When it comes to attention in a relationship, most of us are looking for something in the middle of the spectrum—it’s likely that you neither want to be with someone distant and inaccessible nor with someone who never lets you have a moment alone. If you’re currently seeing someone who falls into the latter category, here are six tips that may help you improve the situation.
1. Ask yourself what counts as “neediness”
Firstly, one of the most important things you need to do is work out whether you’re actually being fair to your partner. Would their behavior really be classed as needy by most other people, or is your assessment more about your own aversion to certain types of healthy interdependence? For example, classically needy behavior might involve constant phone calls (including when you’ve said you’re too busy to talk), being asked to make almost all decisions for your partner, and having to deal with extremely strong emotional reactions when you’re not available.
If, however, you’re feeling stifled or trapped by someone who merely wants to talk to you every couple of days and just wants occasional cues that you’re actually still committed, you may be seeing neediness in your partner when the problem is really avoidance on your part. In this case, it’s worth exploring why you feel uncomfortable about being close to other people—are there facts about your relationship history that might explain this aversion?
2. Work out where the neediness is coming from
If you’ve given some serious thought to your own responses and have decided that your partner is objectively needier than the average person, it will be incredibly helpful to understand why this behavior pattern has developed. For example, have they been betrayed or abandoned in the past? Do they have low self-confidence and a concurrent need to find their value in others?
Use what you know about your partner’s life to gain more insight into where this neediness is coming from. To learn more, try to broach the topic in a sensitive way—instead of saying “You’re so clingy that it drives me crazy!” try something like “I’ve noticed that you seem really uncomfortable when we’re apart. Would it be okay to talk about why, and how we can improve this part of our relationship?”
3. Be consistent
Regardless of why your partner is needy, being consistent and reliable can help to provide some reassurance that you are trustworthy. If you fail to be in touch when you’ve said you will be, or if you try to cancel plans at the last minute, this won’t push most needy people away but will rather inflame their neediness and make them cling to you all the more tightly. Only make commitments you feel you can stick to, and try to illustrate that your actions will match your words. This may induce some relaxation in your partner.
4. Hold your boundaries
In spite of it being vital to show that you’re a stable presence in your partner’s life, you also need to stay firm when it comes to your boundaries. If you cave to a needy partner’s every desire, you can begin to feel so overwhelmed by the other person that you no longer really want to be with them (and they never learn any other way of behaving).
Try to give clear but kind explanations why you hold the boundaries you do—for example, say that you want to get your work done during certain hours and won’t be able to do this if you’re on the phone or clarify that you value time to decompress on your own during some evenings and stress that this is not a negative assessment of your partner’s company.
5. Show that you think about your partner
One of the most common fears behind neediness is that you will simply forget about your partner or your relationship when you’re apart and that this might either make you think you don’t require your partner anymore or make you more susceptible to being interested in other people. As such, you might help to calm your partner’s neediness if you send little notes of affection now and again—albeit not constantly, and not as part of unhealthy maintenance of their excessive attempts to contact you.
Perhaps consider a little text before a night away saying “Thinking of you, and hoping you have a wonderful evening!” or a short email mentioning something you enjoyed about your last date. This type of action can go a long way towards proving that your partner is not out of mind when they’re out of sight.
6. Consider relationship therapy
Finally, although it can be scary to think about going for therapy, most needy partners will be on board if you explain that it’s all about working to improve the relationship and find productive ways to stay together. In the therapy room, you can explore the origins of your respective roles in the partnership, and take advantage of a safe environment in which to experiment with new ways of being.
Further, since therapists typically aim to empower clients, just taking part in the process can help to boost your partner’s self-esteem in a way that can counteract some of the internal sources of their neediness.