If your partner seems needy, there’s a major reason for it.
Loving someone with an ambivalent attachment style can be difficult, which is why you’ll need some solid relationship advice for how to handle it.
In any relationship, one partner may require more attention and be “needier” than the other partner is.
However, this neediness may actually stem from a deep-rooted pain and your partner’s inability to express their needs properly due to your differing attachment styles.
So what is attachment theory?
Attachment theory, which was pioneered by psychologist John Bowlby, suggests your attachment “style” shapes how you relate to people in adulthood.
But the roots of attachment, whether secure or insecure — like anxious attachment or ambivalent attachment — stem from your developmental years in childhood and how you were cared (or not cared for) in your family.
So if you perceive your partner as needy or overreacting, or you feel like your every action is under the microscope, it may have something to do with the way your partner was taught to respond to being hurt or upset.
You may feel your partner is hyper-critical of you or your relationship, but it is likely that their behavior stems from an ambivalent attachment adaptation that developed long before you ever met.
While attachment theory is not the only factor in how you develop relationships, it is part of how successfully you form intimate bonds with partners, friends, and even your children.
For those with an ambivalent attachment, your developmental years were riddled with unpredictability or a reward-based love system that suggested you must do and behave in a certain way to gain the love of your parents or caregivers.
Perceived “incorrect” behaviors likely resulted in your parents withholding love, getting angry, or simply disregarding you.
In other cases, your parents rewarded children with love only sporadically, leaving you longing for the security of unconditional love.
If your partner has an ambivalent attachment style, some signs they might exhibit in your relationship are:
- The need for constant reassurance (texts, calls, words of affection or approval)
- Insecurity about the relationship
- Fear-based threats about ending the relationship
- Inability to calm themselves down (self-regulate) without partner intervention
- Over-interpretation of small details
The good news is that just because you love someone with the ambivalent attachment doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed to fail.
When you understand that your partner is wired differently than you, it’s possible to relate to them in a way that’s not only perceived as supportive, but also provides healing and the stability they seek to feel comfortable in a relationship.
While everyone is different, relating to your ambivalent partner on a level that gives them security and comfort will not only make your day-to-day relationship more enjoyable, it can also help your beloved on the path to healing and moving toward secure attachment.
Here are 5 ways you can help your ambivalently attached partner feel secure in your relationship:
1. Reassure and connect with them
While it may not be your fault your partner is hard-wired for ambivalent attachment, you can recognize that it’s also not their choice or preference.
Reassuring your partner by “touching base” periodically can go a long way to preventing their thoughts from quickly turning from, “Why haven’t they called?” to, “They must not love me.”
A quick text (or series of texts) or a phone call throughout the day can go a long way.
If you are having an argument or disagreement, reassuring your partner that the conflict is not “the end” of your love or relationship can help them regulate and calm down more quickly.
2. Don’t leave them waiting for a reply
Even if your ambivalent partner knows they tend to overreact, leaving an unanswered text too long or showing up late to a date can lead your partner to feel a lack of respect or even that they are not a priority.
Be sure to communicate when plans change, especially since they will likely extend the same courtesy to you.
Since the ambivalently attached partner fears abandonment, being late or a no-show often triggers those fears.
3. Be consistent with them
Consistently showing love and affection supports your ambivalent partner’s need to feel heard, valued, and understood.
Showering your loved one with affection one week and failing to do so the next reinforces their fears since it mirrors their experience during crucial developmental phases of their early childhood.
Good love one day and absent love the next is a nightmare for those with ambivalent attachment styles.
What may seem like an insignificant gesture to you might mean the world to your partner, so make sure you’re giving them the reassurance they need.
4. Don’t suggest their needs aren’t “right”
Trying to make your partner feel crazy for their attachment injury only solidifies their feelings of unworthiness.
Partners with ambivalent attachment are thrown off balance when you use their most vulnerable hurts and traumas to further invalidate their needs.
Even if you didn’t create the attachment injury, as a loving partner, you have the honor to help someone you love to heal and re-wire their attachment system toward being more secure.
5. Understand it’s not up to you to “fix” them
You can’t “fix” your partner. Understanding your partner’s attachment or neediness issues through couples counseling, individual counseling, or even online resources is the first step to healing attachment wounds and developing a deeper intimacy with them.
Your partner’s needs stem from a time in their childhood when they needed care and didn’t receive it.
So it’s important to educate yourself so you don’t feel overwhelmed or “under the microscope” when something happens.
Diane Poole Heller, Ph. D. is a psychotherapist who helps individuals and couples understand and decode the attitudes and behaviors that were instilled in them from childhood so they can enjoy enduring love, intimacy, and happiness. Connect with her on her website to take a free attachment styles quiz, or pre-order her upcoming book, The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.