How to Stop Being Needy in a Relationship

Plus, why it's important to understand the difference between being needy and clingy.


Unsplash | Michela Buttignol

Have you ever been told that you're too needy? Has your current or a past partner ever accused you of being clingy or dependent? While your intentions may be entirely good, being too needy in a relationship is anything but that.

What Is Being Needy?

Neediness is an excessive need for acceptance or affection that results in that person repeatedly becoming overly attached to people and depending on them too much.

An insecure attachment is often the culprit behind clinginess in relationships, according to relationship expert Jaime Bronstein, LCSW. "It occurs because the person fears that they will be abandoned in some way or unloved, and it most often stems from childhood and their relationship (or lack of relationship) with one or both parents," she says. "In addition, an insecure attachment style can develop from previous romantic relationships if the person felt like they weren't prioritized or didn't receive enough attention or love from their significant other."

Meet the Expert

  • Jaime Bronstein, LCSW is a relationship therapist, coach, and the host of “Love Talk Live” on LA Talk Radio.
  • Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D, is a licensed psychologist focused on improving relationships. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection: Build the Resilience You Need to Get Back Up When Life Knocks You Down; Love: The Psychology of Attraction; and Insecure in Love: How Insecure Attachment Can Make You Feel Jealous, Needy, and Worried and What You Can Do About It

You may enjoy spending time with your partner, but it’s imperative to have some boundaries in place. With a bit of work and self-awareness, you can learn how to stop being clingy and feel more fulfilled in your relationship.

Read on for expert advice that will help you go from needy to self-sufficient.

What Are Signs of Clingy Behavior in a Relationship?

"It is important to distinguish having needs from being needy," says Becker-Phelps. "Having a need for acceptance and affection is part of being human and is part of what drives people to want close relationships. There is nothing wrong with it, but some people don’t feel comforted or reassured when someone shows caring, so they keep reaching out for more and become needy." Many clingy behaviors are fear-based, adds Bronstein, and can often be a response to past experiences with a parent or ex-partner who was unreliable or inconsistent with their words or actions. Whatever the cause, there are some clear signs of clingy behavior, including:

  • Not giving your partner space or alone time, especially if they have specifically requested it
  • Calling or texting your SO nonstop when you're not together
  • Panicking if your partner does not respond to your texts or calls
  • Monitoring your partner's behavior on social media
  • Feeling threatened by your partner's friends or coworkers of the opposite sex
  • Attempting to rush into a more serious relationship
  • Deceptively creating an image of yourself that your partner finds attractive
  • Trying to force a partner to love you
  • Attempting to earn someone’s love by doing things they like (and abandoning yourself in the process)
  • Asking for reassurance often or frequently asking your partner if they love you
  • Being constantly on the lookout for being rejected or betrayed
  • Controlling behaviors, such as wanting to track your significant other's location on your phone

If you find yourself, your partner, or someone you know engaging in any or all of these behaviors, it's a sign of relationship insecurity and clinginess. "Someone who loves themselves and feels confident in themselves and the relationship will be able to be apart and not worry," says Bronstein. "They will feel inner peace and stability whether they are with their significant other or not." Conversely, someone who is needy in their relationship will experience anxiety over their partner's commitment to them.

In some cases, the behavior may stem from your partner giving you a significant reason to worry by betraying you in the past through cheating, philandering, or otherwise. "In that case, I suggest that you work through the trust issue with a therapist, counselor, or coach, because it's not healthy to be in a relationship that doesn't have trust coming from both parties," says Bronstein.

How to Stop Being Clingy in Your Relationship

Put Down the Phone

If you tend to be the needy type, you may be used to constantly contacting your partner throughout the day. Whether via text, talking on the phone, or sending pictures, articles, and emails, your days may currently consist of endless back and forth. However, while you may simply miss your partner and enjoy being in close contact with them at all times, this can come off as clingy. Rather than giving your partner space to be able to concentrate on other matters, take on the day, and have some downtime, you may be bombarding, distracting, or annoying them. If you find yourself doing this to distract yourself or procrastinate from doing tasks you don't particularly favor, consider switching it up and texting a friend instead or finding a different outlet for your focus like going for a walk or meditating.

When you feel the urge to frequently contact your partner, it’s important to put down the phone. Put it in a box or give it to a friend. Instead, use that time to focus on yourself rather than reaching out.

Pursue Your Own Passions

Being needy in a relationship can often stem from a person’s lack of other interests and hobbies. Strive to have your own life away from your partner and make your personal passions and pursuits a priority. Having activities and pastimes that are important to you can help you to find your own path that’s separate from your partner and create a more whole and fulfilling life for yourself. "Spend more time focusing on your life because your life matters," says Bronstein. "Find other things and people besides your love to spend time with and find activities or hobbies that bring you joy," she continues. "When you are in your joy, you are present, and you don't worry about things, so I highly recommend being in your joy as much as possible."

Beginning or picking back up a hobby that inspires you is a great way to invest in yourself. Further, advancing in a hobby will offer you a sense of achievement, therefore boosting your confidence and self-esteem. By taking a spin class, signing up for piano lessons, or joining a book club, you’re helping yourself to become less needy by having your own life. This will make you more independent, interesting, and engaging. It will open you up to making friendships with people who enjoy the same things, and build a community for yourself that doesn't rely on one singular connection—a support system you could rely on if things get rocky in your romantic relationship. Plus, you won't find yourself feeling so lost when your partner is absent or doing their own things.

Give Your Partner Space

You may not like your partner doing things without you. Whether it’s having dinner with friends, going out to a bar, or seeing a movie, needy people in relationships have a hard time with the fact that their partner has a life away from them. However, it’s vitally important to the health and success of your relationship that your partner is able to do and enjoy things without you, as it’s the unique facets of your personality that make you a better team. Since you’re a couple and not a clone of your partner, you should support your SO's endeavors and desire to go golfing with friends or have a girls' night. This way you’re showing your partner that you care about their needs, that you’re secure in the relationship, and that you place a priority on their happiness—even if it doesn't always include you. 

Stop Being Jealous 

It’s not uncommon for people to behave in a needy way because they’re jealous or worried about their partner’s loyalty or possible infidelity. "Jealousy is related to fear of rejection or abandonment," explains Becker-Phelps. "When a person is inclined toward unfounded jealousy, they are experiencing an emotional need to hold onto (or cling to) a partner they fear might leave them." For example, you may insist on texting your partner throughout the day because you’re worried about his or her relationship with a cute coworker. Or you may want to hang out with your partner 24/7 because you don't trust their behavior in your absence.

However, being envious and mistrusting is only going to push the two of you further apart. Since relationships are based on mutual trust, your clingy nature is actually showing your partner that you don’t believe or have faith in him or her or in the strength of your connection. On the other hand, if you choose to trust your partner and work through these jealous feelings and emotions, you'll be far less needy, more relaxed mentally, and your relationship is far more likely to succeed.

Build Your Self-Esteem

"People who have this problem often struggle with feeling inadequate, flawed, or in some way deficient," explains Becker-Phelps. "When others show them caring, they don’t really believe or take it in—but feeling desperate for reassurance, they keep trying to elicit it (even when it’s already been given)." In many cases, being needy stems from a misconception that you need others around at all times for help and support. While it may seem challenging at first, it’s time to recognize that you're able to accomplish things on your own without anyone by your side. You’ll soon recognize that you’re able to have achievements on your own, and that it’s okay to spend time alone and do things without relying on others. Learn to become your own best friend, lover, and support system, and you'll feel much more fortified and self-assured in any situation, regardless of who else is there. "When a person feels more positively about themselves, they are more likely to believe when someone else feels positively towards them," adds Becker-Phelps.

You may even grow to enjoy these moments by yourself and complete tasks and projects on your own or simply relish the freedom of solitude and the opportunities for introspection, creativity, and tranquility that it can bring. If you work toward improving your confidence, self-esteem, and ability to be more self-sufficient, you’ll realize you can flourish and succeed whether in a partnership or on your own. It can be as simple as starting with self-affirmations. "List out your positive traits or strengths and think about how you see them in your life," suggests Becker-Phelps. "Practice doing this with different strengths or situations to help you acknowledge and appreciate positives about yourself."

Talk to Your Partner

If you recognize that your behavior is needy or you can sense that your partner is becoming irritated, it's best to be open with them and have a conversation. "Be honest with your significant other about your clingy behavior; own your behavior instead of blaming them," says Bronstein. For example, don't blame the number of people they dated before you for your inability to trust them fully or tell them if they answered your texts faster you wouldn't have to check in so often. Be willing to apologize and let them know you will try your best to change your actions. Finally, advises Bronstein, ask your partner what they need from you in terms of behavior change. This will offer you some guidance as you begin to be more independent in your relationship.

Be mindful of different love languages and the ways that a person can show up in a relationship. "If you believe you are in a relationship with a healthy, caring partner, practice consciously being open to the ways your partner shows their caring," says Becker-Phelps. "You may find that attending to this makes you uncomfortable. While you recognize the discomfort, continue to challenge yourself in staying with the awareness of the ways they show they care and to being open to feeling that caring."

Spend Time With Friends and Family

Spending time with people who lift you up is one of the best ways to gain confidence and feel more secure in both yourself and your relationship. "I encourage my clients to surround themselves with people who build them up, with who they feel comfortable being around, and who love them unconditionally," says Bronstein. Being with good friends and family is also a great distraction from any negative or anxious thoughts you may be having about your partner. "Spending time with caring others or doing things that you enjoy can also help you be more open to caring relationships," adds Becker-Phelps

Be sure to only spend time with people who leave you feeling loved and accepted, since hanging out with people who make you feel bad about yourself can leave you feeling more insecure than before and therefore more likely to exhibit clingy behavior. Bronstein says she inspires her clients to permit themselves to stop associating with anyone toxic or who brings them down.

Establish and Respect Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are a sign of respect for the relationship that you have with your partner as well as the relationship you have with yourself. They communicate that you have an awareness of your own needs and identity outside of a relationship and value them greatly. This sets the tone for how you expect others to treat you because it is how you treat yourself. It also provides insight and empathy for any boundaries your partner may have.

"When you are loving toward your partner while also setting boundaries, you show them that you care even when you enforce some needed distance," says Becker-Phelps. "Hopefully with time they will begin to trust in your love. Importantly, it is best to do this from a caring or vulnerable position rather than from an angry position that will likely just increase your partner’s anxiety." For example, a boundary might look like asking your partner to not call or text after your bedtime. Instead of defaulting to blaming or accusations, start the dialogue with I-statements that reflect your perspective and feelings.

Address Your Relationship Anxiety Through Therapy

Professional support can help you address your relationship anxiety by developing a more positive relationship with yourself, which will in turn allow yo to open up to others. "Talk in therapy about your struggles," urges Becker-Phelps. "As you do, it can help greatly to develop greater self-awareness from a compassionate perspective. As you gain a better understanding of your anxiety, you can also practice seeing yourself from a more understanding and compassionate perspective." She goes on to add that working with a therapist who you trust and connect with can also help provide a better understanding of others.

  • What causes clingy behavior?

    Clingy behavior is caused by an insecure attachment style defined by the fear of abandonment or rejection from a partner. It often stems from an inconsistent or nonexistent relationship with one or both parents in childhood but can also develop from previous romantic relationships where the person did not feel prioritized or loved by their partner.

  • What does clinginess in a relationship mean?

    Clinginess in a relationship means one partner is exhibiting behavior that is needy, suffocating, dependent, obsessive, or jealous, often resulting from a negative self image. Clinginess manifests in behaviors like demanding constant physical proximity, lack of independence or autonomy, a need for constant communication, and frequently asking for reassurance, help, or comfort.

  • How do I talk to a partner who is being clingy?

    Let your partner know how much you love and appreciate them and understand their anxiety. Openly communicate how you feel about their clingy behavior and be specific about why it bothers you without casting blame. Support them as they struggle with their anxiety and encourage them to work on finding a greater sense of security within themselves while remaining firm in your boundaries. "It is tempting to try to reassure them enough that they stop feeling anxious and fearing rejection but that usually ends in frustration because the neediness and clinging is about how they experience themselves more than about the current relationship with you," adds Becker-Phelps.

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