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What is Tough Love in a Relationship?

Updated on January 22, 2014

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'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.[1][2] 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?

Poll on Tough Love

Have you ever had to use tough love with someone you love?

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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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  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for your wonderfully written hub and then you get these kind of messages. Is that all there is now?

  • Ralph Deeds profile image

    Ralph Deeds 7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Suggest a little tough love for prashant_2907.

  • dianacharles profile image

    dianacharles 7 years ago from India

    yeah.....I think he needs it. Great hub Dorsi.

  • The Good Cook profile image

    The Good Cook 7 years ago

    Oh, I can relate to this. Except for me it's more a case of knowing what I need to do but just not being quite ready to start. I think you're right, 'tough love' is toughest on the people who have to administer it. Good luck Dorsi :)

  • Madison22 profile image

    Madison 7 years ago from NYC

    Oh yes Dorsi, tough love is so hard to do and at certain times so nessecary. Not my favorite thing to do but I have had to in the past in order for others to move forward. Thank you for a great article.


  • ethel smith profile image

    Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

    Its that having to be cruel to be kind syndrome I guess. Its so hard though when you love someone

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Haze 7 years ago from Sunny Florida

    It is hard to use tough love with someone you care about. I agree, sometimes you have to be hard on someone to help them.

  • Debbie Gee profile image

    Debbie Gee 7 years ago from California

    GOod concept here. VOlunteer at a prison, and this is needed and taught there. GOod hub

  • A M Werner profile image

    Allen Werner 7 years ago from West Allis

    Great job Dorsi of touching on the various angles of tough love. Respect is a boundary our friends and family members should understand. When they don't, we sometimes have to temporarily change our interaction pattern with them so they choose to respect the boundary again without having to be reminded of it. I hope and pray the issue you are currently wrestling with is resolved quickly and painlessly. Peace.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 7 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    AM,Debbie,Koffee,ethel,Madison,cook,Ralph,Diana and helllo,hello) Thanks for coming by. All I can say at this point is that things are getting worse rather than better but I was told this morning that this is normal when you start setting healthy boundaries. I will keep you all updated and thanks for stopping by and reading...

  • heart4theword profile image

    heart4theword 6 years ago from hub

    I liked your analogy of being the door, rather than the door mat:) Setting healthy boundaries up front, can save a world of hurt! Excellent Hub:) Keep on writing!

  • Winsome profile image

    Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

    Hey Dorsi, thanks for sharing your journey. I think the hardest part must be seeing the end rather than the painful steps getting there. Hardest for them to see and painful for you to carry. Maybe bringing them a hot meal while they are "in jail" can let them know your heart is with them even if your will is a door. You have a lot of friends here. Keep us posted. =:)

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    heart4theword) Thanks! I would rather be the door!!

    Winsome) TY for your kind words of encouragement and I like the idea of the hot meal. Think I'll do that. Really, thanks!!

  • Ryan Clinton profile image

    Ryan Clinton 6 years ago from

    My thought is this - For better or for worse those that are capable of tough love are also those that truly care and truly suffer under administration of tough love. A burden but sometimes it has to be. Thanks

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Ryan) I like the way you said that. Thanks for coming by and reading!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I had to use tough love with my son and cried for a long time afterward - it was really hard. Anyways, it turned out better for him after it sunk in so things are turning around. Great hub.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    elayne001)Yes tough love can be so draining and sad. I'm glad to hear that things are working our for you. Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting.

  • bearclawmedia profile image

    bearclawmedia 6 years ago from Mining Planet Earth

    Controversial but poignant hub, I mostly agree with you. Some times though I feel we can cross to many boundaries with tough love and should adopt a live and let live approach. It is truly a difficult call and I thank you for bringing awareness to the topic.

  • lahoriamplifier profile image

    lahoriamplifier 6 years ago from Lahore

    Nice hub and good concept

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    bearclawmedia) Thanks for coming by. It's been a fine line loving and tough loving at the same time. For me it's more about developing healthy boundaries with this person. I have tended to be an "enabler" which has not been healthy for either of us. Thanks for reading!

    lahoriaamplfier) Thanks

  • Deborah Demander profile image

    Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

    Hey Dorsi, don't be too hard on yourself. Often, the person we have to use "tough love" with is angry, because they want to do the wrong things and they expect us to look the other way. It is not easy to do the right thing, but in the end, you will respect yourself. And, hopefully, the other person will too.


  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Thanks Deborah for coming by and giving me encouragement. And you are absolutely right - thanks for reminding me!

  • preston2farrell profile image

    preston2farrell 6 years ago from White Plains

    This is true that if you fall in real love with someone like knows you better than you..i am also fall in tough love with someone in my office, who is everything for me

    and i am proud to be fall in love. after reading your hub i got a valuable lesson and i want to thank you for this nice information god bless you...

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Preston) YW!

  • FirstStepsFitness profile image

    FirstStepsFitness 6 years ago

    Great Hub Dorsi :) Cruel to be kind comes to mind . It is tough to administer but I believe we choose to administer it only when needed , the outcome over time is usually much improved or distanced from you if it worsens .

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    FirstStepsFitness) I agree. Thanks for reading. It's a difficult topic.

  • profile image

    weezy 5 years ago

    Should "tough love" be used w/ a therapy patient that becomes violent? Such as terminating treatment? I care about this person but it's gotten to a point of, I believe, enabling.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 5 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @weezy) Gosh weezy I have never had a therapist ask me this. I would say that if you are here and asking this question that you already know the answer - that you are concerned enough to ask. Yes if they are becoming violent then I would take the steps to protect yourself - whatever those may be - up to and including terminating treatment. Best of luck.

  • profile image

    Emma 5 years ago

    Going through it myself and it is painfully hard..

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 5 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Emma) I am so sorry. It is very painful. Best of luck at this time and my thoughts are with you Emma! Come back anytime.

  • FirstStepsFitness profile image

    FirstStepsFitness 4 years ago

    Interesting , I have already commented two years ago . in fact . But just now have had to use this with my daughter who is a young adult .Consequences often times teach much more than parental advice can . She remains in a dangerous environment created by her choices . Rescuing her would save her from lessons she needs to learn . Pray for her :( Great Hub !

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 4 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @FirstSteps) Yes, I will pray for her. It's so hard to watch someone we love make bad choices. The only thing we can do is to pray for them, love them and have healthy boundaries with them. Consequences are sometimes the only teacher.

  • profile image

    pinapple123 3 years ago

    how about some compromise instead? However, if you are dealing with a violent person who slaps you every time he doesn't get his way.Keep him/her at a big distance. Other than that, I am all about compromise. Even with my kids.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 3 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @pinapple) I agree, compromise is always a good thing as long as it's mutual and not being done when there is any abuse.

  • profile image

    pinapple123 3 years ago

    That is exactly what I am saying. If you are being abused, stay away. If you are not being abused. Make a compromise.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 3 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    I agree pinapple123.

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