Codependent behavior is often defined by insufficient boundaries set by one or both partners, suggests Darlene Lancer, a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 25 years of experience, in her Psych Central article “Help for Codependents Whose Relationships are Ending.” Clingy behavior can have serious emotional, mental and social effects on both partners. For example, during the relationship you might neglect outside friends and family members in order to focus exclusively on the relationship. This could make your girlfriend feel smothered by your clinginess, especially if you believe you can't function without her and bombard her with your concerns. To give your girlfriend some breathing room and come across as more independent, learn strategies to address the underlying problem of codependency: self-esteem.
Understand Your Clinginess
Understanding the difference between normal dependence and codependence can serve as the first step to correcting the problem. In a healthy relationship, two individuals with some sense of dependence resolve to care for and comfort each other. However, in a codependent relationship, one or both partners actually feel incomplete without the other, suggests Mark Banschick, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of "The Intelligent Divorce" book series, in his "Psychology Today" article "Overcoming Neediness." If you have trouble seeing yourself as a separate person from your girlfriend, in terms of feelings and goals, you are exhibiting codependent behavior. Your inability to separate yourself from your girlfriend could eventually make her feel emotionally and physically crowded, especially if she aims for independence.
Put the Spotlight on You
As with a drug addiction, one of your first steps should be to try to abstain from the person you are codependent on. However, you don’t have to achieve total abstinence, suggests Lancer. In fact, the goal here is to shift your thoughts and concerns to yourself, rather than constantly seeking to please your girlfriend. Explain to her your goal so she doesn't find your new behavior strange. If she was worried about your clingy behavior, this new attitude might come as a breath of fresh air for her.
Search for the Cause
It is important to uncover the past and present causes of your low self-esteem, the mindset that leads you to cling to or try to please another person in the first place, suggests Lancer. For example, perhaps your siblings received more attention when you were growing up, while you were largely left on your own or ignored. This kind of past event leads to negative self-talk. An example of negative self-talk is the belief that you will never be good enough.
A great deal of the recovery process involves learning to accept yourself, says Lancer. By accepting your flaws and shortcomings, such as your tendency for negative self-talk and codependency, you allow for the possibility of change. For example, once you acknowledge that many of your thoughts are self-deprecating, you can make efforts to be kinder and less critical of yourself, boosting your self-esteem.
Take Steps Toward Independence
With a boost in self-esteem, you are now free to take new actions. For example, if you don't agree with your girlfriend's plans for the evening, you can suggest that you each spend the evening with a different group of friends. Actions such as these allow you to take your happiness into your own hands, according to Lancer, and each time those actions pay off, your sense of self and self-esteem will rise. In addition, your girlfriend can enjoy the personal space that comes with your new independent actions. However, don't take things too far and forget to schedule regular date nights together.