Falling in love is one of life’s most wondrous experiences. Every text, phonecall, and meetup sends us into a fizz of excitement and infatuation. So much so, that the very thought of this experience being taken away from us can send us into a cycle of despair.
In our attempts to ensure that the other person still loves us, it can be very easy to slip into the habit of constantly craving their affection and intimacy. To the extent that we cling on to them in the hopes they’ll provide us with what we need to feel safe again.
Unfortunately, clingy behaviors usually end up doing more harm than good within a relationship – and can ultimately even end up driving partners away.
This article will cover steps for managing clinginess in relationships – whether you’re wondering how to deal with a clingy partner, or if you’re hoping to manage your own clingy behaviors. To do so, we will discuss:
Clinginess is an attempt to restore a sense of “one-ness” in a relationship by resisting separation through monitoring another persons actions, expressions, and availability. Yet, it’s important to understand that clinginess is the outward symptom of complex inner processes.
If someone is acting clingy, they are doing so in an attempt at feeling safe by reducing the amount of emotional and physical distance between themselves and their partner. They may do so by:
There are multiple reasons for why someone feels the need to act clingy and in control of their partner’s actions – and these are mostly rooted in our early years. Factors such as our attachment style, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment and rejection, and dependence on relationships for emotional fulfilment are all potential causes of clinginess in relationships.
Managing clingy behavior in a relationship requires the anxious individual to address the root causes of their anxiety. But the partner of the anxious individual can help, too. Reducing attachment anxiety and clinginess means understanding its causes, identifying triggers, establishing trust, clear communication, and setting firm boundaries. The following section contains tips for both the anxious person and their partner.
Your partner may have told you that you’re clingy, but you may not see a problem in your behavior. The experience of anxiety might make you feel entitled to behave in certain ways. You might think they should text back immediately and they should not spend time with other people or they should spend all of their time with you.
However, these beliefs, thought patterns, and subsequent clinging behavior, are unhealthy for you as an individual and for your relationship. So the first thing is to accept that there is a problem without blaming yourself or feeling ashamed or guilty. Accept where you are right now, knowing that these behaviors are the result of coping with difficulties in childhood. Also know that it’s possible to feel different and to transform your insecure attachment style into a more secure one.
Identify what has helped you in the past when you felt anxious in relationships e.g. certain behaviors of your partner, engaging in activities like exercise or meditation, etc.
Establish your patterns of behavior, e.g. when you feel anxious, what kind of things you find difficult, how you react.
Communicate what you have found to your partner in a clear, assertive, non-emotional way.
In the meantime, spend some time focusing on yourself: build your confidence, establish who you are as a person, and find what you enjoy.
Find solutions together e.g. “when I feel like this, it would be helpful if you could…”
Speak to a therapist who can help you to manage your relationship (and maybe general) anxiety.
Here is more advice on regulating your emotions if you have an anxious attachment style.
Clinginess can feel overwhelming and smothering, and seeing your partner frequently upset can be difficult, especially when you feel their distress is directed at you. But as we’ve discussed in our page, Clinginess in Relationships: An Attachment Perspective, your partner’s clingy behavior is not your fault; it’s their way of coping with their anxiety (albeit not in a constructive way). So, here are a few tips on dealing with a clingy partner:
Your own attachment style may also be contributing to the difficulties you’re experiencing in your relationship. Find out here what your attachment style is and how to manage the insecurities you might have.
Dealing with a clingy partner can be difficult, but remember, clinginess comes from experiencing severe anxiety. Although your partner’s feelings are not your responsibility, the way you react to their clinginess will have an impact. Try to approach your partner with compassion and understanding but ensure that you’re looking after your own well-being by setting clear and firm boundaries.
If you are clingy in relationships, focus on building your confidence and self-worth. Feeling anxious about relationships and your partner is unpleasant at best. So by working on yourself and learning to feel comfortable with independence, you can reduce your anxiety and enjoy your relationships a lot more.
Civilotti, C., Dennis, J. L., Acquadro Maran, D., & Margola, D. (2021). When Love Just Ends: An Investigation of the Relationship Between Dysfunctional Behaviors, Attachment Styles, Gender, and Education Shortly After a Relationship Dissolution. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.
Lyons, M., Brewer, G., Hartley, A.M. & Blinkhorn, V. “Never learned to love properly”: A qualitative study exploring romantic relationship experiences in adult children of narcissistic parents.
Simpson, J.A. & Rholes, S.W. (2017). Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. Current Opinions in Psychology, 13, 19-24.
Slade, Rachel (2019) “Relationship Sabotage in Adults with Low Self-Esteem from Attachment Trauma in Childhood,” Family Perspectives, 1 (1), 11.