“You Didn’t Make Me Happy!”

An interview with psychologist Marina Filonik about co-dependence, attachment and freedom

Marina Filonik (Moscow) is a psychologist, psychotherapist, educator, and supervisor and co-founder of the Association for Understanding Psychology. She works as a lecturer at the Russian Predanie.ru website and manages the Psychology for the Church educational project. She has written a number of scientific and popular science articles. We talked with Marina Filonik about handling emotional codependence, infantile helplessness, and pain and resentment caused by unsatisfied needs in relationships between men and women.


Who’s to blame for my feeling down?

People in relationships are most likely to experience tensions and problems if they have urgent needs that are not being satisfied. What would you recommend to resolve this problem?

—There’s one universal solution: You have to become more aware of your needs and coordinate them better. Imagine that paradise is a huge dish heaped with food. The dish is surrounded by people with spoons so long that they can’t use them to put anything in their mouths. The only way to enjoy the food is to use your spoon to feed others.

Do you mean that people have to share?

—I prefer the term “feeding”, because it implies that you don’t take anything away from yourself.

Does it mean that you’re giving away something that is not yours?

—Yes, you’re “feeding” other people because they cannot feed themselves, not because you’re taking something away from yourself. This concept of “feeding” each other is very important for couples, because people always need many things, and that is why they form close relationships. Everybody has many wants and unfulfilled needs.

When you say “You didn’t make me happy!”, you’re simply shifting the responsibility to your partner.

So, having a healthy, less co-dependent relationship requires “feeding” your own needs and taking care of yourself. However, we cannot fully satisfy all our wants and overcome our hunger for them, so we need a partner. As such, being aware of your wants and needs is paramount, because you cannot move on unless you are aware of them.

I had to listen to many tragic stories about family quarrels. Often a spouse would tell his or her partner, “You didn’t make me happy!” When you say this, you’re simply shifting the responsibility to your partner, just like when an infant who cries because he hasn’t been fed. This behavior is justifiable for an infant, but if you’re thirty, forty or fifty and you’re still complaining that you’re hungry because your mother hasn’t “fed” you, you’re being unreasonable. It is infantile in a way, because you’re blaming the world for your problems.

Do you mean that adults can control their lives and change some things?

—Before changing anything, you must understand what you need. What does “You didn’t make me happy” mean? You need to specify what you need and what is missing. Emotionally dependent people often don’t clearly understand their own wants, needs and feelings, and therefore cannot say what they want. Instead, they say that everything is wrong, that they are feeling down, etc. What does “feeling down” really mean? Does it mean that you’re feeling down and, just like an infant, you’re waiting for someone to come and fix everything?

First, you need to understand your needs. Second, you need to learn how to ask for the things you need. This simple solution can resolve the majority of problems and conflicts. However, it only seems simple—because it is quite difficult to understand your needs if you have never had such a skill and never set this as your internal goal!

It is tricky. A woman may think that she wants her husband to come home early, wash his own socks, and do some chores around the house, so she nags him about it. However, there is usually a deeper need behind all those requests that the woman doesn’t understand.

Often when we work with a couple, we quickly determine that the discontent is actually caused by the fact that one spouse doesn’t appreciate, love, listen to, or understand the other.

What can make a person feel that he or she is important, appreciated and loved? [Gary Chapman’s.—Trans.] five love languages come to mind. For one person, it will be washed socks, for another, quality time together, kind words, or physical touch. By the way, touching is very important. It shows, through body language, how your partner feels about you. For infants, it is the only available “language”.

So the first step is to understand what is wrong with you.

It is important to understand what you need, especially if you think that you’re unworthy or unneeded.

—You need to understand what you need, especially if you think that you’re unworthy, unneeded, or rejected, and it seems to you that your significant other is against you, doesn’t appreciate or love you, or something like that.

I like the phrase, “double-checking your feelings with your partner”. It is a very important reality check. A trauma, neurosis or past experience may be telling you something, but you need to double-check it. And if to confirm your feelings you need to look the person in the eye, then do so; if you need tactile contact, then double-check it by touching, hugging or holding hands. Tell your partner, “Right now it seems to me that you don’t need me, but tell me what is really going on.”

It never happens that one person in a couple is always self-sufficient while the other one is always needy. That is why we need each other. It is wonderful, for today you’ll support your partner, tomorrow your partner will support you. The important thing is that partners can acknowledge and share their wishes, needs and emotional experiences.

Living without attachment is impossible

There are notions of “dependency” and “attachment”. The former has a negative connotation, while the latter is positive. How would you describe the difference between the two? Considering that attachment can quickly turn into dependency, can a person live without attachment?

—Living without attachment is impossible. Lack of attachment is a big problem. This problem is sometimes found in children from orphanages, and it is the reason why some of them are unmanageable. I’m not an expert on foster children, but I can say that failure to from attachments is a serious issue.

Does it mean that meeting a person who cannot form an attachment is worse than meeting a needy one?

—It’s hard to say which is worse. Both cases are unhealthy. When the ability to form attachments is not fully developed, it is difficult for the person himself and for the people around him. In this case, people feel that this person doesn’t value their relationship or care about who he or she is with or when it happens… Children like that are unmanageable, because it doesn’t matter for them whether they are with their mother or some other woman. This happens because such children never had mothers in their lives and are used to having a different nanny every day. As a result, no attachment mechanism has developed, and it is a tragedy.

For me, the word “attachment” is associated with Bowlby’s classical theory of attachment that emphasizes the importance of how it was formed in infancy. This British psychoanalyst identifies four types of attachment: secure, avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, and disorganized. According to his theory, the type of relationship that mother and child had at the early stage (up to 3 years after childbirth) influences the emotionally significant close relationships that this child will have in the future. This is mostly true for romantic partners, and is observed less frequently with close friends. But in romantic relationships, the similarities are undeniable.

Bowlby’s colleagues in the second half of the twentieth century made beautiful black-and-white films showing how a child behaves when his mother doesn’t give him what he needs. You can see the child’s non-verbal reactions and facial expressions when he demands, loses hope, gets angry, cries, etc.

The type of attachment formed in childhood determines how this person will behave during a conflict with his or her romantic partner.

Then the film shows a counselling session with a married couple… You can see that they are saying something, but if you disregard the sound, you’ll notice that their facial expressions are the same as those of the child we saw earlier. The type of attachment formed in childhood determines how this person will behave in a conflict with his or her romantic partner.

What is a conflict with your romantic partner? It’s a threat to attachment, a threat to emotional connection.

Do you mean that this is a threat that this connection could be broken?

—Yes. Or that something is wrong with this connection—one person in a couple might think, “You don’t love, accept or appreciate me and you don’t satisfy my needs sufficiently…”

Reaching an agreement

What should people do if their needs don’t match in terms of, for example, the amount of communication?

—This happens a lot, unfortunately. For example, one person in a couple is an introverted schizoid1 (not to be confused with schizophrenic!) who needs a lot of space to be able to spend some time alone and do something creative. Such people want to have their own territory, a room that nobody can enter without knocking. This is the way these people are, and it is their character type. Meanwhile, the other person is an extrovert who always needs extensive communication. Such a person feels suffocated when there’s no one around. It is a difficult combination for a couple, but it doesn’t mean that such people can’t be together.

They need to reach agreements and meet each other halfway in some situations. The person who wants to spend a lot of time in solitude should understand that the other person is different and really needs communication, so the former should spend more time with the latter than the former would normally prefer. Similarly, extroverts should understand that their introverted partners are not avoiding, leaving, or abandoning them—they simply need solitude. Close relationships mean that we meet each other halfway, even if we don’t really want to.

I had a counselling session with a woman whose husband needed a lot of personal space, which he kept closed to everybody, because communication with others was very difficult for him. This session turned into a lecture on personality types, in which I explained to her that her husband’s personality was probably schizoid. When she understood it, she felt less hurt by his behavior. We see a similar effect in our students who attend our courses on the Psychology for the Church project. After completing the course, many of them begin to understand, “Wow! My partner is simply different, and I’ve been trying for so many years to make him understand me, and I demanded things from him that he was unable to give to me…”

We are egocentric and think that our partners are just like us

The thing is, we are egocentric and think that our partners are just like us. If you want to hug your partner 24/7 and he wants to spend 23 hours alone and hug you for one hour only, that can make you think that he’s rejecting you.

But it is incredibly difficult to understand and accept such a difference!

—Simple education (like reading books about different character types) can help. If your partner can’t live without a lot of personal space and time alone, this doesn’t mean that he or she is doing this to spite you. Experience shows that as soon as you give such a person some space, that person comes around and willingly gives something back. However, this happens only when you let it go. If you keep on demanding and forcing things, your partner’s natural reaction would be to dig in his or her heals.

That is why it is crucial for partners to understand each other, acknowledge the fact that they are different, and agree on mutual “spoon feeding” and meeting each other halfway. Every day is different; for example, today you can keep your distance, but tomorrow you might urgently need your partner’s support, so you burst into his room and say, “Please spend some time with me now, because I really need it!” Respect for our differences is a crucial element of the culture of relationship that we sometimes lack.

Respect for our differences is a crucial element of the culture of relationship that we sometimes lack

You can let your partner know about your needs through direct communication or manipulation. There’s a big difference. Direct communication usually makes it easier for your partner to give you what you need. But if you demand, push it to the limit, take offence and criticize, your partner would naturally say, “I can’t do this for you and I don’t want to.”

A classic situation: “You came home late again. You’re always away!” Why does a woman say it? She says it because she is in pain. But she doesn’t say anything about her pain.

Here's another example. A wife says, “You don’t care about me! I’m always waiting for you to come and help me, spend some time with our kids and do some work around the kitchen.” It is unlikely that the husband would want to help her after hearing that. He would want to shut her out.

The same thing could be said in a different way. For example, “You know, I get so tired and I miss your affection and your being here for me. Every time you come home late, I feel afraid that I’m losing you and it seems to me that you don’t need me… I would really appreciate it, if you could spend some time with me when you’re home. At least 5 minutes! Hug me and ask me how I feel. I really need you.”

Do you hear the difference? The response will likely be different too. Your partner will feel true empathy and will be happy to give you what you need. Most likely, he would say, “Wow! I didn’t know that you felt so down and that my presence was so important for you! Of course, I’ll do it. If I come home late again and don’t have time to play with the kids, I will at least give you a hug.” It will be an important step toward mutual understanding.

Give freedom to your partner

Sometimes your partner doesn’t give you what you need and is always unwilling to satisfy your requests, even though you have openly told him or her about your needs, shared your pain caused by lack of satisfaction, asked for help many times and tried various approaches to explain your needs. Why does it happen? Why are such attempts (which seemingly do not involve manipulation or pressuring) so unsuccessful?

An important difference between a request and demand is that you are willing to give your partner the freedom NOT to satisfy your needs

—An important difference between a request and demand is that you are willing to give your partner the freedom NOT to satisfy your needs. It is paradoxical, but the more freedom you give, the higher the likelihood of your partner giving you what you need. The unwillingness to satisfy your requests is not coincidental. It is frequently caused by pressure and lack of freedom. You may be asking… but subconsciously you’re demanding it again and again.

I like Archimandrite Victor’s (Mamontov) words about Christian love and two degrees of freedom—this is the way God communicates with man. Are you willing to accept two degrees of freedom, knowing that you’re exposed and asking for help, and that your partner is free to either give you what you need or refuse to do so? Usually, (even though it sounds paradoxical) the more willing you are to accept the partner who doesn’t give you what you want, the higher is the likelihood of your partner giving you what you need.

Possibly, your partner’s resistance is caused by the fact that your request contains a demand. It is similar to a situation when a crying baby demands something because it needs it and cannot express its needs in any other way. The baby doesn’t ask its mother whether or not she can or wants to do it. The baby demands, and the mother provides—she feeds her baby, wakes up at night to calm it down, rocks the baby to sleep, etc. With our needs, deficiencies and requirements, we often behave like those crying babies: we can’t do anything ourselves, so we demand help.

You’re probably right. It is the same manipulation aimed at getting what you want at any cost. The asker says, “You can do what you want”, but actually means “Well, don’t you see how upset I am? If you don’t fulfil my request, it means that you’re a cruel monster!”

—Yes, it is a concealed demand. And demand implies lack of freedom, which makes your partner want to resist. This is one of the possible situations.

Another possible situation is when your partner either cannot or doesn’t want to give you what you need. Or, perhaps, he or she is not ready to do it yet. It is wonderful when the partners can tell each other what they need. However, sometimes you’re simply too tired to give your partner what he or she needs. You see that your partner needs you, but you’re exhausted and can’t do anything to help.

Helpless like a little baby

—If your partner cannot help you, but you can overcome your frustration and cope with it yourself, it is an indication of your maturity.

Could you please elaborate? It’s important because dependencies originate from the inability to withstand internal emotional stress. As a result, people try to release that tension by drinking alcohol, eating sweets or having affairs…

—Yes. If you’re so helpless that you can’t take care of yourself and are unable to calm down your “inner child” when it is crying, and if you’re feeling down… If you’ve lost interest in life, and if you’re bored when you’re by yourself, this means that you need somebody to fill your inner emptiness, “feed” you, satisfy your needs, and complete your deficiencies. In that sense, you’re helpless like a little baby.

If you can’t take care of yourself, this naturally paves the way to the development of severe dependence

If you can’t take care of yourself, this naturally paves the way to the development of severe dependence, for you always need your mother or your spouse, someone who can give you attention and satisfy your needs. This is the origin of all those songs—I’m dying without you, I can’t live without you. Why should you be dying without somebody? Why would you, perhaps unwillingly, hand over your life to some other person? Why should that other person control your ability to live your life? All of this is caused by your inability to cope with your own deficiencies.

Besides, this is shifting the responsibility for your life to somebody else…

—But this happens involuntarily, it is not an intentional decision or choice. A codependent relationship with an authority figure, for example a priest or a spiritual father, is quite common. People who provide services (e.g. volunteers, psychologists, nurses, etc.) may also feel certain that people need them and can’t survive without them.

Yes, I see something similar in other professionals too. Take my friend, for example. She is complaining that as a single mother of a teenager and supporting her elderly father, she practically has no “me time” or personal space, because her family members are always pestering her and burdening her with their needs. Despite her complaining, the woman doesn’t change anything and allows her family to continue behaving in an egotistical way. I think she doesn’t even realize that she likes feeling needed and that she would rather keep this situation than change the things that make her life more difficult.

—This is a typical situation. It happens to alcoholics’ wives too. They feel valuable when they’re dealing with a weak person who needs them. This also frequently happens with people who provide services.

But this is a normal need that everyone has—to feel needed! Serious spiritual crises are caused when people start feeling unwanted and thinking that nobody needs them.

—Yes, we all have needs. And there are direct paths to their implementation. If you want to be needed, then you can be—through self-actualization in creative work, motherhood, family or ministry—as long as you understand that this is how you self-actualize and help others. Perhaps you won’t be helping others as much as you’ll be implementing your need to feel needed. It is important to understand it clearly.

There may be a warped fulfilment of needs, when you don’t understand them clearly. (We don’t understand everything, and that is natural). When the need is fulfilled in a warped way, subtly and secretly, then dependencies and all sorts of manipulations are highly likely. You don’t recognize that you want to feel needed and are genuinely convinced that it is the others who need you and would die without you. So, you say, “No way! I don’t really need this. But I can’t help it, if these people need me!”

Quite often, this leads to exhaustion and burnout. You never say “no” and undertake to fulfil a heap of unnecessary chores, thereby unconsciously “feeding” your need to feel needed.

Letting go

Answering the question “Who’s to blame for my feeling down” is a tightrope balancing act between a rock and a hard place… Can this really be done?

You need to learn to understand what you want, what you need, and what you like and dislike

—It can be done, if you understand this concept and look for ways of self-actualization. You need to learn to understand what you want, what you need, and what you like and dislike. If you’re exhausted by doing something, stop doing it and see what happens, do some soul searching and try to understand yourself.

You need to consciously move to where you will feel better both physically and emotionally. We all have physical and emotional flags that tell us whether our needs are realized or not.

If you feel better emotionally and physically, it probably means that some of your important needs are being fulfilled. So you can analyze the situation and identify what needs are being fulfilled and when.

If you feel worse, if you’re going crazy, if you’re exhausted, but continue to needlessly hurt yourself, it means that you’re also fulfilling a certain need. For example:

“Why do you still live with the alcoholic who abuses you, why don’t you move out?”

“He will be lost without me.”

“Oh, I see.”

Two examples

1. You’re lying in a puddle and the rain is pouring over you. What’s the point of whining that it is wet and uncomfortable? Get up and find shelter!

2. Met. Anthony of Sourozh used to say, “If you are holding something that is precious and dear to you, you need to take a risk and let it go. Only then will you be able to take something new and different.”

—“Letting go” has a very deep meaning because in a way it means surrendering your control and giving up. For believers, it means surrendering to God’s will. It could be frightening, so people often prefer to hold on to all the bad, wrong and unhealthy qualities that they have, rather than let go and distance themselves from them. There’s also the inertia of habit, so changing such things takes time and effort. It is a tremendous undertaking.

I have a friend who is an experienced psychoanalyst with an excellent track record. He admitted that he hadn’t been able to overcome some of his internal problems for twenty years. Maybe we’ll never make any serious advancement in that area, but at least, as they say, we’ll be “looking in the right direction”. That is, if you understand some of your deficiencies and admit that you can’t do anything about them…

It is already an achievement?

The only thing I would recommend is to be mindful. Look for people that can give you what’s important for you.

—Yes! The only thing I would recommend is to be mindful. Look for the people that can give you what’s important for you. This is crucial, because emotionally co-dependent people tend to create environments that are based on unhealthy relationships.

As it goes in a popular song:

Here’s what’s happening to me:/

My old friend stopped visiting me/

Now all kinds of wrong people come and visit me about trifles…

Oh, there are so many nervous and troubled people/

There are so many unnecessary connections and friendships!

—Yes. People are afraid that if they start letting go and leaving unhealthy relationships, they will be left alone with no one around them. Surprisingly, once they begin to change, the environment around them begins to transform into something more mature and healthy. This is what you can and should be looking for.

Moreover, when people change, their relationships with those they had problems or conflicts with also begin to change. You shouldn’t change others, you should change yourself.

—Generally speaking, changing others is totally useless.

Oh God, why are we so different?

A wonderful article written by Sergey Averintsev, a Christian philosopher, professor, and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, comes to mind. The article was called Marriage and Family: Untimely Experience of the Christian Approach. In this article, the author ponders how different people are and how understanding this difference is a living hell for our selfish selves. Indeed, understanding that people are different is the hardest task given by God to every mortal. Through this we learn to understand the distinctiveness of the Creator Himself, since the Christian path to God goes through our neighbors. This vividly explains why such different men and women have difficulty living together.

—Communicating with someone who is not your clone is an important experience. We really want to be with someone who’s like us! That’s why we’re so happy when we meet a kindred spirit, a person who likes the same things that we do.

And has the same values… But hoping to meet a partner with whom you would never argue is unrealistic. The very fact that every person has a unique and multi-faceted personality makes us happy and unhappy at the same time. We are like crystals that have many facets and sharp edges. Sometimes these facets and edges match, and sometimes they painfully scratch each other, leaving behind deep wounds.

—Naturally, it is impossible to find a person who would be identical to you. So the question is: What differences are you prepared to accept? It is important not to take on more than you can handle and say, “I’ll be practicing my tolerance of other people’s differences, so I’ll have a close relationship with the person who is so different that he or she is like an alien to me. I am willing to suffer.”

Such actions can simply destroy the person who’d attempt them!

It is crucial to acknowledge that you simply cannot deal with people of the opposite personality type.

It is crucial to acknowledge that you simply cannot deal with people of the opposite personality type. For example, it is very hard for me to admit that there are people dealing with whom is extremely difficult for me. I simply can’t handle it, so I have to distance myself from them for the sake of self-preservation. I look for close relationships with people that I have more in common with. A priest once told me that humility means understanding your limitations and not biting off more that you can chew. It is better to admit that you can’t do it, and do what you can instead.

Elena Nasledysheva
spoke with Marina Filonik
Translation by Talyb Samedov



1 Schizoid is considered a personality disorder in American psychiatry (see https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23030-schizoid-personality-disorder#:~:text=Schizoid%20personality%20disorder%20is%20a,Request%20an%20Appointment). It is not clear from this article how this is viewed in Russian psychiatry.—OC.

See also
(VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage (VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage
Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov)
(VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage (VIDEO): The Secret to a Happy Marriage
Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Love is important, but it comes and goes...but what is at the core of a happy relationship is friendship, the insatiable interest in talking to the other person, discovering each other's depth. Oh, and of course, when the woman is the wise, invaluable helper of her husband.
Husbands, Love Your Wives Husbands, Love Your Wives
Archpriest Andrei Ovchinnikov
Husbands, Love Your Wives Husbands, Love Your Wives
Archpriest Andrei Ovchinnikov
We could talk about family life for a very long time, and such talks are necessary. Family should enter our consciousness as the greatest value, which we must preserve and protect with all our might; and our children and grandchildren should constantly hear about it. We should begin serious conversations on adult life with our children from the earliest years.
"Rocks in a Sack," "Fast-paced Construction," and "The Empty Nest Syndrome"
Fr. Pavel Gumerov on the Three Critical Periods in Family Life
"Rocks in a Sack," "Fast-paced Construction," and "The Empty Nest Syndrome"
Fr. Pavel Gumerov on the Three Critical Periods in Family Life
Irina Akhundova
I have witnessed the happy resolution of a very serious, pre-divorce, critical family situation more than once, and remarked that as a rule, when the spouses really succeed in getting out of this situation, they succeed in falling in love with each other again, they begin life all over again and forget all their resentments, they leave all their negative baggage behind, and they build their relationships anew, using the sad experience that they had.
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