Loving the Woman Who Needs More Than You Can Give

What do you do with a partner who seems too attached?

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Attachment Styles

As described in Your Attachment Style Influences the Success of Your Relationship by the Gottman Institute:

Characteristics of an Anxious-Attacher

You might be anxious if some of the following apply to you. Seen from an avoidant perspective, anxiously attached partners can seem clingy or overly dependent. They seem to need constant approval. From my experience, I found that Philippe would tell me he loved me, but the words somehow seemed to evaporate into thin air. Over time, this changed, but I realized, if your partner needs reassurance, find ways to bring it, but also find ways for your partner to remember it. This could mean writing a love letter or sending a video or text that your partner can refer back to.

The Intoxicating Anxious-Avoidant Dance

Before looking at how to be with an anxious partner, I would suggest that you look into why you are with someone who is anxious. The infamous push-pull of the anxious-avoidant dance can be intoxicating. The avoidant needs space, but the anxious partner needs connection. The anxious partner is devoted and doting while the avoidant maintains distance. The avoidant partner moves back in; the anxious partner feels an enormous rush of relief and security. The avoidant feels overwhelmed and moves away; the anxious person gets triggered and rushes to fill the gap.

Becoming Secure

Many of the suggestions I’ve read about or learned over time about working with someone who is anxious have to do with actually becoming secure. You could try and be accepting of your partner’s feelings, but if you are not right with your own feelings, this will be a huge challenge. You might want to be okay with your partner’s needs, but if you are avoidant, your own needs are scary. How can you accept someone else’s needs if you’ve already coded your needs as neediness? As I wrote in “Loving the Man Who Needs Space,” once my husband realized he was coding everyone’s needs as neediness, he had a major revelation. If you are coding your partner’s needs in the same way, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get to some sense of equanimity.

The Hard Work of Un-wiring the Anxious Mind and Habits

Debra Campbell, Ph.D., suggests you take calculated risks in “Our Attachment Styles Are Blueprinted In Childhood — Here’s How To Rewire Yours“. What is one way the anxious partner can step into more independence? What is one way she or he can learn to love their own company? Calculated risks are key. This means taking time apart in a way that doesn’t feel overly scary. Plan on spending time apart at a party or during a weekend. Limit the number of texts you will send with a game plan on when you will send the next text. Small steps can mean big successes. If someone is very anxious, these small steps can actually seem really big, so it’s important the more secure/more avoidant partner recognize this.

Self-Esteem

This is a slow process. What was knocked down or never built takes time to build. Nathaniel Branden wrote the definitive book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, which I highly recommend. In the article “What Self-Esteem Is and Is Not,” Branden writes:

The Five Love Languages

In “How to Date Someone with An Anxious Attachment Style,” the author lays out a number of different things you can do if you’re dating someone with this style. For a securely-attached person, these things will likely come easily. Being consistent, not leaving during a fight, etc. If you’re not secure, then I would suggest focusing on one thing — which has also been very helpful for me and my husband — find out your partner’s love language(s).

  • quality time — for example, giving someone your undivided attention
  • acts of service — for example, lending a helping hand
  • physical touch — for example, holding hands, massage, etc.
  • giving gifts — for example, flowers, trinkets, etc.

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