Is Tough Love Really Love?

Updated March 6, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Sometimes we hear about different kinds of love quite frequently, and we may wonder what they mean or how you can understand your personal form of love. Maybe you're in a situation where tough love seems to be the norm, and you're not sure if it's good for everyone involved. Maybe you're the recipient of tough love, or maybe it's the parenting style that you've adopted for your children. Understanding what it is and what it means for your children can be an important stage.

Are you struggling with balancing love and discipline?

Understanding tough love

What exactly is tough love? It can mean different things to different people, and whether it's productive or not can depend on your lifestyle, your family, and just what you define as tough love. In the simplest form, we consider tough love when someone places restrictions or requirements on someone to ensure they meet their obligations or responsibilities. It can be frequently used with children, students, or even partners.

The positives of tough love

Research shows us that children raised in households with a tough-love approach tend to be well-rounded, empathetic and able to control and control their emotions. 

Tough love can show children how to improve their self-esteem, but it can also teach them to respect authority and to respect the rules. They can learn how to control their wants and needs, understand that they must treat others more respectfully, and accept that they won't always get what they want. With this type of parenting, the parent may be required to be more present and more involved with the child; however, they should be able to ignore or refuse to immediately respond to negative behaviors. They should also be constantly able to reinforce and uphold rules and punishments in a fair way.

Drawbacks of tough love

Tough love may become an issue if it is taken to extremes. Children should know where the boundaries lie. It can even bring them comfort to know what the rules are and that, if they follow the rules, they won’t need to worry about punishment or anger. However, if someone, in the name of tough love, begins to be cruel towards their children, belittle them, or try to embarrass them in front of others, then perhaps what they are doing is no longer “tough love.”

Which is better? Tough love or love first


There are pros and cons to tough love. There are situations where one may be better than the other. In making the hard decision about whether to use tough love, it may be helpful to learn about an alternative intervention called "love first."

Love first is an intervention technique that Debra and Jeff Jay developed in 2000. In this situation, a team works together to gently help people see that they may need help and try to gain their cooperation to enter a therapeutic program. This type of program can work well for people dealing with an alcohol addiction or substance use disorder.

The way it works is a concerned loved one gathers a team of at least three people together, but not more than seven. The team usually consists of the people who are the closest to the person needing help. Some teams find it helpful to acquire the assistance of a professional interventionist to lead the team and guide the process to success. The team meets several times to formulate a loving plan that will hopefully result in the person wanting change.

Meetings like these can be an example of tough love that can be incredibly effective in helping someone else, help themselves.

Reaching out to the professionals

Are you struggling with balancing love and discipline?

Getting professional help can be a process, and for many, it can be a difficult process. You might find yourself struggling to locate someone who you or your child can feel comfortable with. If you’re in a tough spot, consider logging on to Regain to find out more about online psychiatric services.


Online therapy allows you to reach a professional located anywhere in the country. Once you do, you'll have no problem connecting with them from anywhere that has an internet connection, and you can make sure you're comfortable at all times when you talk to them. Many people share that when they talk to a counselor online (as opposed to in-person) they feel more comfortable opening up. If you feel that you and your partner are having trouble striking the proper balance with tough love, then couples counseling on Regain can make a big difference. In fact, 95% of couples who go to online therapy say that it has been “helpful” to their relationship.

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