Tough Love in Adult Relationships Part 2

January 24, 2023

Last month we outlined what tough love is not and what it is.

In short, tough love is not a one-size-fits-all solution. And it’s never done out of punishment, revenge, manipulation, or control. Instead, tough love shows compassion for someone’s brokenness while remembering that enabling is not helping. And it safeguards your own well-being.

So, where to start? Head back to the full article to learn the basic steps of tough love. Here we’ll talk about the importance of action-for-action, and why accountability is critical.

Action-for-action is key in tough love

Tough love isn’t about responding in kind. In other words, you don’t act toward someone in the way they act toward you. Instead, you follow through on a predetermined action (consequence) in response to the other person’s action (choice).

Tough love is like a game of checkers: What’s your move? You must see your loved one taking necessary steps to healing — not just rely on their promises that they won’t ever do xyz again. Good intentions don’t matter if never followed through.

Accountability is also critical

Flight to health is a term used in the counseling profession to describe a person’s sudden “recovery” when they want to avoid having to do the hard work of long-term healing. For example, an alcoholic might say, I’ve been sober for two weeks so you should let me come back home.

In reality, though, they’re fooling themself (and others) into thinking there’s a quick fix to a deep problem. It’s easy for someone to say everything is better. But you need to see evidence of real change in the ongoing journey to wholeness. Tough love can’t be wishy-washy.

Go back to your personal boundaries. If the other person in the relationship chooses to continue doing their own thing regardless of the boundaries you’ve set, then you have a choice: Either hold them accountable for their actions or ignore their behavior and maintain the status quo.

Keep in mind, though, that the second option won’t help anyone and is likely a sign of codependency (a mixed-up motivation to help).

Next month …

In part three of our series, we’ll touch on tough love in marriage and when parenting an adult son or daughter. We’ll also talk about whether tough love can fail.

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Focus on the Family’s Counseling Staff is a group of highly experienced, state-licensed clinicians and pastoral counselors who specialize in addressing personal and family issues from a biblical perspective. Focus has enjoyed a long and valued referral relationship with Meier Clinics and other like-minded agencies who serve the cause of Christ in their clinical work. Focus on the Family offers free consultation through 1-855-771-HELP.

At Meier Clinics, all of our counseling staff are in agreement with our Christian statement of faith.   They are Christian and respect our clients’ beliefs, meeting our clients where they feel comfortable in their spiritual beliefs. Call us at 888-7CLINICS to get set up with one of our Christian counselors.


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