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Life Coaching Corner: What is Tough Love?

*This article is a repost from February 2017, I decided to repost this article as I need a fresh reminder of tough love for battling my son's addiction, and you may need that reminder too.

Tough love is a term you may be familiar with if you have any experience with addiction recovery or with a rebellious child. Bill Milliken wrote a book in 1968 called Tough Love, and since then using the term tough love is applied when we need to be tough and loving at the same time. Learning to separate and detach emotionally from your loved one’s destructive behaviors is tough! As parents, we have an innate desire to protect our children, even if they are grown. The instinct to protect and defend our children never stops. To go against protecting and rescuing our loved ones, especially our children, can be emotionally disruptive to our mental well-being. Guilt and feeling overly responsible for our loved one’s poor choices can be crippling to our mental state unless we have gotten to the point of letting go and letting God.  

Should we continue to rescue, fix, and solve our loved one’s problems when there seems to be little to no change in their harmful behaviors? To do so may stunt their emotional and mental growth, as well as decrease their need to take responsibility for their actions. When we take responsibility for another’s actions repeatedly, we can cause them to never take full ownership of their lives, thus preventing them from becoming productive and responsible citizens.

Tough love is about letting your loved one fully feel the impact of their choices. Is this difficult to do? Yes, that is why it is called tough love. Tough love does not mean you become mean and uncaring but you have finally put the “brakes” on bad behavior so that your loved one may have an opportunity to get their lives in order. There is a time that we can intervene and help our loved one out of a situation, but only if it is for their betterment. If your loved one learns from their mistake, turns their life around and heads in the right direction-you can safely assume it was a good choice to intervene. If you intervene in your loved one’s life and they did not learn their lesson from the mistake they made, and repeated the same mistake; it’s safe to say it is time for tough love. Example: This time last year I intervened with a loved one after they received a second DUI (driving under the influence). I helped by driving this person to all of their probation meetings, and victim impact panel classes, helped get their driver’s license reinstated, and helped with obtaining the special car insurance (SR-22) that someone needs after receiving a DUI. However, this person did not learn from this and will be going to court soon for illegal possession of a narcotic. My instinct is to help, protect, and rescue but I have to override these emotions and realize I must show tough love.

My uncle was never shown tough love, he was coddled and rescued up until his

Setting Boundaries is good!

mother was placed in a nursing home and she could no longer care for him. He never learned to be responsible and to take ownership of his actions, and that is how he died. I often wonder how his life would have turned out if my grandmother said, “No,” to my uncle’s incessant need for money to pay for his drugs and gambling. Feeling sorry for someone, like my grandmother did for my uncle never helps! My grandmother always had an extra bedroom that my uncle could stay in any time that he wanted, and he did! I believe my uncle was crippled emotionally by my grandmother because of her need to take responsibility for his life, after all my grandmother would say,” he could not help the way he behaved after his wife left him and the drugs made him do the things he did!” My uncle passed away last week without a home, a job, or anything that could be left to his children and grandchildren. All the decades of fixing and enabling my uncle’s destructive behaviors did nothing but cause a harmful cycle to be repeated in his grown child.

Why is it wrong to have to take responsibility for your life instead of being a victim? A victim says, “It is someone else’s fault that I am the way that I am.” A victim never takes responsibility! Tough love says, “It’s good to take responsibility.”

Reflect and ponder: Have you had to show tough love to someone? Does showing tough love seem abnormal at times? Do you want to show tough love but believe God would not show tough love?

Life Coaching Corner:

Tough love should be implemented only when you have attempted repeatedly to bail, rescue, fix, or solve your loved one’s problems and they have not owned up to their mistakes or shown much or any responsibility for their actions. It is okay to “lend a hand” on occasion to help, but if the help becomes chronic it’s time for tough love. Tough love never equal meanness, cruelty, or harshness, but means boundaries that are put into place so that your loved one knows they can no longer cross or violate your emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual health. Tough love is one of the highest forms of love, because it says, “I love you so much that I am willing to suffer so that maybe one day you will be a responsible and productive citizen.” Tough love is the refusal to help someone when simply to do so would simply allow them to continue along a dangerous path. The person who is allowed to live off others will not truly seek to improve their situation. You help no one when you allow them to live off of you.

“Give a man a fish versus teach a man to fish.” Which would be better? Hand-outs or to teach someone how to “fish” for themselves? When you learn to “fish” for yourself you become responsible, independent, productive, and motivated to pass what you have learned to others.

How to show tough love:

1.      Have your loved one take full responsibility for their actions! No more money, no more fixing their problems, and no more coddling and feeling sorry.

2.      No more listening to excuses and blaming! Do not fall for the victim stories any longer. Learn to separate your heart from your head. A sob story can be used as manipulation.

3.      Pray and pray the Word of God over your loved one. Speak blessings over their lives.

4.      As you have been taking care of your loved ones' needs, and most likely neglected your own; start taking care of yourself. Nurture and foster healthy and supportive relationships. Join a support group


Love that does not include boundaries is not truly love, it is enmeshment. Enmeshment means being overly involved in another’s life to the point that no one is separate or has clear boundaries-everybody is in each other’s business. Rescuing another from their destructive behaviors is not loving, but it is enabling and codependent.



Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, those of you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back on the right path.

Galatians 6:1

Read the parable of the lost son- Luke 15:11-32.



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