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Your Dependent Attachment Style Is Pushing Your Partner Away

Learn to become less clingy in three important steps.

In the last century, the "father of attachment theory" John Bowlby argued that the way we connect with our primary caregiver during childhood may make its marks on our relationships for the rest of our lives. Subsequent research has shown that our relationships with teachers, schoolmates, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, and spouses also have a significant impact on our relationship- and attachment-style going forward.

Dependent attachment (sometimes referred to as "anxious attachment" and in relationships with substance abusers or narcissists as "co-dependent attachment") in adulthood stands in stark contrast to avoidant attachment. The former is characterized by a strong need for constant validation from others, especially partners and friends. It is furthermore likely to make you feel lonely when alone and always seek company, even if you don't really like the people keeping you company. In severe cases, a dependent person may "pay" for company—not necessarily literally—but by showering the other person with attention and affection and expecting a return on this gift. Individuals with a dependent attachment style can appear to be natural givers, but they are not. When they give, they give with the expectation of receiving something similar back.

Dependent individuals are at risk of becoming social media stalkers or real-life stalkers if their "gifts of love" are not reciprocated. They may refuse to accept when others don't want them around.

If you have a dependent attachment style, and you are in a relationship, chances are that you are in the process of ruining your relationship. Showering your partner with attention and affection and expecting an equal return is a relationship killer. This has nothing to do with the push-pull games of romantic chasers. It has everything to do with (1) not giving your partner time to breathe, and (2) expecting a return on everything you invest in your relationship.

What can you do about a dependent attachment style? How can you prevent it from ruining your relationship? Here are three stages that you need to go through to recover.

  1. You need to realize that you have a dependent or clingy attachment style and what this consists in. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that you are an altruistic giver when in reality you want attention and affection—and perhaps also praise and gratitude—from everyone around you.
  2. Once you recognize that you have a dependent attachment style, you can begin behavior modification. Don't always be the person to reach out first via text, emails, the phone, or letters. Ensure that there is a balance in the relationship, whether the relationship is a close friendship or a romantic relationship. Take some time off from the other person and do something completely different. Give your friends or partner time to breathe. Don't expect your partner or friends to always be available for you. Allow them to do their own thing. Find something else to soothe your feelings of loneliness and your longing for attention, affection, and praise.
  3. Turn your modified behavior into a new you. It takes about six weeks to form a new habit. This is a rough estimate. Regardless of how long it takes, though, modified behavior will eventually sink into your brain and alter your neural networks in significant ways. Once this happens and you resist falling back into old behavioral patterns, you are on the right track to becoming a new person—a person who has a more secure way of interacting with, and forming attachments with, other people.

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love.

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