When you’re in a new relationship, it’s entirely normal to want to spend as much time as possible with your partner. As the relationship progresses and you develop a deeper connection, you slowly start to make more space for independence and personal space. Sometimes, though, dynamics get off-balance and we end up in a clingy relationship, or being clingy ourselves.
If you’ve ever been told that you’re “too clingy” by an ex-partner, keep reading to learn why it happens, and some tips on how to stop being clingy or talk with your partner about fostering a more healthy relationship.
A clingy partner acts needy, dependent, jealous, or obsessive. They might need lots of attention and communication, physical proximity, and constant reassurance. They may also rely on you for emotional stability or validation, and depend on you for their self-worth.
A clingy person often acts out of fear or anxiety that you don’t like them enough or they won’t get their needs met. They may have a fear of abandonment, whether physically or emotionally.
People can become clingy in a relationship for a few reasons, many of which stem from past trauma and how they formed attachments in childhood.
“Often the clingy behavior is how someone learned to soothe themselves in a moment of distress and perceived threat because they are not internally bringing themselves to a calm state, the clingy behaviors often feel very repetitive and insecure to those around them,” explains Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.
Attachment styles develop in childhood and are how we relate to those we love the most, and those who are supposed to love us the most. How a parent loves you and cares for you as a child can have a direct impact on how you navigate romantic relationships as an adult.
If as a child you were unsure how a parent would react or were constantly dismissed, neglected, or shamed, you may develop a more anxious attachment style. This attachment style is often rooted in a fear of abandonment or rejection, which can make you more likely to be needy or clingy with your significant other.
“Talk to a therapist to understand why you are clingy,” says Dr. Gauri Khurana, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in New York. She says you “may want to understand if your clinginess is spilling over into codependency.”
If you didn’t have space as a child to freely express your emotions — good and bad — or were shamed for them, it can be hard to feel safe to express yourself in a romantic relationship. “In your childhood, it could have sounded like ‘why would you do that, you are a big kid, you don’t need help, stop being so needy’,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“As an adult, you may have internal angst that comes out at your partner in a nervous, angry, or demanding way. The intensity and urgency of your request might feel much larger, and stress the relationship,” she adds. “In reality, the feeling that you should not ask for anything is actually running the show and setting off the alarm bells, so not feeling free to talk about your deeper emotional needs takes up extra space in the relationship.”
If you tend to worry at every sign that your partner might be leaving you or drifting from you, you may exhibit clinginess in your relationship. You may imagine worst-case scenarios or freak out if they don’t text back quickly.
Having needs — and wanting them to be met — is normal, so it’s important to differentiate that from being needy or clingy. If you think you might be in a needy relationship, there are a few signs you can watch out for.
Although it can manifest in different ways, some common signs of clinginess include:
Expecting constant and immediate communication, to be texted or called back immediately, and calling or texting obsessively until the other person responds
Following your partner around or wanting to go everywhere with them
Not giving your partner any personal space or alone time
Expressing anger or angst when your partner goes somewhere by themselves
Stalking your partner’s activity on social media, with a tendency toward hypervigilance and surveillance
Not trusting your partner, always wondering what they’re up to, why, and what they meant by certain things
Losing sight of other relationships, such as with friends and family
Losing their own interests and hobbies
Moving too fast in the relationship, suggesting more commitment like moving in together
Asking for reassurance over and over, such as “Do you like me?”, “Are you going to break up with me?”, “Are you sure you think I’m cute?”
Not setting clear boundaries and/or communicating needs
Being very attentive to your partner’s moods, behaviors, and preferences, to adjust and ensure that the partner doesn’t leave
Acting jealous, questioning their partner, and feeling threatened by friends or co-workers
Clingy relationships tend to drive a wedge between two people because their attachment is rooted in fear and anxiety, rather than love and trust.
One partner may feel insecure and needy, while the other one feels smothered. While your intentions may be good, excessively clingy relationships aren’t typically healthy but can be fixed through the proper steps or more formal therapy.
If you or your partner are exhibiting clinginess in your relationship, there are ways you can mitigate it so that you both feel more secure and less smothered. Here are the best ways to stop being clingy in a relationship.
Take time to think back to your past and why you might be clingy. You may have needy tendencies because one or both of your caregivers didn’t make you feel secure in their love for you. Perhaps they abandoned you physically or only gave you love when you were well-behaved or looked perfect. Understanding this about yourself or your partner can allow a more compassionate mindset. You may realize that it’s your inner child who is acting clingy.
Rather than push your fears aside or bottle them up, talk with your partner about things that cause you anxiety or make you nervous. Talk about what important needs you have, such as checking in at least once a day with each other, or ensuring you have quality time together twice a week. A calm, healthy conversation can set healthy boundaries and ensure you feel stable and secure in the relationship.
“It’s important to make sure that you’re deriving your overall sense of happiness from multiple sources, such as hobbies, work, and relationships,” says Dr. Khurana.
“By focusing on things that make you specifically happy, you are coming back recharged and able to be attentive and fully present for your partner.” Instead of wanting more from your partner, you offer your own happiness and autonomy in the relationship.
Make sure you aren’t relying on your relationship for your total emotional and mental well-being. Make an effort to spend time with friends and loved ones, play a sport, foster a hobby, or listen to music. You'll create a more secure, balanced romantic environment by nurturing positive relationships and activities outside of your romantic relationship.
Speaking to a mental health professional or attending couples counseling can be a great way to work through attachment styles, clinginess, and low self-esteem. If you experience anxiety or depression, a licensed therapist can often help.
Reassure your partner at the start of the conversation about your relationship and what you like or love about them. Share how you are feeling, such as “I’m feeling a little cramped.” Or “I’m feeling like we should make some tweaks in our relationship.”
Explain a couple of scenarios that concern you, such as their constant need to check in, or how they’re losing some of their friendships. Talk about how you want to make the relationship work, but there will need to be some changes.
Try not to cast blame or shame them for who they are and what they do. Let them know you’re there to support them as they work through issues of security, fear, abandonment, or anxiety.
If the clinginess in your relationship has gotten to be too much, even after working at it, it may be time to leave the relationship or take a break from the relationship.