What is Tough Love in a Relationship?
Why does love have to hurt sometimes?
I've recently found out that "tough love" has got to be the toughest kind of love there is. Tough because it flies against our whole idea of love - being kind, considerate and working together in a joint relationship. Tough love is tough because well....it's just plain "tough" - on BOTH parties. It's respecting yourself enough to make difficult decisions with people you love and loving them enough to know that it's needed to promote a healthier relationship.
I am recently in the process of learning what "tough love" is really all about. Although no one has ever had to use it with me, I am in the ugly place of having to use it right now with someone I love very much. They don't understand my sudden change of heart and they are floundering wondering why I am acting the way I am. It kills me to have to be some one that I'm normally not ( I normally try to be as kind, considerate and caring as possible) Instead I am having to do what I consider "cruel" things in order for this person to see how hurtful their actions have been. Hopefully my initiating "tough love" will cause this person to change directions in their life - to a healthier place for themselves. Once they are healthy perhaps our relationship can heal too...
Wikipedia's defintion of Tough Love
So what does "tough love" really mean? What does it entail? Wikipedia describes tough love like this:
"Tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.
In most uses, there must be some actual love or feeling of affection behind the harsh or stern treatment to be defined as tough love. For example, genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation would be said to be practicing tough love. A coach who trains his players hard and is strict, but likes his players could also be said to be practicing tough love. One of the most common forms of tough love is corporeal punishment, such as spanking, by parents."
Another description I've heard for tough love "is being cruel to be kind", which I can relate to. I feel like I'm being "cruel" but I know that my reasons behind it are because I love the other person. So I'm not being cruel because I enjoy it or want to be, I am being "cruel" with that persons best interests at heart. I think doing tough love may be even harder on the person who is "administering" it.
The real world has consequences
Although I learned about tough love many years ago - I have never had to go down the tough love road until now. And when I say a road that is exactly what it has been, and is, for me. I realized today that had I had made an attempt to do this much earlier in this persons life that I would not be where I am today - and that person would probably be in a much better place themselves. So, by "protecting,rescuing and enabling" that other person I have, in a sense, crippled them. I realize this now and I realize that I have crippled myself too. Sometimes we think that by helping someone over and over that we are "saving" them but all we are doing is prolonging that person and ourselves from growing and becoming healthier and productive human beings. We are actually damaging that other person by not having them own up to their own decisions - or lack of them . We are prolonging our own growth by keeping that person in an infantile state, and not allowing them to grow through natural consequences, which is what the real world gives us daily, right?
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More on tough love
Sometimes we hurt someone by "helping" them
Some people think that tough love is the kind that you only use with your kids. This is wrong. It could be something that needs to happen in many types of relationships and for many different reasons. Maybe the other person mistreats you and you need to set healthy boundaries with them by using "tough love". Maybe the other person refuses to get a job and you are shouldering the responsibility of a household. Maybe that person needs to get some real consequences of not having a roof over their head. Maybe someone you love is abusing drugs and you are involved in an unhealthy relationship with them. Perhaps their drug use has caused you to lose your home, your dreams - your own identity as a person. Maybe you need to do some tough love with a close friend whom you care about but is continually bringing you down and sucking you into their problems....the reasons could be many. Whatever the cause, or who the person it involves, it's hard. It's hard to be "cruel" to someone you love and care about. But what's more cruel? To prolong the suffering or confront it head on? Sometimes we feel so weak that we just don't feel like fighting against the wrongs people do to us - we just feel so worn down that we just stay quiet and let them walk on us and use us as doormats. But really is that how we want to live? To be a doormat to someone else's bad behavior or bad decisions? I would rather be the door itself which can open and please as I want! I would rather make my own decisions about what makes me feel good or makes me feel bad. Put a lock on my door to those who hurt me and only open it when I feel safe!
If you are struggling with someone that you need to do some "tough love" intervention with, don't despair because there are many people who are in the same boat you are in - including me! One of the things that has helped me the most is being in a free program called Celebrate Recovery, which has helped me to grow as a person. This support group is also helping me learn how to establish healthy boundaries with people (link below)
Please feel free to make a comment here or check out some of the links I have provided as resources to help you in your situation. And good luck - life is too short to be a doormat! Tough love can be the best love in time - that I have faith in!
(Dorsi Diaz is a freelance writer/publisher who writes thought provoking stories about life, relationships and issues of the day)
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