Neediness vs. Valid Relationship Needs: How to Navigate Both

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By Grace Wood, MA

 Few of us want to be labeled the “needy” one in a relationship. We like to seem independent and in control, rather than insecure or clingy. Neediness in our romantic relationships hints at an insatiable desire to be affirmed, validated, sought out, and attended to. We tend to think of a needy partner as someone who strains and emotionally exhausts their partner. Not the most attractive qualities.

Yet, sometimes our desire to not be considered needy interrupts the more healthy, necessary, and appropriate process of sharing our relationship needs with our partners.

How do we know where normal relationship needs end and clingy behavior begins?

Consider the following tips to understand the difference:

1. Recognize that Your Relationship Requires Interdependence

The truth is, giving and receiving time, love, attention, and affection in a fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationship means embracing interdependence. Humans have many needs--food, water, shelter, and human connection, just to name a few. We do need each other, and that can be frightening. When we feel vulnerable and insecure, we often overcompensate. We tend to go hard in the opposite direction to appear independent and strong, thereby missing the joy of relating to each other openly.

Recognizing our interdependence is beneficial. We are hard-wired for this type of connection. It isn’t needy to want to take care of ourselves and be safely taken care of, too.  Neediness is an issue only when we try to make our desire to be taken care of our partner’s primary or sole focus.

2. Willingly Examine Your Relationship Expectations

It is important that you and your partner do some internal soul-searching and thorough communicating as it pertains to your relationship expectations. Be willing to tell yourselves the truth without demanding that either of you force the other to be something you aren’t.

Many times, a good connection devolves into disappointment, neediness, and breakdown due to unrealistic assumptions about how partners should behave to make the relationship work.

It’s important to understand that expecting your partner to consider and respect you is valid. But to expect that making sure you’re always okay is unrealistic and draining.

In addition, be sure you’ve chosen a partner who can meet your needs. You must both be ready and present to love well. A partner you know is emotionally unavailable, has a history of unfaithfulness, or is generally nonchalant regarding intimacy, may create a relationship environment that is incompatible with your needs. Don’t pretend you can talk, beg, or cajole them into being who you need them to be. That’s neediness too. It won’t work and does a number on your self-respect.

3. Master Self-Awareness and Open Communication

To get our needs met in a healthy relationship requires self-awareness and effective communication.

First, knowing and taking responsibility for yourself is a vital part of eradicating neediness. No one person is responsible for your happiness. You have the power to seek it and, ultimately, share it with someone else. Understanding this makes you much more self-assured, emotionally stable, and capable of developing lasting love. If you need assistance determining your own goals or struggle with self-esteem issues, talk to trusted family members and friends, or reach out for the professional help of a counselor.  You can then improve self-awareness and solidify your understanding of what you bring to a relationship. The ensuing confidence may be a game-changer.

Second, knowing how to communicate love and respect, prioritize your relationship despite conflict, and assert your needs without coercion or manipulation, are vital relationship skills. In truth, most of us need help with them. 

To avoid neediness or codependence, it helps to have an objective third party, like a couples counselor, highlight and help us through our unproductive communication habits. Most of all, there is no shame or blame in recognizing a tendency toward neediness in your relationship and addressing it. This can help preserve what’s working in your relationship and provide tools for making healthy changes in areas of your relationship that are challenging.

Are You Ready to Resolve Neediness?

Finally, understand that neediness is not the worst thing that can happen to your relationship. You can turn things around with support. It will take effort to work through how neediness plays a part in your connection or how the fear of neediness may be creating too much distance between you and your partner. 

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace can help you talk about needs with your partner in an effective and productive way, and can work with you to implement healthier communicative habits in all areas of your relationship. To schedule an appointment, call Grace at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.