Difficult or “high maintenance” people

by Rod Smith

(Published in The Mercury – 05/19/06)

Several years ago you wrote about “high maintenance” people and described my then-girlfriend to a T. Please publish it again. It was hard to believe a person who had never met my girlfriend at the time was able to describe her with such accuracy.

Comments come to me as Emails. I will make time if you want to talk.

Comments come to me as Emails. I will make time if you want to talk.

High maintenance people require constant attention and approval. They crave to be the center of almost every conversation and will often become symptomatic (moody, resentful, loud, threatening) when they are not. They analyze every move, thought, word and action of others, and then read more meaning into things (statements, looks, sighs, attitudes) than was ever intended. They are easily hurt, quickly offended, quick to rebuke when they do not get the kind of attention they think they deserve. Threats of withdrawal or desertion become a way of life.

High maintenance people are difficult, sometimes impossible, even in the most relaxed of circumstances. They pick fights, find fault, and personalize almost everything. They argue with people who are closest to them for no apparent reason. They often pick on strangers (waiters, helpers). They often live in a world of cut-off relationships where others are idiots and no one understands.

What can you do if you are in a relationship with a high maintenance person? You can do very little that will not hurt, offend, or get a reaction – but you must make a stand. High maintenance people seldom benefit from pity or patience or empathy. They will only benefit from being constantly challenged to grow up.

11 Comments to “Difficult or “high maintenance” people”

  1. I was in a relationship with a man who was high maitaince, he was extremely diffucult to talk to, he wanted costent attention. His parents did not listen to him and he had no friends,he used sex as a way to get affection , a very sad man indeed and i feel very relieved to nave severed contact with him. to make things worse he was traing to be a psycologist and he would give me advise and would not take any well meaning advise from me…he knew it all. these people are a danger to those around them and more to themselves but i learnt a lot about this type of person and to stay clear of this type

  2. Interesting,,, and of course it may well be your experience. But having been in a relationship which i,m glad now to be out of, i was accused of being “high maintenence”. Actually, i,m not, but lableing someone as high mantenence can often be an excuse for ones own failings in the areas of affection and just common “togetherness” which i think most people thrive on in a relationship thats going places. In my case that was always her excuse, “your so high maintenence”. The truth is, her husband had left her for lack of any affection toward him on her part, and her father had had many affairs because her mother found it just about impossible to show any affection toward him or anyone, including her own children. My then partner had also been in a mental institution before we met, mostly as a result of life long issues with very her low self esteeem. Its always easy to lable others, . maybe the first and only port of call is to look at oneself, as i have had too and ask. What does it say about me, to be involved with this person. Hope things are working out for you.

  3. I’m young. I’m 18 and my girlfriend is 16, but man is she high maintenence. She always finds something to be upset about, and I can do everything to make her happy and she’ll find something that I did wrong. I constantly struggle with guilt and feel like a bad boyfriend. I will say she is very spoiled. She is used to getting her way all the time. Once I refused to let her come over to my house because I needed some time to myself. She went crazy saying that she is always the one consolling and whenever it comes to her problems she never gets to talk about them. I always tell her I’m here to talk, but she always holds things in and I get yelled at because she didn’t want to talk about something. I’m just wondering if this has a good chance of becoming better. It has only gotten worse so far, it’s been 9 months. But is it all just the teenage emotions or does something need to be fixed?

  4. Hi Todd:

    Thanks for writing. I hope you see this. I will do a column in response to your question so it will be added to the top of the list of columns in a few days.

    I’d suggest that something does need to be fixed and here is the tough news: YOU are probably NOT going to be the one who helps her fix it.

    I’d suggest this relationship is not doing either of you much good and it might be time for you to allow her to secure the kind of help she really needs.

    Please write again and let me know you saw this reply.

    Rod Smith

  5. Dear Rod

    Hi Rod my name is Bridgit I am 26 years old and I am engaged to Craig who is 30 years old. I saw your letters in the newspapers and I just want to ask your advice. My boyfriend and I are having problems. Ok we met on the internet in 2004 round about August and we met for the first time in October 2004. We then started going out as friends and then he asked me out in December 2004. Then in December of 2006 he asked me to marry him and I said yes. Then he set the date for 8 December 2007 that was great with me. So then in April we moved in together and it was great. We then started making wedding plans and I went to buy my wedding Dress, Vail, Gloves, and other stuff for the wedding. Then the end of May he tells me he wants to put the wedding on hold cos we don’t have enough money saved and don’t have the money to get married now. I was so mad with him for doing that and just after I had bought my dress and things. Then the end of May he lost his Job and I have being supporting us since then and he still hasn’t found a job so now he wants to move home to his mom. He is going back to her at the end of the month, and she is going to support him until he can find a job, so he is going home now cos he can have it easy and doesn’t have to rush to find a job cos his mom is going to help him. The problem there is that he is not used to battling and I am, and he has always gotten anything he has wanted. Now I feel when he asked his mom if he could come home she should have said NO because he had moved out to start his life with me and he must try and make it work know by even doing watering or something, but she said he can come home and now he is not interested in finding a job. He went for an interview yesterday and he said if they don’t give him R10.000 or more he is not interested. He was working in IT and making R5.500per month and was not happy, but I am only making R3000per month and was looking after us both…. They offered him R4000+ petrol and he said no to the job. I just don’t know what to do anymore, he doesn’t seem interested in us anymore, the first thing was putting the wedding off, then him loosing his job, then him wanting to move home. Then another aspect of what bugs me is I am doing Au Pairing for a wonderful family looking after there 7 month old baby boy and there 3 ½ year old boys. Because of what I am earning he says I need to look for a better job so we can make it, but I really love my job and don’t want to leave. I also only went up to standard 8, and he know is putting pressure on me to get my standard 10 to try and better my self and to get a better job. The reason why I don’t really want to do that now is that I went to a special school cos I battle to read, so I don’t want to have that extra pressure of studying right now, I said to him I will do it when I am ready, and he keeps telling me I need to change and get better educated or it won’t work out between us, I really don’t thing he is being very nice to me in that way, look I know he wants to help me but he doesn’t realise how much stress it is for me. I really need advise. Everyone says I must leave him because he is not treating me right and doesn’t seem interested in going through with the wedding. Also when every I want to go and visit my family and want him to go with, he always tries to get out of going with or just tells me straight out he doesn’t want to go then I get cross and he changes his mind and I know he is just going with me now because I got cross, but when ever he wants to go somewhere I never give him stories I go with him even if I don’t want to go. I want to leave him in some of the things he has done and is doing at the moment and on the other hand I love him and don’t now what to do. So please can you give me some advice. Please can you e-mail me back my e-mail address is bridgitjuliette@gmail.com
    Thank you very much.
    Kind Regards
    Bridgit

  6. Hello. thanks for this info on high maintenance. hope it’s okay to cite you in my own blog.
    i’ve been quite upset the past year when a friend had stated they thought I was high maintenance, i didn’t understand what it meant. reading your article. i believe my friend had just said it because she felt bad… it’s sad for a friend to say taht someone’s something and label you when you are taht in the least… thanks for the clarification. i always believed people should understand what it is they are saying or labelling someone of thoroughly because a lot of times they themselves don’t understand what they say.

  7. I am looking into this high maintenance or attention seeking character, or can we say selfish. I believe that I am one of these types. Having looked back over the relationships that I have had, sexually and personally, especially with women. I have found that I crave attention and if I do not get it to my seeming satisfaction, I get resentful or hold a spot of being smugly superior to the people. Sometimes this is very subtle and others as in the case of my mother very evident. It can stem from a long term relationship to being turned down for a date or not having a call returned. In relationships I am jealous if I am not the center of activity of the person. I seem to be never satisfied or trusting. I seem to be always afraid I will not get the attention that I seem to crave. I fully agree with the need to grow up and not be so sensitive, so here’s the question. Coming to the realization is great and the awareness helps me to understand that this is harmful to the relationships I have probably more then I know, what actions can I take to help me become less needy of the affirmation of others, that doesn’t work anyhow? Thank you for your time in this matter. Jim

  8. I have heard a close friend use this term before “High Maintenance” – and I never fully understood what it meant and reading this article definitely helped me out. I recently moved back to my hometown where my best friend of 7 years resides. She was always so good at keeping in touch, but now she calls, texts and emails ALL the time and NAGS like no other, more like turning into her mother! Now that I no longer live on the other side of the world she wants to hang out almost every weekend. I have only been back for a couple of months, but every time we go out — somehow I just realized that I end up paying for mostly everything whether it’s after a “I’ll get you next time” or asking me to walk up with her to the bar and having her turn to me “Can you spot me? I don’t have cash” — This also goes along with her manipulating conversations to get her way and her tendencies to be anti social with people when we go out. We have so much history together and her and her family have helped me out so much a few years back that I very much appreciate, but it’s still pretty lame..
    So this description of a “High Maintenance friend” fits her perfectly and I’m glad that I’m not the only one who has one!

  9. In life ,If you want to enjoy it ,So know your own boundaries.How far you can live with this”high maintenance people”?if you need to live with,exactely face it .So look at his root,his background familial to understand him better,and to have compassion and be patient.Because if he always asks for love that means he doesn’t have to share .It seems like tremendous fear and deep seated anger is behind his behaviours.It is helpful also to focus on his strength .It might be a lot of exercices to do every day.But it is helpful if you have to bear him .
    Also If it is to much for you just let him know what you feel,fight if it is necessary .Of course you will be the first one who ask forgiveness because do not expect an adult childlike to be the first one to ask forgiveness.
    If it is too much ,stop to be codependent person .I mean don’t divorce but just getout of your marriage for few moment .So he CAN UNDERSTAND that his partner is not his mother then he or her needs to care of his/her self.AND MIGHT be looking for change.

  10. wow guess who meets these standards?

  11. This description fits me to a tee – and sometimes I realize how I’m acting, other times, I explode at someone else before I do. How do I tone it down? I don’t want to end up losing my friends because I am too high-strung.

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