If you’ve ever thought of a partner as “needy,” in a way, you might be right—according to attachment theory, an anxious attachment can develop in adults who received inconsistent caregiving and did not have their needs met in childhood. Anxiously attached adults often seek approval, support, and reassurance from their partners. However, labeling a partner as “needy” without looking inward to identify your own attachment style, can be both unproductive and damaging to the relationship.
As sex therapist Vanessa Marin told Bustle, “People who are exhibiting clingy behaviors are really [acting out] of insecurity. They’ve probably had experiences in the past where people took advantage of them or broke their trust.”
Conversely, fully emotionally distant parenting could cause a person to develop an avoidant attachment style. Those with an avoidant attachment style will typically be dismissive and closed off when it comes to intimacy. This distinction is important, as it can lead to a “push/pull” in relationships that can be unhealthy for both partners. This means that one person will lean in and actively pursue having their needs met while the other repeatedly pulls away. Relationships with couples who have these two different attachment styles have been associated with elevated stress, depression, and a decline in marital satisfaction.
Sarah Trance, a relationship and sex therapist in New York City said, “Once you understand your own attachment style, consider discussing how that style impacts what closeness and connection means for you, and what fears or insecurities come up for you.”
Identifying our own attachment style with a mental health professional can be helpful in understanding how we engage in relationships. It’s easy to neatly label someone without thinking about how this might be a bigger reflection of you. However, by labeling someone as “needy,” you are eliminating any accountability of your own.
How to change your attachment style
Relationships require work and effort from both parties. No one is “stuck” in their attachment style, and putting in the effort with a therapist is the best way to change. Although our first experiences with caregivers can affect our lives as an adult, it is completely possible—with time and effort—to improve our relationships with others. In fact, there are many therapists who specialize in improving attachment styles. Attachment-based therapy is one modality that has shown to help develop a more secure attachment, so be sure to look for a therapist who uses this style of treatment.
“By looking at attachments in therapy,” London-based psychotherapist Rachel Buchan said, “you come to the realization that by examining your childhood and past experiences you begin to understand the coping strategies that you formed early on in your life and how they now impact your relationships, reactions, and how you feel about yourself in the present.”
Ultimately, everyone has different emotional needs in relationships. Trance added, “Try not to judge your partner(s) attachment style if it’s different from yours … We usually learn how to connect in an implicit way long before we get into a relationship with one another. Instead, seek to understand the differing styles so you can navigate the differences with confidence and clarity.”
Someone being “needy” is subjective. Everyone should advocate for what they want and need in a relationship. Calling a significant other needy can send the message that you aren’t interested in working together and ultimately shuts the other person down. Stable relationships that honor both parties’ needs can exist if each partner is willing to put in the work together and look inward.