Tough Love Is A Tough Concept

I have no professional or other credentials to talk about the concept of “tough love.” I’ve not read any books or articles about it, but I have come across a lot of people who claim to have expertise in the area. Why then am I writing about it? The answer is that the concept troubles me, and I’m seeking my readers help.

I understand the difficulties that parenting and addiction present, and I’ve heard the cries from parents, spouses, siblings, and friends who ask God, friends, and family, “What do I do?” There are several biblical stories in the Hebrew scriptures where God certainly engaged in what I would call “tough love” with his chosen people. There are a few passages where Jesus seems to want to back off a healing or a miracle. I wonder in any of those untold stories Jesus faced the difficult and painful choice of saying, “No, I won’t help you any more.”

Tough love has succeeded and it has failed with what seems to be no rhyme or reason. Does a mother ever stop loving a son or a daughter? I would say very seldom. Does a brother get fed up with a siblings behavior and addiction and say, “no more?” But that doesn’t mean that love goes away. There are as many instances of unsolvable relationships as there are stars in the sky.

So what does one do when a person thinks that the only answer is some form of “tough love?”

By the way, I don’t ask these questions for myself. One benefit of reaching my age is we can give advise, but we are past facing these issues ourselves. We have already been successful facing such situations or more often than not, we “screwed it up” but lived to either forget it happened or it worked itself out without our help or intervention.

What I think I know is that “love” must dominate the “tough.” I also know there are people who are professionals who are available to guide one, but you must be careful in seeking their advice to make sure that “love” dominates their recommendations.

What do you think?


About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. I don’t have any experience with children with addictions. So my philosophy has always been love them, See what you can do to guide them. People tell me I should use ‘tough love’ regarding my family musician but he has a right to his dreams, he has a history of being a hard worker, so we go along but are there for him and talk regularly about what he can do to expand his horizons. Every child has a moment whe the dream is important, the parents reaction is guided by the talents of the child.

  2. Webb, as the father of two sons who have struggled for years with opiate dependency, I categorically call BS on “tough love.” I think it’s a cop out for parents whom have given up Hope. It’s tantamount to saying to a person with dementia “if I don’t help you get dressed, you’ll dress yourself.”

  3. Webb: As in most conundrums the answer is based on the situation and in this case can perhaps be delineated beetween finding a path to avoid enabling but using love as the platform to help the affected person move forward towards recovery.
    I have not had to deal with additions, but certainly overseeing “poor decisions” by children who stubbornly held to their decisions.
    It was through communication of “love” and caring not as an order but seeking a path to restore lines of communication and trust that led to good outcomes.
    Tough Love in my definition is not walking away but simply avoiding the underpinning of bad decisions and continuing to seek an agreed upon vision of a better future. Far easier said than done, but clearly means not financially supporting addictive or destructive behavior in the service of “love”.

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