How to Deal With Clingy Behavior in Relationships

Relationship Rules
31 Mar 2024
8 min read
How to Deal With a Clingy Partner

Clingy starts being cute. Your new partner can’t bear to be without you. When you’re together, they’re always in your space. They bathe you in attention, constant hugging, long, warm texts, and handholding. They seem to invest all they’ve got in your happiness.
Everything works great until you realize you have no breathing room. That’s when someone who’s overly clingy shows their true colors—and you see more control than cuteness underneath their behavior. How do you manage this? Let’s explore what makes a person engage in clingy behavior and what you should do about it.

What Does Clinginess Look Like

“Love should not cause suffocation and death if it is truly love. Don’t bundle someone into an uncomfortable cage just because you want to ensure their safety in your life. The bird knows where it belongs, and will never fly to a wrong nest.”

Michael Bassey Johnson, author

Are you not sure if they are really clingy, or it’s just what you think they are? Here are the most prominent examples of clingy behavior:

  • Expecting to be invited along when your partner does anything
  • Constantly checking up on your partner via social media
  • Incessant phone calls and text messages
  • Having their location tracking and using it
  • Sabotaging your partner’s attempts to have alone time
  • A constant need for reassurance
  • Use of PDA to the point of making people uncomfortable

Related reading: Are You In Love or Just Clingy? 8 Love vs Attachment Differences

9 Reasons Why a Person Might Act Clingy

The word clingy is usually used to describe a person who seems incapable of spending time without others, especially those they have a relationship with. A clingy child may refuse to spend time away from their parent or guardian. A clingy boyfriend or girlfriend may find that they cannot stand to be away from their partners.

But what causes this behavior to develop? Here are the top nine reasons why your partner may be acting clingy.

1. Lack of Emotional Support

A clingy person becomes emotionally dependent on one person when they see them as a sole support source compared to other relationships. Often, they lack emotional support from friends or family and can’t get enough of your positive, nurturing behavior. That can be a tricky sign of clinginess, given that it’s really pleasant to be someone’s reason to smile and be happy.

Bad relationship experiences may lead to clingy behaviors

2. Negative Past Relationships

It’s common for a clingy person to have a history of bad relationships. In this scenario, this behavior may be a defense mechanism to earn affection, ensure they can’t lose you, or avoid meeting romantic partners who are abusive or neglectful one more time.

They may also be fawning— a trauma response people learn in abusive relationships. They learn to heap their abuser with praise, physical affection, constant availability, and even sexual favors as a way to appease them. Later, even in healthy partnerships, they engage in the same behaviors, and this comes off as clingy.

3. Intense Jealousy

Some people engage in clingy behavior out of jealousy. When you’re out in public with your partner, do they insist on holding your hand, following you even when you step away for just a moment, and engaging in non-stop PDA? If so, this could be their way of dealing with jealousy.

All of this attention is a way of marking their territory. Think of it as their way of telling everybody else you are taken rather than showing you genuine love and care.

Related reading: Envy Vs. Jealousy: What’s the Difference?

4. Low Self Esteem

When someone has low self-esteem, they may feel as though they don’t deserve a boyfriend or girlfriend. In this scenario, their clinginess is a sign that they are afraid of losing you and are trying to prove they are worthy of having you around. They may even believe that by giving you space, you will find someone better and dump them.

While most people can find many ways to feel good about themselves, someone with low self-esteem may rely solely on your approval.

5. Guilt

Is your clingy boyfriend or girlfriend acting out of a sense of guilt? While you shouldn’t automatically assume the worst, clingy behavior can be a red flag for cheating and other dishonest behaviors. Someone unfaithful may decide they want to make it up to you without fessing up. So, they heap on the attention and affection.

Their clinginess may also be their way of throwing off your suspicions. If you voice any concerns, they may claim that your anxiety is unwarranted. Just look for other common signs of cheating. If you realize something is up, it’s time to have a serious conversation about your relationship.

Related reading: What Is a Guilt Trip in Relationships

6. Anxiety and Fear

They may be clingy because they struggle with fear and anxiety. Among possible factors, the crowd, loud music, and strange people can bring up feelings of intense anxiety. In such situations, your partner maintains constant contact to avoid feeling overwhelmed—and they need you to be by their side to help them feel better.

7. Possessive Behavior

Clinginess can be one of many signs that someone sees you as their possession. In that case, being clingy is a form of controlling behavior. They want you nearby and totally focused on your relationship, so you lose your sense of independence. Be especially aware if they don’t seem to want you spending your time with family or friends.

Related reading: 10 Tactics to Tell Someone You’re Not Interested

8. A Need For Constant Attention

Some clingy people simply need to be your center of attention. They can’t bear it when you might get distracted by anything or anyone else. There may not even be an underlying reason for their behavior. They’re just needy!

9. Clinginess Is Modeled for Them

Some people grow up in households where their parents don’t have friends, hobbies, or interests outside of one another. Their lives simply revolve around one another. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There are many examples of couples being quite happy throughout their marriage in that kind of relationship. However, if you desire a life outside of your primary romantic relationship, it can feel suffocating. Meanwhile, your independence may feel like rejection to them.

5 ways to make your clingy relationship healthier

5 Ways to Set Up Healthy Boundaries When With Someone Acting Clingy

It’s helpful to understand why someone is clingy, but each person is responsible for their own behavior. It also doesn’t matter what the intention behind their clinginess is or if it makes sense to them. If they are engaging in behavior that is upsetting to you, they need to do the work to break those habits.

Clinginess isn’t cute; it’s suffocating. Thus, here are some tips for creating important boundaries with someone overly dependent on your attention.

1. Talk About What Happened

Difficult conversations go better when you can be specific. Don’t wait until you are frustrated and blurt out some vague complaint about things that have been brewing for weeks. Instead, be ready to discuss a specific incident of clinginess as a way to open up a larger conversation about how this makes you feel and what you need from them.

2. Communicate

It isn’t healthy to be clingy. It’s also unhealthy to fume in silence while your boyfriend is in your physical and mental space all day long. Talk about clinginess in the moment. Be clear that you need space. Yes, your partner might get upset. But, if your relationship can’t handle some gentle boundary setting, there are more problems than some clingy behavior.

Related reading: Setting Healthy and Fair Expectations in a Relationship

3. Show Them Respect

Often, people are aware that they are clingy and feel a sense of shame over it. They are dealing with past trauma, and are good at turning every small anxiety into a worst-case scenario. You won’t help the situation by mocking them or minimizing their feelings. Instead, treat the clinginess as something to work on, not as a flaw that makes them a bad person.

What if the clingy behavior is related to other signs that your partner is controlling or possessive? In that case, you can focus less on your partner’s feelings and more on your sense of safety. Respect is important, but your well-being is even more so.

4. Let Them Know When You Feel Discomfort

Don’t tolerate discomfort just to avoid a hard conversation or confrontation. If your partner’s clinginess is making you uncomfortable, speak up. Let her know she’s got to give you space. Tell him that you need time to yourself.

5. Let Them Know What You Expect

Be clear about what you need from them. If you go out, let them know that they can’t hang all over you. If you need a whole weekend to yourself, say so! It’s best for you, and it helps them too. Once you communicate with them, they can prepare themselves emotionally.

4 Ways You Can Help Someone Who Is Overly Clingy

“This is particularly true of those who “love too much” and those who tend to lose themselves in their relationships. Sometimes our love becomes distorted by our feelings of insecurity and our fear of abandonment. This is the often the case with those who become overly controlling and overly smothering of their partner. Others become emotionally abusive because of their fear of intimacy.”

Beverly Engel, psychotherapist

When clinginess is an issue in your relationship, there are things you can do to help your partner adopt a healthier approach.

1. Give Them Time

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is give the person in your life what they need within the boundaries that you set. If their clinginess comes from a lack of time with you, the solution could be as simple as “filling up their cup”.

No, this doesn’t mean you need to be constantly present or allow them to hang on you. Instead, focus on better quality time where each of you is genuinely focused on one another.

Related reading: Quality Time – It’s a Love Language

2. Boost Their Independence

Give your partner reassurance that your relationship can withstand time apart. Encourage their interests. Suggest they spend time fostering their relationship with their parents. Model spending time with family and friends.

3. Set Them Free from Guilt

People with anxiety and low self-esteem often feel as though they have done something wrong. They perceive that people in their life are mad at them. You never know what they may take as a sign that you are angry with them. But you shouldn’t let them feel guilty for things that are not a big deal.

You can’t climb inside your partner’s head and mitigate every anxious feeling they have. What you can do is look for signs that they feel anxious, unsure, or guilty. Then, simply offer reassurance that everything is fine. This will stave off clinging and fawning because they think you’re angry with them.

4. Help Them Be Real

A good way to help a clingy person is to encourage them to limit their social media activity. Does your partner tend to obsess over your social media presence? If so, it’ll be good for them to take a step back. They’ll be less likely to fret over where you are and what they are doing,

If things get to a breaking point or there are signs that your partner is in a bad place, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional.

Final Thoughts: A Good Partnership is Freeing

A healthy partnership should never feel like a burden or a trap. That’s the problem with clinginess. One person is often in a state of anxiety. The other feels as if they are contending with their partner’s neediness. that’s not good for anybody. That’s why it’s so important to deal with clinginess by setting boundaries, showing empathy, and getting help if needed.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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