Field of Intimacy, you’re vulnerable like you’ve never been before. When it works, you feel loved and strengthened. When it doesn’t then healthy dependence can become desperate clinginess; and we all know how that goes.

Clinginess & Power: We all have needs. Abraham Maslow made this famous to generations of psychology students by categorizing our needs, like the need for food and sleep, the need to feel secure, the need for belonging and love, the need for aesthetics, and the like. It’s important to know your needs; but to be overly needy is bad for you as well as for your partner. You try to control him or her because you are desperately afraid that you are losing control. And if your partner is clingy with you, it goes without saying that you’d rather be chewing chalk than being harassed all the time.

Example: Joe has been dating randomly since high school but never felt really close to anyone. Sex was at times great and sometimes just stupid. Now, in his mid twenties, Joe finds himself preoccupied with Alexis. She is cute, sexy, and not super available. Joe finds himself thinking about Alexis all the time; he calls, texts and visits. It’s like Alexis makes his world go round.It all works great because they get along so well. Joe looks forward to hearing from Alexis, and when he doesn’t, he texts her…and texts again. Soon, he finds himself worried that Alexis doesn’t like him all that much. He needs to hear that she cares, that she’s thinking about him, that there is no one else.

Alexis begins to resent it; too much texting and too many demands.

This simply makes Joe more demanding. As he tries to contain himself, Joe begins to imagine Alexis with another man – or woman. He can’t stop it. Joe repeatedly texts and calls Alexis and eventually, he yells at her. Joe wants to know what Alexis is up to and why she’s “avoiding” him. This makes Alexis distance herself even more. Joe has become so needy that any little deprivation leads to anxiety – and he can’t tolerate it. Soon, Joe finds himself stopping by the place where Alexis works, just to see what’s going on.“I am stalking her” he tells himself. Joe stops, breaks up with Alexis and gets into therapy. He decides that for his own good health, this craziness has got to end.

From the Couch: First of all: Joe’s a guy. Neediness is not just a woman’s problem, it affects us all. Joe apparently had no real problems with women until he fell into the Field of Intimacy. What you don’t know from the story is that Joe has abandonment fears from experiencing his parents’ nasty divorce when he was a young child. His mom was unavailable when he was a kid, and Joe fears that if he loves, he will lose. It’s a fear that’s deep and unconscious. But it rises to the surface, because Joe cares so much about Alexis.

Some people with abandonment fears avoid intimacy altogether as a protective act.

Joe’s clinginess is so profound that it affects his good judgment. He begins to stalk Alexis. This is one road to stalking; a needy guy (or gal – see Fatal Attraction) experiences rejection and tries to take control. It is crazy, but needy people don’t act from healthy instincts.In this case, Joe takes charge - and gets out. He will not be able to manage a relationship with Alexis right now. Joe needs to feel sane again, so he breaks up the relationship before more harm is done, and gets into therapy.

With the help of his psychologist, Joe learns that he’s not as invulnerable as he had once thought. He understands that he, like many others, has fears of abandonment. As a consequence, Joe has matured and is in a better position to love again – but this time in healthier ways.

Conclusion: Clinginess is an extreme form of dependency. When you’re in a good relationship, dependency is mutual and not desperate. For many though, the power of intimacy triggers fears of abandonment, or a sense of being second best. This can lead to trying to take control by being clingy. In Joe’s case, his need for control became dangerous as when he staked Alexis out. Not good.

Supportive therapy can be very helpful.

• You’re probably a normal person triggered by the field of intimacy. A good therapist will help you put the anxiety into perspective. You don’t hold onto love by squeezing the life out of it.

Therapy can help you stand outside of yourself for a bit, and objectify the source of your neediness. Emotional distance can be very helpful.

• Sometimes you simply need to learn to breathe through it. There are many tried and true relaxation techniques. You get so needy that you must text or call – and if you were to take a moment to settle down, the urgency would fade. (It probably wasn’t that important anyway!)

• Of course, it’s possible that you’ve got a real anxiety disorder that needs attention. For instance, Separation Anxiety Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder can provoke neediness that’ll drive you and your partner nuts.

• And sometimes the guy you are with is not reliable, and your worst fears have a basis in reality. So many people become intimate with narcissistic or demanding lovers. It may feel good sometimes, but inevitably you’ll get hurt.

We all are clingy and demanding some of the time in our intimate relationships. Nobody’s an island. But, destructive clinginess has its roots in a perpetual fear of loss – of losing out to someone else or fearing that your partner will simply lose interest in you. They say, the more you love, the more you give it away. I agree.


For more from Dr. Banschick:

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce- Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon)

Course - Raising Healthy Kids Despite Divorce: Sign Up


Sign up for our newsletter here!