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My Spouse is Clingy, What Should I Do?

Is your partner constantly wanting to follow you everywhere? Are you always having to answer lots of questions? Is there a blowout or the silent treatment every time do something with your friends without your spouse? Does your spouse show little interest in friends or individual hobbies? Is your phone always blowing up? Is there panic when you don’t respond immediately? When you’re away, do you feel the need to constantly “check in” to avoid arguments later?

If you’re living these issues, you have to decide whether you’re comfortable with this behavior (and the fact that it may get worse) or if you’re going to address it.

As a divorce attorney, I’m in a position to regularly hear about how relationships can go wrong and the different issues that lead to breakups. And clingy, possessive, and jealous behaviors are some of the most difficult for people to manage.

Different people are comfortable with different levels of attachment. However, there’s clearly a point beyond which someone’s need for connection and contact is unhealthy.

Why does this happen and what can be done about it?

If your spouse opposes your independence, it’s likely because of how your spouse feels about himself (or herself). The incessant contact and the need to keep you nearby is for reassurance - typically that you’re not bolting for another relationship.

That insecurity may have resulted from the person’s trust being breached in the past or low self-esteem, or a combination of both. And this negative mindset has little to do with how intelligent, attractive, and/or successful the person is.

Possessive behaviors can escalate quickly. It’s easy to let it slide slide at first. The relationship is new. You don’t want to say or do anything to dim the flames of passion. Therefore, instead of addressing it, you may instead feed into it.

However, feeding into clingy behavior may increase the level of dependence, and further solidify the person’s expectation that you cannot have indepdendence.

If this behavior continues over time, it can become suffocating, or even dangerous: it can sometimes turn violent when serious issues arise.

Love is not something anyone should be out to “get.” It’s something you give. And if you’re genuine and care enough about another person and invest in the relationship, they will likely reciprocate. However, on the other hand, when someone is overly dependent on “receiving” the love, it’s less likely to happen.

Ironically, the more the couple as individuals can set each other free and can enjoy seeing the other grow as an independent person, the stronger the relationship.

If you’re caught in a possessive relationship, how do you tell your spouse there’s an issue?

First, if you breached the trust, but you care enough to fix the relationship, you have to take responsibility and commit to doing the work necessary to regain trust.

However, if the possessive behavior is linked to something that happened before your relationship, a different approach is required. What you should NOT do is start the conversation by blaming and accusing: that puts you on a path to argument and tension.

Instead, in a caring and supportive manner, you can tell your spouse how you feel about certain actions and behaviors. “Flo, I care very much about you and cherish our relationship. But when you do X, it makes me feel like Y. Can we talk about that?”

Why the name “Flo?” I don’t know, why not? It works for both male and female.

Anyway, back to the point. Using questions instead of statements is less likely to put your spouse on the defensive, and more likely to result in open discussion that can lead to the root of the problem. If it’s a significant issue that resulted in psychological trauma, the person may benefit from counseling to address it.

If the person fails to acknowledge and work on the issues leading to the behavior, it will be difficult to improve your relationship because the behavior may continue to cause discord and resentment.

The bottom line is that if “clingy” behavior is ignored or worse yet, enabled, it has the potential to spiral out of control into possessiveness, jealousy, and even violence. Life is too short to be spending your time walking on egg shells and feeding into neurosis. If you have a clingy spouse, have the difficult conversation sooner rather than later - because later may be too late.

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