What Tough Love (Actually) Is and When to Provide It
What do you do when you've tried everything to help someone?
And nothing is working?
But you love the person too much to give up on them?
Good news: you don't have to give up.
Not-so-good news: You probably have to provide some tough love.
There are are three steps in the process you must move through.
What is Tough Love? - Key Principles
Let me be up front about this.
I'm attempting to define the impossible here.
Tough love for you may not be tough love for me.
And there are all kinds of areas of your life in which you can impose tough love.
From families parenting teens to a romantic relationship that's existed for 20+ years, there is no ONE place or time that is the only place or time for tough love.
Still, we can agree on some tough-love principles:
- The Definition from the Google Machine: Noun - Promotion of a person's welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions.
- The Situation / Circumstance: Something is going wrong. You've tried everything to stop another person's bad behavior, but nothing is working. If anything, the behavior is worse than ever. It could be time to introduce some tough love.
- The Intended Outcome: Whenever it has gotten so bad that you'll try anything, what you're really looking for is the behavior to stop and reverse direction. You want the other person to take responsibility for their behavior and then change their ways. You want a restoration of good that used to be.
A Meditation On Providing the Toughest Love
First, you have to confront a tough truth.
You have to accept that you may never change the other person, and this is an astonishingly difficult place to get to.
Tough love is tough for a reason.
It's the acknowledgment that what you are doing is not currently working--and that what the other person is doing is not acceptable for the relationship to last.
It's a breaking point, but it's also a jumping-off point.
It's desperation, but it's also hope.
Because tough love isn't about being a jerk.
It's not about cutting another person out of your life for no reason.
It's acknowledging the good and the bad to make the relationship whole again.
If you're considering using tough love on someone else, you've probably been part of a one-sided relationship for a long time.
Tough Love is An Effort to Restore the Balance
Here are some words of mental health wisdom to keep in mind as you embark on a multi-stage journey that no one wants to take:
The Other Person is Still a Human Being
It may not seem like it right now. You could be so far gone with their bad behavior, that they seem more like a tentacle-laden monster from the deep.
But those are your emotions talking. You're too caught up in their bad behavior.
Every person, including you, has innate value just for being here. Don't lose sight of that right from the outset.
Tough Love is Not Vindictive
Tough love is not about getting back at someone for what they have done to you. It's not punishing them for all of their wrongs.
Being tough on someone you love is a journey seeking the intended outcome we discussed above. (Go scroll up and review it again now if need to.)
When you're tough on another person, you're setting boundaries. You're declaring what is--and is not--acceptable. For you. Nothing else.
To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you've had to make choices in your life. It's perfectly fine to communicate that to others. In fact, it's detrimental to your health NOT to communicate the bare minimum you need to feel sane and secure in your own life.
Finding Your "Bottom Line"
If you've ever watched the show Intervention, you might be familiar with the phrase The Bottom Line.
It's the level at which you will go no lower. It's letting the other person know what will happen if they do not get the help they need.
Often, the families in Intervention announce that they will no longer provide a place to live or will no longer monetarily or emotionally support the addiction.
Now, Intervention, is a show about drug / alcohol addiction, and I want to be clear that tough love does not only apply in those situations.
Tough love might be appropriate if you're dealing with someone's mental health condition as well. It's not just about addiction--it's about any behavior that is forcing you to enable another person.
The Task For You
- Establish your bottom line. Know the landscape of your life, and decide where you will go no lower.
- Take out a piece of paper. Write it down. Getting it out of your head will make it more real for you
- Then, write down all the ways your life and relationships have been damaged by the bad behavior in question.
- Finally, write down how your life would improve if you can get the bad behavior out of your life.
Because that's what it is. Bad behavior. From another human being.
Once you get the facts on paper, it will soon become apparent what you need to do.
It all starts with awareness, with the acknowledgement that something is not working for you.
Tough love starts with compassion, and it seeks compassion.
The part in the middle is the hard part.
But if you don't do it, you'll never give the other person the opportunity to change.
You're part of this dance.
It might be time to start learning a new one.