The Wounded Bird Syndrome

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wounded bird syndromeThey say marriage is for better or for worse. Couples try to support and care for each other, through good times and bad. Usually, when one of us hits rock bottom, the other can try to be the mainstay for a little while, to help the other along. But what happens when our child dies? The couple is now cast into the same dark place, struggling with the worst thing they have ever faced. Couples are there together, but they may discover that they are also there alone.

Now not all couples in grief experience this dilemma. I believe that marriages with “wounded bird syndrome” suffer the most. What is the “wounded bird syndrome”?

Many times a nurturer will marry a wounded bird who is extremely dependent. They need their spouse to fulfill their every need. As a result, it puts a lot of pressure on the relationship. The person who is the nurturer feels as if the weight of the relationship is upon them and they feel smothered. The wounded bird is frustrated with the nurturer because they never can take care of every need that they have. What the wounded bird is trying to do is to have their needs met by someone who is not able to meet them.

A wounded bird in grief will seek someone to fulfill this unmet need.

I never knew what this meant until I got a text message one day from Cecile (names and events are changed to protect their identities). She asked “How can I tell Peter,my boyfriend to move on without being insensitive?” Then Cecile and I talked on the landline phone. She explained that her boyfriend lost his 5 year old daughter , Samantha in a car accident over 6 months ago. Not that I am nosy or anything like that, I asked if she was the mother of the girl.

“No. Peter and his wife were already separated a year before the accident” Cecile said.

Would it have been rude of me to ask: “Where’s the proof they are separated?” I just treated Cecile as a support system to Peter. For the next three months, Cecile and I were in contact. She wanted to comfort her boyfriend in his most difficult moment. Knowing how important support is, I gave tips on Handling the Bereaved. Then one day, a friend asked me to help a bereaved mother.

My friend said “Emma lost her 5 year old daughter to a car accident a few months ago. Can you talk to her? “.

DING-DONG. Something rang inside my mind.

I asked my friend “Is Samantha the name of her daughter who died on May 13, 2005?”

My friend affirmed.

What a small word our grief circle is!

The succeeding text messages infuriated me. I felt like a fool. I found out that Emma and Peter are very much married.

I immediately texted Cecile and confronted her about this revelation.

Cecile pleaded “Please don’t mention we talked”

I shouldn’t have given advice to Cecile in the first place. She used Peter’s grief to her advantage so they could get close and continue their trysts. Like a wounded bird, Cecile nurtured Peter with the grief support I provided. I was so mad.

I met up with Emma finally. I wanted to tell her about her husband’s girlfriend. A couple’s grief gets even more complicated with a third party. I waited for the right opportunity and allowed her to unload her thoughts and feelings. I found out that she knew about the existence of the girl even prior to Samantha’s death. As far as she knew, that relationship ended. I felt that I could not continue talking to Emma until I revealed the truth. I felt like a hypocrite if I withheld that tidbit.

I released the bombshell.

Emma’s face crumpled.

I wanted to cry when I saw her pained expression.

I thought she would kill me with this revelation but thank goodness she was full of gratitude.

I told her that she is not alone with the wounded bird syndrome. Another bereaved mother experienced the same situation with a “girl friend” of her spouse. What helped the couple was the knowledge that couples grieve differently. The Compassionate Friends, helped with this revelation. The spouse found comfort and strength in talking to other parents who have battled through similar difficulties and survived them. There is hope in Emma and Peter’s marriage. I introduced her to Angie, the bereaved mother who almost lost her spouse to a cunning girlfriend.

It is often said that a relationship is like a dance: we have to find a tempo that works for us both, but then each of has our own steps. Grieving will probably intensify our awareness of each other and our sense of ‘together yet alone’. The need to remember our child and to share memories will always be there. But our lives do continue, and the insights into our relationship that have been so painfully discovered as we grieve may enrich our partnership in the years ahead.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (1354 Posts)

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.


About Noemi Lardizabal-Dado

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.

  • Sam

    I agree with your decision to tell the wife.

  • that is why people should be made to realize that no one can complete them other than themselves. it is not healthy to cling to someone else for our dear lives. two incomplete people would just end up eating each other.

  • it’s hard enough dealing with something tragic in our lives it’s even harder when some outsider is trying to insinuate her life into the mix. you did the right thing hun. and i hope the couple work things out. they need each other more than ever. as for that other woman, she needs to fix herself first before she starts getting involve with the opposite sex coz one can’t be happy with someone else if they’re not happy with who they really are.

  • @Sam- At that time I thought it was not a good idea. But today when I see Emma, I am happy I told her.

    @little light- Some people are just much weaker and have failed to realize that only they have control over their happiness.

    @dexie- yes there is hope. That other woman is really bad. She has no conscience.

  • Kleenexlambot

    im not comfortable with you “breaking the bomb” on the wife. I know your intention is good but could you have handled it differently?

    i kinda relate it to my profession where i handle confidential/sensitive information provided by clients.

    its only my personal opinion.

  • @Kleenexlambot- I am not a professional therapist or anything like that. I’m a friend of her friend.

  • Karen

    Unless I read this wrong, the “girlfriend” really believed that the couple were already split up. In which case why is she taking the heat as if she “used his grief to get closer” and was some sort of homewrecker?

    Why is it that women are always so afraid to lose the cad of a spouse who can’t keep his pants on, that they blame the other woman instantly and totally. Even if she had known she would still only be 50% of the fault. The man is not a child who is incapable of knowing right from wrong. This is how men keep doing this….they know the “girlfiends” will take the fall and they will get away with it.

    I’ve already dealt with these kinds of “men” and I use the term loosely…both as the wife and as the hapless single girl not realizing her date isn’t single. Last one I dealt with, I contacted the other woman and told her everything….after I found out about her, which was after they broke up and I was still dating him. I may have “won”, but he was no prize worth having after I knew what he’d done. With both of us telling the truth together, this man’s reputation is in shambles. He lost both the women he was so dependant on, and now he can’t get arrested in this town, much less a decent date. If he ever does get a girlfriend again, he’ll think twice about trying for something on the side.

    Women should start working together, not blaming each other automatically. They aren’t “wounded birds”, they’re manipulative predators crying crocodile tears.