Tough Love in Adult Relationships Part 3

February 21, 2023

Our three-part series on tough love in adult relationship can only offer an overview of this complex topic. It’s important that you read the full article to unpack these principles and get a handle on whether and how they might impact your specific situationTough Love in Adult Relationships.

For this final column in the series, we’ll look at tough love in marriage and when parenting an adult son or daughter — and whether tough love can fail. (Again, we urge you to read the full article for detailed insight about how to apply tough love.)

Tough love in marriage

As an example, tough love is the right approach when your spouse is involved in porn and refuses to change. Their addiction is disrespectful to you, dishonors your marriage vows, and hurts the entire family.

You need to motivate your spouse to acknowledge their problem and agree to treatment. Say something like, 

Either you admit you have a problem and get help, or you find another place to live until you’re ready to cooperate.

Tough love in parenting an adult son or daughter

Carrying out tough love doesn’t mean you don’t care; it means your love can’t be used against you. As an example, if an adult daughter struggles with substance abuse, say something like,

Your choice to do drugs is hurting all of us. We must step out of the way so that you’ll rely on God instead of us. We will watch you throw away all your bottles and pills, and you will find an accountability partner. You have one week to check into a recovery program, or we’ll find one for you. If you choose not to follow these steps, you’ll be responsible for all legal, medical, or financial fallout. You won’t be allowed to live with us.

Does tough love always work?

Tough love isn’t a formula. The person causing harm is the only one who can choose to change. But what if they don’t? Does that mean tough love has failed — that you’ve failed? No.

Tough love always works in the sense that it will give you a clear behavioral answer from the other person, and that means you’re no longer in a stalemate. Still, it’s agonizing when a loved one chooses a destructive path even after all your efforts. 

Your only choice for a healthy future is to remember that you have value apart from what the other person says or does. Trust God with the outcome. Hold fast to the boundaries you’ve set, follow through on the consequence(s) you set, take care of yourself, and keep a strong support system.

NOTE: Similar concepts of tough love can be used with children and teens, but there are notable differences. If you have questions about how to help your child learn valuable lessons while preserving their dignity, start with our article Five Characteristics of Biblical Discipline. You can also listen online for free to our broadcasts Practical Advice for Parenting Strong-Willed Children  and Navigating the Challenges Teens Face.

fotf icon logo 512x512

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.


Take the First Step

If you're contemplating whether Meier Clinics can provide the mental health support you need, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We understand that determining whether our programs and services are the right fit for you or someone close to you can be challenging. You can start the process by filling out a simple form, and one of our empathetic and caring staff members will reach out to you. Let us help you determine if we can provide the assistance you need.

  • There is no shame in reaching out
  • We're here to help, never to judge
  • We accept insurance and have financial programs

All inquiries are completely confidential.

Related Articles

a different christmas

A Different Christmas

On a chilly December day many years ago, we took our young children to see a living nativity.  The nativity
parenting with hard backgrounds 1024x683

Parenting Children from Hard Backgrounds

Many Christian families are answering the call to care for orphans by exploring adoption from foster care. This is an
meier clinic square

Answering Your Questions: Dr. Lisa Day on Women and ADHD

A follow up to our previous show about undiagnosed ADHD in women with Dr. Lisa Day. Many of our listening
MU93ZoQPNB8 1 1

How to Respond to Tragedy

How do we as Christians support others when we hear of their loss, whether it is that of a friend
logan fisher 570072 unsplash 1

Signs of Drug Addiction

From the expanding legalization of marijuana to the ongoing headlines about the opioid crisis, drug abuse and addiction are incredibly
substance abuse 1024x683

Ending the Cycle of Abusive Relationships

Ending an abusive relationship:  I was in two abusive relationships many years ago.  I know how the cycle is of

How to Help Your Teen With Social Anxiety

It’s been almost 3 years since the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some ways, we are still learning how to reintegrate
when you cant find your space no text

When You Can’t Find Your Space

In her book Chosen for Christ*, Heather Holleman describes having dinner with a tight-knit family: At this table, besides me,
grief and covid no text

How to Cope with Grief and Loss during Covid-19

Everyone has, to some extent, experienced isolation during Covid-19 restrictions. Some are quarantined after an infection or exposure to the

Attachment Disorders Series #2: Parenting Reactive Children or Youth

Last month we shared an overview about parenting a child with attachment issues. And we touched on Trust-Based Relational Intervention®
Meier Clinics