Q&A: How do I stop being clingy when I'm away at the mine site?
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
I work on a fairly long FIFO roster. My girlfriend and I message most of the day and then talk for almost two hours every night. I feel like I'm becoming too clingy and needy because if there are times I don't hear from her I think there's something wrong. She has started to act distant over the past few days. How can I just chill out and give her time to herself?
Hi! Thanks for your email. I know it's very hard not to worry about your girlfriend when you're away, especially if she usually messages straight back ... and now isn't! Has anything else recently changed in her life, like a change in role at work, or perhaps she has exams or a stressful family situation? We're all pretty self-focussed as humans, and many of us tend to jump towards conclusions that there's something wrong with us when someone starts treating us differently. Sometimes this is true, but other times the other person has something else going on that has very little to do with us. Have a think about what has been going on for your girlfriend, and if you're not sure, ask her.
Of course it is possible that your girlfriend's 'distance' actually is a result of your 'clinginess' but it's definitely best to ask her about this rather than just assuming this is the problem, and going ahead and changing your behaviour.
If your girlfriend does let you know that you're being a bit full-on for her, try not to give yourself a hard time. I see many couples where one person wants more connection and closeness than the other – it doesn't need to be big deal, so long as both of you recognise it as a common difference in relationship behaviour, and not "your terrible problem" or "her terrible problem". It's something for you two to work out together, especially if you are going to continue to work FIFO.
When I'm working with couples like this, I would say something like: “So you two have different needs for closeness and connection – what sorts of things can you both do to make sure you both feel ok when one of you is working away?” Then we'd all work together to come up with a detailed plan of what is ok and what is not. For example, a two-hour phone call at the end of every day might be something that is too much for the person who likes slightly less connection. So we'd need to come up with a compromise that is ok with both of you, and we'd also try to understand what you need or want that length phone call for. For example, if you want to 'de-brief' about your day, we'd talk about you finding another way to do this rather than needing your girlfriend to listen for two hours each night (and vice versa, if she's needing a de-brief every day). If you're bored and looking to fill time, we'd need to come up with some other things you could do in the evenings. If you are looking for reassurance and words of love, we'd want to look at how else your girlfriend could help you feel loved and secure. You might find the book The Five Love Languages useful for this discussion with your girlfriend.
Also, on the text message issue, I think it's worthwhile considering the idea of limiting texts to a few a day, and having an agreement that you will each answer within an hour (or whatever is possible). Again, consider what you are looking for with such frequent texts and see if you can meet these needs in different ways. Text messages can be a great way to stay connected, but I also see A LOT of anxiety around them when, for example, the other person doesn’t reply quickly enough, or the text is written in a way that is misinterpreted.
Finally, it's worthwhile having a little think about whether or not this is usual for you – have you had girlfriends in the past who have accused you of being 'too clingy'? If you have, I think it would be useful for you to make a time to have a chat to a psychologist about why this might be so, and what you can do about it. Often 'clingy' behaviour in adult relationships comes from upsetting incidents in childhood or teenage years. Understanding this means you can do something about it and create happy and healthy relationships here and now. Three or four sessions now might save you from repeating unhealthy relationship patterns. You could start with your company's employee assistance program if you'd like to pursue this further, or use Google to find a psychologist near you. Of course, this is less likely to be necessary or helpful if this is the first time this issue has come up for you.
I hope this is helpful. All the best and please come back to me if you'd like any further information.
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.