Most people have heard of the concept of “tough love” as it relates to addiction and recovery. Some of us have become increasingly aware that the term is less helpful than we would hope.
Here’s the problem. For many of us we understand that “tough love” means getting ROUGH with our loved ones in need of recovery. We hear it in the meetings rooms, “FInally I kicked his ass out.” Or, “And I told her, don’t you bother to show your face around here until you are ready to get sober.” This is tough talk, I’m not sure it is loving.
You know what I think makes love tough? Accepting responsibility for my part when a relationship is in trouble is tough. It’s easy to talk tough, but how willing have we been to take actions that are actually hard for us to uphold? In other words, loving well can be tough. I have a friend who talked tough and kicked their kid out. But they signed a lease on an apartment and pay each month’s rent, utilities and cable bill. They told their kid that they were only going to support recovery, not addiction, but bought them a car with the hopes that they would get a job. Which, by the way, the kid did. He sells drugs and the car is helpful for meeting up with clients.
Here is a way that love has proven to be tough. I have another friend who sat their daughter down and said, with gentleness and love, “Hey, you cannot live here anymore. Stealing my silver was just the last straw. Having you here is making it difficult for me to sleep at night; I am starting to resent the ways I feel you are taking advantage of me. I don’t want to feel this way or live like this any longer. I would like to meet with someone who can help us work out a transition plan.”
This was very tough. It required waiting for an appointment to help develop the plan. It wasn’t dramatic and chaotic – which felt unfamiliar. My friend had to wrestle with this idea that she wasn’t being “helpful” because her conversation did not mention rehab or suggest causality for the stealing. The daughter initially responded by redoubling her efforts at compliance and cajoling. Mom was not fooled by this temporary change in behavior, but it also tempted her to dare to dream that this child could live respectfully within the home.
See the difference? Are you struggling with discerning the difference between tough love and loving in ways that are tough because they are new to you?