What Is Tough Love in a Relationship: Understanding How and Why It Works

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Many people have seen tough love growing up. It is common for parents to ground their kids or limit their playing time after behaving poorly.

This approach is straightforward and mostly effective, especially in a parent-child relationship.

That said, it is a bit trickier when it comes to adults.

What is tough love in a relationship? What are the challenges that come with using it?

Before we try to answer these and other questions, let us first dive deeper into tough love.

What Is Tough Love in a Relationship?

To some people, especially those in a relationship, helping someone they love means giving them what they ask for.

That said, there are situations where giving in to your partner’s wants or even needs can end up hurting them.

Tough Love Addresses Harmful Behavior

Addiction to porn, alcohol misuse, and even infidelity are just some examples of self-destructive behaviors.

If your partner is in this situation, it is better to draw the line and say enough is enough.

The concept of tough love is based on this premise.

If being compassionate or kind fails, being firm might be the better course of action.

Tough Love Enhances Self-Confidence

A person who could not seem to overcome certain behaviors often feels helpless.

In reality, though, people can overcome these internal struggles without depending too much on others.

There are cases where help is needed, but people have to deal with the problem themselves in some situations.  

Tough love allows them to do this. People can draw strength from deep within, empowering them to conquer adversity.

Once they succeed, they would become more confident in facing future challenges.

Tough Love Leads To Self-Acceptance

During challenging times, giving your partner tough love signifies that you trust your partner to be strong enough. 

It builds their confidence, pushing them to view themselves in a better light.

They emerge as a better person, a version of themselves that they can fully accept.

Tough Love Is a Different Form of Compassion

Tough love can seem harsh at first glance, but it comes from a place of love.

When you stand your ground, it simply means that you can’t allow the disruptive behavior to continue and do more damage.

You want what is best for your partner and your relationship.

Tough Love Honors Free Will

Some people are apprehensive about using tough love because it sounds like giving an ultimatum.

In other words, it’s like you are leaving your partner no choice and taking away his or her free will.

This is a common misconception that you should avoid.

If you use tough love, you are giving your partner the freedom to choose what is right.

What is more, you are telling your partner to live with the consequences of his or her actions.

Where harmful behavior is involved, it is better for the person to do the right thing willingly instead of being told to.

Why Does Tough Love Work?

Now that you know what is tough love in a relationship, it’s time to discuss why it works.

It Shows How Much You Care About Your Relationship

A big part of being in a healthy relationship is holding each other accountable.

It means that if one of you makes a mistake, the other should be strong enough to call it out.

It will lead to an open communication channel built on trust and respect.

Using tough love is an excellent way to show that you hold your relationship to a higher standard.

You respect your partner and yourself enough to know that your relationship is worth the extra work.

know what is tough love in a relationship

It Can Put Your Relationship to the Test

Being in a relationship can give you the best feeling in the world.

However, it is not all fun and smooth sailing.

No matter how much you love each other, you will face challenges along the way.

Using tough love is a good way to test how strong your bond is.

Are you willing to make the tough decision to help your partner?

Will your partner recognize that your true intention is to help and not to punish?

If you address these questions resoundingly, you and your partner will come out stronger. 

It Can Help Set and Manage Expectations

Tough love allows you and your partner to be open about what your expectations are for the relationship.

You can be clear about what is acceptable, what is tolerable, and what is not.

For instance, if harmful behavior is involved, tough love demonstrates how strongly you feel about it.

What Should You Look Out for When Using Tough Love?

While tough love works in many cases, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when using it.

Avoid Humiliating Your Partner

When it comes to tough love, you must be mindful of the situation you are in.

For instance, it might be humiliating or insulting to your partner to be treated harshly in front of friends and family.

Instead of being receptive to your efforts, your partner might become defensive.

Prevent Feelings of Shame and Guilt

Tough love is effective to a certain degree.

However, it can foster feelings of shame or guilt if used too much.

Make sure that you reserve this approach only for extreme situations where being compassionate or kind doesn’t work.

Love Can Seem Conditional

Love should be given freely with no strings attached, but using tough love seems counterintuitive to this belief.

That is why your partner needs to realize that you have his or her best interest at heart.

You are not trying to change who your partner is or withholding your love out of spite.

You are trying to address the disruptive behavior that is causing harm to your partner and your relationship.

Help, Do Not Punish

Being tough on people you love can seem like you are punishing or even manipulating them.

You need to make sure your partner understands that this is not your intention.

More importantly, you need to be clear about this to yourself.

Do not lose sight of your goal or get caught up in the situation.

It is easy to get frustrated if you feel that things are getting out of hand.

Still, remember that you are doing the right thing, and you need to trust that the process will work.

How To Give Tough Love in a Relationship

If you are not sure how to use tough love, do not worry, we have outlined some of the most important tips to do so.

  1. Make sure that your friends and family are involved, so you have a robust support system around you. 
  2. Stay strong in standing up to the harmful behavior you are trying to change.
  3. Be clear about your goals and expectations.
  4. Let your partner know why the behavior is harmful and what he or she needs to do about it.
  5. Give your partner enough space to make a choice on his or her own.
  6. Accept your partner’s decision but hold him or her accountable for its consequences.

Using Tough Love in a Relationship Effectively

Relationships come with a lot of challenges, but there are many ways to overcome them.

Using tough love offers one way to help a person find the strength to overcome personal challenges.

It is important to keep in mind that tough love is not retaliation.

Neither is it an indication that you do not accept who your partner is. 

It is a reflection of how strongly you want your relationship to work.

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