Last night I got a message sent to me by a female friend of mine who asked, "Why do you say 'Tough love is still love'? I'm curious because I think love is naturally kind, patient, understanding and other "positive" emotions that would make someone feel a warm emotion such as love." And through our conversations and what I know about her, I came to realize, "Ooooohhhhh, you don't actually know what love is, because it's never been shown to you in the right ways." I didn't say this directly to her, but it was definitely on my mind. I also reflected on conversations I've had with other people in my life and it dawned on me that people have a very fucked up misconception of what love is and how love works.
I'm trying not to paint with too broad of a brush and say this applies to EVERYONE. But I'm seeing a growing trend in the 40 and under crowd that is mind boggling to me. So pardon me if this doesn't apply to you. And if it doesn't, read this anyway and then look around at your single friends or young married friends and you'll see a very sad understanding of Love. Maybe it was because I was raised with very old fashioned views on how to love, both platonic and intimate. Maybe I used the example of my grandparents as the baseline for what true love really is and how it works. But as I look around and talk to my clients, friends and peers about the current state of dating, relationships and intimacy, I'm shocked, terrified and appalled at what the new standards are. Even in the world of friendships, I see a huge gap forming in how we are supposed to show love versus how people are actually showing love.
For the purposes of this writing, understand I'm using the word and action of "LOVE" very generically. I'm using it as it applies to our friendships, business partnerships as well as our intimate relationships. So please remember that though I'm talking about Love, I don't necessarily mean a romantic intimate love. It could be the love shared between friends, family, fellow military unit members or other people in your life you could say you love and want to see the best for.
See, I was married for the last 16 years and haven't been in the dating pool since then. But our relationship was and still is very loving. And when I say loving, i don't just mean having hot sex and always doing cute things. No. I mean, even in our most dark moments, we stood there side by side and faced the storm together. We called each other out and held each other accountable. We also did some very unloving things to one another too. But those moments of selfish unloving actions are what taught us the biggest lessons about ourselves and how to properly love others better. Nowadays, I'm trying to understand what is happening in today's society. I see more and more of my peers (+/- 10 years) have failed, revolving door relationships and they seem as if that is just "the norm". They look like a jungle explorer from a book written by Mark Twain, coming across a new tribe of cannibals when in actuality they actually encounter someone who expresses true love and tough love the way it's supposed to be.
I see people having meaningless sex and racking up partners thinking this is connection and potentially love. But when you ask them what it means to "Make love" they look at you with that confused Labrador retriever look with their head cocked to the side and ears perked up like they have no idea what you're talking about. They use this meaningless sex as a way to validate themselves in a very short term and short sighted rush of excitement and they confuse lustful infatuation for love. As a result they are confused why they can't develop real connection or why their confidence and ability to trust is so compromised. I see people are terrified of the actuality of Love and all that comes with it. They don't understand how difficult Love really can be. They believe that Love should be all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns and when it's not and they have to put some effort and work into it and it's not immediately serving them, they just assume, "Ah, it's not meant to be. It's broken. Fuck it." and they toss away what could be a very beautiful connection away.
So let's talk first about what Love really is. From the dictionary- Love as a noun means: 1. an intense feeling of deep affection. OR 2. a great interest and pleasure in something. As a Verb it means: 1. feel deep affection for (someone). OR 2. like or enjoy very much. And though these are very clinical definitions of the word, I believe there is so much more to it. Frankly, I don't even like the technical definition of Love from the dictionary. It's too shallow and doesn't encompass all the things that Love really is. But that's just my point of view.
I'm not a religious person by any means, but I believe there is a passage in the Bible that perfectly describes what Love is and how it works. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, the scripture says this, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." That sounds quite optimistic. It's a beautifully written sentiment on what Love is and how it works, for sure. This verse perfectly lays out the guidelines of the word Love and it's do's and don'ts. But what do we do with it? What does that have to do with Tough Love? How is Tough Love still Love?
Sadly, as a society we have become too accustomed to one side of the coin of life. The good and fun side. There are two sides to everything in this life, both the good and the bad. Pain vs. pleasure, dark vs light, right vs. wrong, sweet vs bitter, love vs hate, forgiveness vs revenge. Everything has an equal opposite to it. Yet we tend to forget... no... Neglect the things that require hard work, introspection, humility, integrity, and grace. So when we think of love, we tend to think of only positive things as my friend above said. But notice, she used nearly the same words that were in the bible verse. The problem here is that she only considered the positive side of those emotions and actions associated with those words. She neglected to recognize that there is a flip side to each of those words and actions. She also was looking at it from the lens of Me loving You. We must also consider, Me loving me and you loving you as well. More on those later.
For example. I can love you by being be kind, patient and understanding in a very therapeutic way. Meaning, when you need me I'll be there to wipe away your tears. To hold you as you cry your eyes out. Sacrifice sleep and stay up late talking to you so you can iron out your issues. I can tell you how beautiful, wonderful and amazing you are with an array of vocabulary that would make even some of the world's greatest poets envious. I can boost you up in ways and try to make you see yourself in only the most beautiful of light. That is the type of love we all envision.
Tough Love is situation dependent. If soft and gentle love as listed above isn't working or appropriate for the situation, it's time for Tough Love. And tough love is the flip side to the coin. This is the side no one wants to look at or address. Dr. Jordan Peterson has been known to have said, "A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has it under voluntary control." How does this apply to Tough Love? Well, a harmless man will only focus on the soft and gentle aspects of love because they don't want conflict. He is weak because he fears conflict. He fears that if he tells his partner the hard truths, set boundaries and enforce them, that his partner will up and leave them. I've been guilty of this in the past. But I learned it doesn't work. A dangerous man is a man who loves gently and softly, but who knows when to employ Tough Love appropriately. He understands that the tough nature of what is going to be said and done isn't done to hurt the other person maliciously. It's meant to teach the violator and to remind them to be better than they are currently acting. It's a holding the other to high but realistic standards and expecting them to be met. It’s a mutual respect. So tough love is saying the things and doing the things that brings out only the very best in others. We use tough love as a way to show people, "Hey knuckle head... you're acting like a real ass and I know you can do better. You are settling for less that your are worth. You are treating me less than I am worth. You are doing self destructive shit that is doing more harm than good and I Love you so much I'm willing to tell you these hard things so that you get your head out of your ass and start acting better! I love you so much that I'm going to cause you pain for a moment, because there is a cost to your actions. If you love me the way I love you, this will hurt until you pull your head out of your ass.
In one of Dr. Peterson's talks, (click here) Dr. Peterson points out to get through obstacles a loving relationship may come across, you have to have some strength of character. You have to be willing to say, "There will be a cost if you interfere with me. It will be the minimal cost necessary but there will be a cost and you will pay it." To me, this is the epitome of Tough Love. There will be a cost for disrespecting, lying to or hurting me. And that cost is going to hurt a little. I'm going to voice it, you may not like the words I chose but I'm going to make sure you know how I feel. Then most likely you'll get the silent treatment and potentially I walk out of your life until you decide to treat me right. There will be a cost for cheating on me. I'm walking away from you. There will be a cost for lying to me. You are going to have to jump through hoops if you want me to trust you again. A simple way to put it, I am setting boundaries and enforcing them. Not because I am angry or being malevolent. But because I love you and demand the best from you. I'm holding you accountable because I love you and know you are capable of acting better, and sometimes that tough love will be uncomfortable and painful.
I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about how to show love back when someone has to show you Tough Love because you're being a dumb ass. A way to pay "the cost" as mentioned above is to seek forgiveness and make amends. If you are the violator and someone is showing you Tough Love, then maybe you should take an inventory of your actions. Ask yourself why you are being called out on your shit. Try to look at the situation from the lens of the other person. Try to remove yourself from the situation all to gather and ask yourself what you would tell a friend if they came to you and told you the situation, what advice would you give them? It may be that you need to seek forgiveness and make amends. If you see the errors in your ways that is requiring the other person to have to use tough love, maybe you'll find that they still love you, they are simply disappointed. And if you want to get back to the soft and gentle and happy emotions associated with love, you will have to own your shit. You have to go to them and say, "I fucked up in X, Y, Z ways. I hurt you and I'm incredibly remorseful and want to make amends to you by..... " You may find they still love toughly depending on the severity of the hurt, but if they forgive you, there is a path back to that soft warmth version of love. It simply takes work - work that most people aren’t willing to do anymore.
Most people feel tough love and they say, "Fuck it" and just walk away or trash the relationship thinking the other person doesn't love them or won't love them again. That's not always the case. Love isn't always sunshine and rainbows.... it's a lot of work.
Remember, love in general is a two way street. One entity can't put in all the effort. It must be reciprocal. You can love gently and beautifully most of the time. But when someone you love isn't living up to the potential you KNOW they are capable of, exercise some tough love. Help them get back on track to being a good human. We do it because we love them and we know they are better and can be better.