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Tough Love - Saying "No" as an Act of Deepest Affection

Tough Love - Saying "No" as an Act of Deepest Affection

            With books like Love Must Be Tough (1983), Christian-oriented writers like James Dobson challenged overly permissive assumptions about how we ought to treat each other.  Caught in the cultural down draft, the definition of love had softened to the point that people were killing each other with (too much) kindness, and with too many yeses.  By toughening love, Dobson, and others, reconnected love with accountability and responsibility.

The Cycle of (Too Much) Kindness

            Scenes like the following are all too familiar.  Whenever there is a tender relationship, there is the possibility that someone in the relationship will take advantage of others, and that some others in the relationship will be taken advantage of.  In these unhealthy relationships, the user uses love as leverage to get what they want, and the "useds" use syrupy, permissive love as an excuse to keep on giving.

Adult son:                   Mom, I really need $1,000.

The mom:                    Son, your dad an I gave you some money just last month.

Adult son:                   Yes mom, but things are tight and I'm out again.

The mom:                    Have you had any luck with your job search?

Adult son:                   I've tried, but they are just not hiring - you know, the economy.

The mom:                    Son, your dad and I can't keep giving your money to live on.

Adult son:                   Just this once more mom.  I really need the money.

The mom:                    O.K. son, just this one more time.

The mom:                    (to herself) At least he knows that I love him.

New Words

            Tough Love introduced new vocabulary into the language of relationships.  One of the new terms is Learned Helplessness.   Learned helplessness is what happens when people adopt a helpless, dependent, and unrepentant approach to life after being bailed out of their problems again and again.

            Natural Consequences is another Tough Love term.  Natural consequences are the bad things that naturally follow bad decisions.  A popular saying summarizes natural consequences: "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes." 

            Natural Consequences have a way of waking people up.  The pain of running headlong into a wall will convince you to never run into any other walls - unless   someone (over) protects you from the natural consequence of "Ouch - that hurts!"  This over protecting is called Enabling.  An Enabler is someone who makes it possible for another to continue self-destructive behavior by making it impossible for them to suffer the full and painful consequences of that behavior. 

            Unable to say "no," fearful of losing love, and addicted to approval, enablers are Codependent.  In effect, a permissive perpetual enabler is just as "hooked" as any addict.  Being unable to say "no" for fear of losing love, and being hooked into the cycle of learned helplessness and enabling is the core of Codependency. 

But I Love Him

            Love is the leverage used by the perpetually irresponsible.  If a perpetually irresponsible adult can convince someone else to "love" them in a way that allows them to never get a job, to never end their addiction, to never stop philandering, or etc., then they have sidestepped the natural consequences.

            Love is also the self-justification of enablers.  When a perpetual enabler perpetually prevents their loved one from suffering the natural consequences of their irresponsibility, the good feeling they get from their "love" blinds them to the harm they are doing. 

            And harm is being done.  By giving in to them again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, irresponsible people are empowered to remain irresponsible.  Learned helplessness is not pretty.  Learning how to live responsibly by being held accountable is much prettier.