The Truth About Tough Love and How It Actually Destroys Your Relationship
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Tough love is a term that refers to a form of discipline or punishment where someone gets treated in an honest way, but with a level of toughness. It can be used by parents to discipline their children, by friends for each other, and even as an act of self-discipline. It is often seen as being hurtful and manipulative and is a form of abuse that can be difficult to detect but has lasting effects on the victim.

Tough love relationships are abusive in nature and often go undetected because they do not fit the typical definition of abuse. The abuser in some severer cases of this type of abuse will make sure that their victim does not have any support system or connection outside of them, which will make it harder for them to leave should they feel like they’ve reached their wits end.

The unfortunate thing about tough love that it is well and alive in many South Asian relationships – whether it stems from a parents upbringing or not understanding a child’s behaviour, most first generation immigrant parents tend to stick this style of ‘discipline’ as they call it. The excuse of ‘You’re my child, I can yell at you’, ‘my parents treated me worse when I was younger’ or the worst, ‘it’s a blessing to be told off by your parents’ is so painstakingly common even now. But are tough lovers aware of what harm they’re causing?

What are the Negative Effects of the Practice that Makes it Harmful for Relationships?

Tough love is a form of discipline which is not effective in the long run. The negative effects of tough love are that it might cause children to have a low self-esteem, they might feel unloved, and they may feel like there’s no way out. Tough love can also cause the child to become more rebellious, violent or aggressive.

This type of treatment makes its worst impact on teenagers as those years are when they’re prone to hormone changes and developing their coping mechanisms which will carry them through life. When dealing with a teenager, the best way to approach tough love is by having firm limits and expectations but never to the point where the teen feels as though they are being belittled. From my personal experience, South Asian parents in particular struggle with their teens behaviour and write it off as bad behaviour rather than hormonal and emotional changes and essentially belittle them while never apologising for it as a means to move forward.

Tough love also harbours a sense of resentment between those who are stuck in the cycle which can cause irreparable damage and a sense of permanent anger towards those who gave the recipient tough love to begin with.

The most awful trend about tough love is that the children of those parents who use this method know no other way of displaying their emotions and sadly carry it on with them when they go onto have their own children. It’s all a mirror effect.

Tough Love in Your Relationship – Fighting Fair & Healing Together

It is not just about being nice. It is about being a loving person and making sure that you and the other person on the same page. It is always good to be aware of your actions and more importantly, take responsibility for the damage that you’ve done. Tough love doesn’t always end up bad, but it’s about knowing the limits. It is important to be proactive in your approach to stopping the abuse of this practise and it’s good to ask yourself the following to make sure you can keep yourself in check.

  • What is tough love?
  • How does tough love hurt or help a relationship?
  • Is it possible to love someone and still be honest with them about your feelings without hurting them?

While useful in a handful of situations, tough love is not a sustainable solution for a healthy, happy relationship where it can create a cycle of abuse, where one person does all the giving and the other person does all the receiving. Understanding one another is incredibly important and I can only hope to see less of this within immigrant families, where this style of love leads to damaged relationships, with the newer generation of immigrant parents making their way into a familial setting.