The Cuckoo Syndrome, Part II: The Relationship Cuckoo

Updated: May 31

Exposing Unhealthy Relationships

In the previous post, we discussed The Cuckoo Syndrome and how it can show up in your “nest,” your life in two ways: The Relationship Cuckoo and The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo. Either way, the goal is to expose the deceptive, yet destructive way your cuckoos can subtly destroy your purpose leaving you with a lifetime of haunting confusion, lingering emptiness, and unnecessary suffering.

Here we will explore The Relationship Cuckoo which is a chronic neglect of self due to consistently taking care of someone else receiving little or no reciprocation. To find out if you are hosting The Relationship Cuckoo, take the quiz © which will provide detailed questions designed to help you understand your specific cuckoo relational dynamics.

Hosting The Relationship Cuckoo can feel like you are carrying the emotional weight of the relationship, giving more than you are capable of, and saying yes when you really mean no. Your relationship with this person is not mutually giving and loving – it is lopsided because you are the one doing all the work.

You continually feel hurt by this person and you dismiss your own needs, wants, and desires in order to take care of them. They are never fully satisfied and do not give back to you in the same way. You’ve adopted the role as pleaser, rescuer, fixer, caretaker, or always the on-call person. The Relationship Cuckoo can sound like this: “I’m always the one who”…For example, maybe you are the one who always does the carpool or schedules the Zoom calls or does the household chores or pays the bill or runs all the errands.

Another sign that you are in a cuckoo relationship is whenever you engage with this person by stating your boundaries, sharing your thoughts, or expressing your needs, you leave conversations feeling confused, manipulated, and pained – even a bit crazy. False accusations are thrown your way. My clients say to me, “Did I do something wrong? This must be my fault.” Self-doubt is a constant companion.

What is the cuckoo relationship in your life?

The Cuckoo Syndrome can show up in unhealthy relationships with a friend, spouse, mentor, pastor, counselor, sibling, parent, colleague, boss, or significant other. Take a moment and be honest with yourself about who your cuckoo is. Naming this person and facing the reality that you are hosting a cuckoo relationship is the first step in your healing process.

Our choices and associated behaviors offer some form of benefit, or we would not be operating in a relationship where we are absorbing the responsibility for another person or a group of people. If you are the pleaser, caretaker, peacemaker, rescuer, or fixer, ask yourself, “What am I getting from this role?” Perhaps you feel worthy, important, or needed.

Ask yourself, “What does this role allow me to avoid?” Perhaps you avoid painful emotions such as the guilt from saying no and not being there for someone. Or, you avoid the fear of disappointing people you care about, or you are avoiding your own difficult issues. Or, you are afraid of losing this person and being rejected or abandoned because you love them.

Here is the most important thing to remember about The Relationship Cuckoo: They are imposters packaged in a seemingly good, normal, or healthy relationship, disguising themselves as the real thing, and mimicking who they think you want them to be. Initially, they look like they belong in your life.

The cuckoo process is sneaky, subtle, and manipulative. The problem with a cuckoo relationship is that you have deceived yourself into thinking you must do all the work to keep the relationship going and that becomes your primary responsibility. Your time, emotional energy, and thought life are given away to nurturing a cuckoo that is now bringing you hurt and harm.

The Cuckoo Syndrome represents a counterfeit purpose because it thwarts your God-given purpose (your dreams, passions, and heart’s desires) because the cuckoo becomes your purpose.

The Relationship Cuckoo can feel like emotional insecurity. This can reveal itself in questions we regularly ponder such as: Am I too much? Am I not enough? Am I replaceable? Am I worthy of love?

There exists a pattern in your relationships where you put other people’s needs above your own and have trouble setting boundaries. You eventually find yourself depleted, joyless, and your sense of self slowly eroded. My clients say, “I don’t know who I am anymore. I feel as if I have lost myself.”

The Relationship Cuckoo is an unwelcome partner in life who continually takes pieces of your soul day after day. We all experience The Cuckoo Syndrome at some point in our life. It is important to understand the truth that you are not broken. You are suffering. With time, self-compassion, embracing the healing process, and a willingness to do the work, freedom awaits.

Over the coming months, we will continue to explore The Cuckoo Syndrome in detail by providing you with the necessary information to discover what makes you susceptible and vulnerable to being the target of cuckoos. You will learn how to navigate complicated relationships by learning practical tools integrating science, psychology, and scripture. You will begin the journey of reclaiming your God-given purpose and take back your eggs that have never been allowed to “hatch.”

In the next post, we will dive deeper into the self-inflicted cuckoo which represents our toxic thinking patterns and self-sabotaging behavior which contributes to our unhealthy relationships.

Most of us experience a combination of both types of cuckoos in our – The Self-inflicted Cuckoo and The Relationship Cuckoo.

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Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with well over a decade of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.

She is driven by a deep commitment to uncovering hidden psychological, relational, and spiritual truths that are keeping people stuck so they can be free.

Her book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, is a provocative approach to understanding the human heart and relationships by weaving together her story and those of her clients with science, scripture, and psychology.

Andrea is here to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. She believes healing happens through relationships. The wounds that occurred in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.
Find out more about her services and work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.


Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

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Are you or someone you know suffering from The Cuckoo Syndrome? Take the free quiz to help you identify whether you are hosting The Relationship Cuckoo, The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo, or The Combination Cuckoo.