When Love Gets Tough

Q: What exactly is “tough love” and do you subscribe to it?

A: “Tough love” refers to a true principle: The idea that just because you love someone doesn’t always mean you’re going to tell them what they want to hear. Telling also implies action: Just because you love someone, you’re not always going to do for them what they want you to do. The reason for this is that sometimes people act against their interests. Those of us who otherwise love such people are responsible–ultimately to ourselves, and our values–to not, in any way, enable, sanction or make easier that self-defeating or self-destructive behavior.

“Tough love” sounds on the surface like a policy towards another–and it does result in that–but at the core it’s an allegiance to yourself. An unprincipled or unthinking person is incapable of “tough love”–or any love, for that matter, because the valuing implied by the concept “love” presupposes conscientious thinking. Toughness is neither an end in itself, nor something to be avoided. It’s simply the consequence–sometimes–of doing what’s right (or at least refusing to do what’s wrong) in the name of upholding someone, and ultimately some principle, that you value.