How To Recognize And Overcome Neediness In Your Relationship

Updated November 14, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Emotional support and intimacy are basic human needs. Prioritizing them as regular components of your romantic relationship is normal. However, demanding more time, attention, affection, or support than your partner can or is willing to give is sometimes labeled as neediness, and it can negatively impact a relationship.

Recognizing Neediness

Neediness is quite subjective. Someone’s view of whether it exists in a relationship can depend on factors like their personality, upbringing, preferences, and culture. For example, someone who grew up in a physically affectionate family may expect to give and receive a lot of hugs, pats, hand-holding, etc. with their partner. Someone who grew up with a different family dynamic may find their partner’s craving for this type of affection to be “needy” or overwhelming. Or, think of an extrovert who needs frequent social interaction to feel fulfilled. An introverted partner may feel that they’re needy in demanding so much of their time and attention.

Neediness may manifest in your relationship in many forms in addition to the two examples just mentioned—some of which may be more insidious to its overall health. It could take the form of jealousy, affirmation-seeking behavior, spending every second together, pessimism about the strength of the relationship, or otherwise becoming so attached to a partner that it hinders both people’s independence.

If what you need and what your partner can or wants to provide are truly mismatched, the relationship might not be a good fit. Or, you may need to get some of your needs met elsewhere, or work on solutions for how you might work towards being better able to meet each other’s needs. However, neediness in a relationship may also stem from underlying emotional factors, which is often the case with the more damaging expressions of it listed above. In this case, the “needy” individual may need to address these root causes in order to have a healthier dynamic with their partner.

Possible Causes Of Needy Behavior

Unhealthy levels of neediness can develop in a relationship for many different reasons. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the possibilities.

Low Self-Esteem

Having a poor or negative view of yourself can impact how you approach or experience a relationship. In fact, research points to a correlation between higher self-esteem and higher relationship satisfaction. Without enough self-esteem, someone may constantly fear being rejected by their partner, seek constant validation, or have trouble setting boundaries, for example.

An Insecure Attachment Style

  • Dismissive-avoidant. People with this attachment style may avoid emotional intimacy or have trouble handling or expressing their emotions in general. The theory posits that this style is a result of caregiver rejection in childhood.
  • Anxious-preoccupied. People with this attachment style may have an intense desire for emotional closeness and the approval of others. They may have low self-esteem and a deep fear of abandonment. The theory reasons that this style may result from unresponsive or neglectful parenting.
  • Fearful-avoidant. People with this attachment style may experience the push and pull between a desire for and a fear of close relationships. According to the theory, it may be a result of childhood abuse or other trauma.

A person who displays neediness in a romantic relationship may have an anxious-preoccupied style, or perhaps even a fearful-avoidant one. Perhaps due to the type of care they received in childhood, they may feel insecurely attached to romantic partners as adults, which could manifest as constant approval-seeking, jealousy, etc.

Codependency

“Codependent” describes a type of unhealthy relationship dynamic where one person routinely prioritizes their partner over themselves because they’re dependent on them to meet all of their emotional needs. It’s especially common in situations where the partner whose needs are prioritized has substance abuse problems.

Codependency can look like:

  • Difficulty standing up for oneself
  • People pleasing
  • Needing frequent reassurance
  • Making excuses for one’s partner
  • Idolizing one’s partner
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs

Since the “giver” in a codependent relationship is typically dependent on their partner to meet all their emotional and psychological needs, they can feel vulnerable and insecure in the relationship. This can lead to needy behaviors, some of which are included in the list above.

Addressing Neediness

There are a number of steps you may be able to take to build your self-confidence and independence to reduce neediness and its potential negative effects on your relationship.

Build And Nurture Strong Friendships

Some people in relationships—especially those who may be characterized as “needy”—might spend most or all of their time with their partner. Building strong friendships outside of your romantic relationship can help reduce this time spent and thus the dependence felt. Research shows that positive social connections can improve self-esteem and life satisfaction. Plus, a healthy social life can allow you to get some of your needs met by other people instead of only relying on your partner for them all. Joining a gym or a sports league, picking up a hobby, starting a book club, or volunteering are all ways you may be able to build new social connections.

Take New Relationships Slow

If you’ve noticed needy behavior in yourself in the past, taking new relationships slowly might help you manage it. Maintaining your own independence by not spending every minute with someone you like right away may help you avoid becoming attached too quickly. You’ll have more time to decide if this person is a good match and worth an emotional investment. Otherwise, you risk getting deeply involved right away and later realizing they can’t meet your emotional needs, potentially leading to your own neediness and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Build Self-Esteem

Developing a mindfulness practice is one way to do this, since research has found that it’s correlated with higher self-esteem. Mindfulness may also help you notice and shift negative self-talk, which can impact your view of yourself. Finding methods of self-care that work for you can help as well, which can look like taking time for yourself when you need it, prioritizing rest, and setting boundaries. Learning to put yourself first in healthy ways can help you see just how many of your own needs you’re capable of meeting so you can have a more realistic view of what a partner may provide to you.

Connect With A Therapist

A mental health professional can help you figure out the root of needy tendencies, whether it’s an insecure attachment style, past trauma, unrealistic relationship expectations, or simply a mismatch with your partner. If a mental health disorder like depression or anxiety is contributing to your feelings of neediness, they can also help you address that and manage your symptoms. Regardless of your situation, a therapist may be able to help you sort out your emotions and develop healthier relationship behaviors and patterns. Since therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and others, it can be a powerful tool in handling neediness in a relationship.

Some people find the accessibility of online therapy to be a good fit for their lifestyle. Research shows that virtual therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions and may even feel more personal, which can make the process more comfortable and effective for you. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can match you with a licensed mental health professional who can help you address the concerns or challenges you may be facing in your relationship.

Takeaway

We all have emotional needs, many of which a romantic partner can meet. However, depending on one person too heavily can result in neediness, which may negatively impact the relationship between you. Taking steps to increase your independence and self-esteem or uncover other roots of needy tendencies can help you overcome them and create healthier dynamics in your relationships.

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