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When Love Hurts


This is a story of two little birds, both cockatiels.

It’s about a kind of love that is destructive. It’s about when love hurts.

It’s also about healing, growing, and changing.

Once there were  two cockatiels who came to a rescue from a hoarding situation. One was named Mama Bird, and one was named Pretty Boy. They were mother and son.

Pretty Boy was quite pretty. He was gorgeous gray, full feathered, and looked like a healthy cockatiel should.

Mama Bird was not pretty. She looked like a turkey vulture with a pink, bald head and long bald neck. She had one lone feather sticking out of her head and a bulging eye. The feathers on her face were plucked out, so her ear holes lay open and exposed.


Mama Bird was plucked bare, and it was Pretty Boy who had harmed her.

On occasion, birds that are in stressful situations will pluck themselves or their cage mates.  Although Mama Bird was strongly attached to Pretty Boy, the relationship caused permanent damage.

I was looking for a companion bird for my cockatiel, Sunshine. And so I was introduced to Mama Bird and Pretty Boy.

Although Mama was not pretty, when I held her and touched her bare wrinkly head, her eyes closed and she immediately calmed down.

When I said that she was sweet and ugly, my eight-year-old daughter chastised me. “She’s beautiful, mommy,” she lectured. “I love her.”

Mama Bird has now been renamed Stormy, which fits her looks and her history, but not her personality. She is gentle and sweet.

Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes love is damaging and obsessive and destructive.

Sometimes, those we love and are loved by wound us.

When I work with clients who are in abusive or destructive relationships, they will often tell me how their spouse or partner, parent or sibling, was a good person, that they didn’t mean to cause the harm they did.

I believe them.

You can be a good parent and inadvertently hurt your child. You can be a caring spouse but say things that are damaging.

It is okay to distance yourself from someone who is hurting you. The distance may be as simple as saying ‘no’ to a get together or more complicated, such as moving away from an abusive partner.

Giving yourself space doesn’t mean that the other person or people in the relationship are horrible. In its simplest term, it means that the combination of you and them is caustic.

Pretty Boy is a good bird. Stormy is a good bird. But, they are not good together, and Stormy suffered for it.

Now that they’re apart, both are thriving. Pretty Boy is in an aviary with plenty of space and lots of other birds. Stormy has bonded with Sunshine and is healing.

She will never look like a conventionally beautiful bird, but her life is happier now, and she has a new beginning.

Love is complicated, but it should never, ever hurt. If love causes damage, something is very wrong.

Abusive relationships don’t start off with fists and cruel words. They begin with control and with rules, expectations and raised voices.

Stormy’s abuse began as healthy grooming, and slowly became obsessive and damaging. It’s like the proverbial frog in boiling water. It stays in the pot because the water warmed so quickly it didn’t notice until it was nearly dead.

The task of identifying harmful relationships often falls on those of us on the outside who notice that things aren’t quite right.

It can be difficult to be the one who speaks up and identifies that a friend’s or relative’s partner is behaving in a harmful way, but it is necessary.

You may be the one whose voice is heard at the right time, who helps a friend or loved one gain a new beginning outside of a hurtful relationship.

Today, I wish for you the wisdom to identify when a relationship has gone astray, and the strength to take action when action is required. Your voice may just be the one that is heard clearly for the first time.


This post was published originally here.

When Love Hurts

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2018). When Love Hurts. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Jan 2018
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