Incessant calls, 100 texts a day, making an issue if you are home late by 5 minutes. Is your partner doing any of this? Then chances are you are in a clingy relationship! But the good news is no matter how suffocated you might be feeling, but it is not the death knell of your relationship. First, find out how clingy is your relationship, then either you can yourself deal with it or take the help of a counsellor.
How to identify a clingy relationship and what you can do about it
We asked our expert Gopa Khan what is a clingy relationship here is what she said…
What is a clingy relationship, according to you?
The clingy relationship is one in which one of the persons in the relationship is emotionally very dependent on the other person, in a manner which can be considered unhealthy. It’s like there is no oxygen in that relationship. Basically the person feels that he or she cannot live at all without his or her partner all the time. Even when the other person is coming and going, interacting with friends, they want that person to be exclusive to them regardless of everybody else. That’s actually a very needy kind of a relationship.
I know of a case, where a lady came to me and said that even if she was late in returning home from office or any other errands, even by 10-15 minutes, her husband would start asking her 100 times about the same.
One aspect here is neediness and interest on the husband’s part, the other part of it is abusive. I have another client who says life is meaningless for her ever since her boyfriend ditched her. Basically, her sense of love and true living comes from being with that person. So these are the two examples I can give you with regards to clinginess in a relationship.
How do the signs start getting prominent that a person is being clingy in a relationship? Is it from the very first date itself? Or, the signs show with the passage of time?
See, it usually varies from person to person. Usually, the best way to identify clinginess is to see whether a person is emotionally very dependent on the other person. As a counsellor I would know from the very first time itself. But the people who do not know what clinginess is, initially might overlook the symptoms thinking of it as love.
I used to have a client who was of the opinion that she had a loving husband who was possessive, but later she found out problems started arising if she was delayed by a bare 1-2 minutes.
In TV shows and movies too, the male character’s possessiveness is always shown in love, and this misconception in popular culture has made relationships very suffocating.
Often people come to realize later how clingy and needy their partner actually is. There was a husband who came to me to talk about his wife, who used to call him up 10 times or more while he was away for some important business trip. There are different degrees and types of clinginess. Unfortunately, women in our society are taught to be dependent on their partners or husbands. There is a high level of dependency on other people. Also, I’ve seen in cases where a person is not getting any nurturing or love from their parents, they start looking for support from outside, either from their spouses or relatively close friends.
How do you realise if you yourself are being clingy or the other person is clingy?
Most clients I know are clingy, but they don’t think it’s an issue, unless the other person says it’s an issue for them. They are more than happy to be clingy. It is when the other person says that there needs to be some boundaries, and that is when the other person’s neediness starts becoming difficult. They may also start to feel some sort of resentment towards their partner.
What is the worst that can happen in a clingy relationship?
What happens in a clingy relationship is that it tends to get sour after a certain period of time. One of the partners is then likely to move out after feeling suffocated in the relationship. I have had clients come up to me and say that each and every one of their relationships ended in the same way. I then start showing them the patterns, that this is what is happening. Literally, you are in the other person’s space, to the point that the other person wants to run away and this is the worst scenario that can happen. As a result, the person feels abandoned, rejected.
Unfortunately, a majority of them do not realize their mistakes, and then it has to be either a friend, family member or a counsellor who has to bring it to their notice that this is what is happening. This pattern is unhealthy for any relationship.
As you said, continuously calling a person is something that should be definitely avoided. A person might be busy, so obviously calling all time is not acceptable.
I think clear, open communication and setting boundaries, these are very important. Also, sometimes they do not understand, even when you clearly explain it to them, they don’t. If you are not taking their calls, it is like rejection to them and they feel terrible about themselves but keep calling you anyways. A lot of hidden messages might get transferred, which might not be the case at all. The best thing to do is to be open about it and tell the other person clearly, “Look, I’m busy, I’ll call you 4 times a day and that is it.” You can send me a message, or an email, I’ll go through them.
What’s important here is sticking to a routine of calling 4 times a day, and they will get used to it. Soon they’ll realize that regardless of whether they call you 30-40 times a day or 10 times a day, you are going to call them at the previously fixed 4 times, and that is it. So, they will stop with their clingy behaviour as well.
Apart from calling, do you think continuous texting a person, even if you are not getting a reply, is also a sign of clinginess?
Yes, definitely. It is a very prominent sign of clinginess, constantly texting and wanting to be in touch, even when you are not getting a reply from the other person. Not only it is a sign of clinginess, it is an example of being very insecure and having low self-esteem.
Do you think these unhealthy practices of continuously texting should also be curbed?
Yes, it should be avoided. What I do is, even I try to tell my clients that they should not encourage such behaviour, even if they are tempted to reply. Instead, they should just let their partner know that they would talk to them when they are free and take it up from there with direct communication.
Counsellor Gopa Khan says there are ways to deal with clinginess…
How do you help people who are exhibiting traits of clinginess in their relationship?
The first step is making them aware about how their clinginess is affecting them in the first place. Most of them suffer from frequent mood swings. If the other person is there they are happy, if they are not there, they are unhappy. Making them aware about how their behaviour and certain clingy traits are affecting their feelings in the first place and empowering them to have certain boundaries in their personal lives is important. It is giving them the knowledge that being in love does not mean that you will be with a person 24×7 or continuously calling/texting them. It is making them realize that it is completely okay if their significant other is away from them for a couple of hours.
I had a client complain to me that her husband was away for a week on a business trip and did not make any phone calls other than one single phone call. She was very upset and she thought it was not right. Then I had to make her realize that her husband may not like her continuously calling him up while he was at work. So it is essentially about your needs being met while having some personal boundaries.
What should an individual do if they start feeling suffocated in a relationship?
Open communication is the key, I think. It is very good to lay out the bare minimum that needs to be done. Just say to your partner that they are calling you 10 times a day and it’s affecting you in a not-so-good way. If someone calls you that many times a day, it is best that you take the call 3-4 times a day and do not take it otherwise, for your own good.
I had a client who complained that his girlfriend used to call him up 30-40 times a day. It was annoying and irritating for him. And if he would not take the call, she would make it a very big issue. He started switching off his phone.
Ideally, boundaries should be set at the very beginning of the relationship. Such kind of behaviour should not be encouraged, like 30-40 phone calls, or even 10-12 phone calls.
There should be personal boundaries, and you should make sure that you have some personal space for yourself outside the relationship too, all that is very important to keep the relationship healthy.
I strongly recommend such people to seek individual counselling. So, can the clingy person step back? Yes, they can. Seeking individual counselling would make them see their inner child. More often than not, it is the inner child that is needy. It is more like a parent-child relationship, that’s how it can be defined. We help them to move on to an adult-adult relationship.
To what extent does counselling help in dealing with the clinginess of the partners? Is it a complete solution or does something else needs to be done as well?
See, counselling does help to a certain extent, but a lot depends on the other person as well. They take their time to be independent. Then there are some people who are completely unable to do so. It is the society which makes them emotionally dependent, financially dependent and they are not able to become independent. So, it is a choice. Counselling definitely helps, there are people who choose to become independent without going for counselling also. So, it depends on an individual, how they want to handle themselves and their issues. When it starts affecting the relationship, hurting their partners, that’s when they realize they need to make drastic changes.
Could you give us an example of how counselling has helped to improve such relationships?
There was this lady who was very dependent on her partner for every single thing. From morning 6 am till midnight she would be hounding him. The other person just could not take it anymore. This lady did not think that it was an issue, but the gentleman really did. Ironically, the gentleman was the one who came to me for counselling. I suggested him to set some strong boundaries. I assured him that the lady could become independent after a certain period of time.
Setting boundaries for the person, who is being clingy, really helps. At the same time, I’ve had clients who worked on their self esteem. It is because of the fact that people with low self esteem are the ones who are clingy. Ultimately the clingy person is an insecure person. You have to be nurturing to them at the same time, because you do not want their insecurity to increase. So, I think making that person more secure is what helps.
After going through counselling and other medical procedures, do clingy people really learn to give space in a relationship?
It is a challenge. It is something they have to maintain for the rest of her life. I had a client whose girlfriend used to be very possessive and did not give him any space at all in the relationship. Today, 10 years later, he happily tells me how independent she has become in the relationship. The love between them has also increased. We certainly cannot expect a change overnight; change takes time and happens gradually. There is also one’s personal determination and self-growth.