They send you irrelevant texts throughout the day. They get upset when you tell them you have weekend plans. They're always the first person to watch your Insta story. The person who you once thought was cute and fun to hook up with has morphed into what many people consider a "stage five clinger." When you're dating, having a clingy partner can be discouraging. So, how do you set boundaries without sounding like a jerk?
First of all, it's important to put this into perspective and not vilify the person for being "clingy," says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships. There's no universal standard for how often you should call your partner, how long you should wait to text someone back, or how you should act in a party setting with your partner.
Compared to the alternative, clinginess can sometimes be a positive trait. "There might be something about that person that actually drew you to them," she says. For example, it might have felt good to have someone be accountable and text you back on a timely manner at first. Also, people typically don't just become clingy overnight, Dr. Carmichael says. If there was a clear shift in their behaviour, it could be in response to infidelity or another road bump you experienced in your relationship, she says. Clinginess always comes from somewhere, like your partner's past relationship, she says.
That said, dealing with a clingy partner can take a lot of emotional work, says Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a relationship therapist in New York City. Over time, constantly having to reassure your partner or be there for them might make your respect for that person dwindle significantly, she says. On the flip side, most people have a tendency to get defensive when you bring up "neediness," she says. So, try to approach the topic of clinginess with empathy and diplomacy, Dr. Carmichael says. "I would make it really clear that you're not criticizing the person on an emotional level," she says.
When you've decided that something about your dynamic has to change, then you can have a heart-to-heart with the person, Dr. Carmichael says. You might say, We seem to have different ideas about how often we should be in touch, for example. Then, you can bring it back to you and say, I'm sure it's not fun for you to always feel as if you're having to chase me around, so let me be really open with you about what I'm prepared to give, she suggests. You could even get into specifics about how long it usually takes you to respond to a text or return a phone call, just so your expectations are clear. From there, you can figure out together if you're on the same page or not, Dr. Carmichael says.
Ultimately, it's better to talk about these issues rather than just ghost your partner. These difficult but necessary conversations might make you discover things about how you are in a relationship, too, Brateman says. Some people have a tendency to get more withdrawn when some people cling, she says. "By doing that, you're in some way perpetuating their vulnerability," she says. "And then it just gets out of control."