From a friend's Facebook page: "Is "tough love" an oxymoron, or isn't it?"
It's always seemed odd to me that we have embraced this concept so whole-heartedly in modern life. In an age of self-disclosure writ large, (witness the phenomenon of blogs, talk shows, etc.) we seem to have also adopted a tough guy approach to interpersonal relationships. Just about the worst thing one can be these days is too needy or co-dependent or lacking independence. And, most of the time, I find this a very healthy approach. Of course we should be responsible for our own emotions! Of course independence is valuable and should be encouraged. And, in terms of the idea of 'tough love,' I think what most people mean is that they want to be assertive of their boundaries and needs. When it comes right down to it, that's what I did when the time to end my marriage arrived. For, ultimately, being with someone who doesn't respect your individuality at all is the height of unhealthiness.
When does the line between protecting yourself or being assertive and being cruel or disconnected from those around you get crossed? Too often, I think, 'tough love' simply serves as an excuse to be harsh and demanding of those we say we love, a way to ensure that our needs are met even at the expense of someone else's. (This does *not* apply to the source of the question.) What troubles me equally about the concept is that it seems difficult to balance with an idea that I really hold dear: that we are all connected and interdependent in this world. We need each other to get by. We need back up and support networks and friends and family and love, above all. I don't think anyone ever suffers from an excess of love.
So, what's the answer? Is 'tough love' an oxymoron? No, it isn't. It's just a misappropriated, bastardized term far too often. To my way of thinking, we all seek a balance between our own independent, assertive selves and the ability to connect deeply with others in meaningful ways. That beautiful, happy, medium must lie somewhere in the middle as so many things do. Finding it is the Grail of our modern age. Here's to the continued search!