Tough love

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Tough love is the act of treating a person sternly or harshly with the intent to help them in the long run.


Bill Milliken described tough love through the expression, "I don't care how this makes you feel toward me. You may hate my guts, but I love you, and I am doing this because I love you."[1][2]

Milliken strongly emphasizes that a relationship of care and love is a prerequisite of tough love, and that it requires that caregivers communicate clearly their love to the subject.[2] Maia Szalavitz believes, based on her own experience, that this may be difficult, since some people experiencing addiction consider themselves unworthy of love and find it difficult to believe others love them.[3][2]

In most uses, there must be some actual love or feeling of affection behind the harsh or stern treatment to be defined as tough love. For example, genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation would be said to be practicing tough love.[4][5]

Tim Hawkes has described tough love as putting "principles before popularity" and allowing loved ones to learn through failure.[6]


The term has been appropriated to justify authoritarian parenting[7] and boot camps for teenagers which Maia Szalavitz characterizes as abusive.[8] The National Institutes of Health noted that "get tough treatments do not work and there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse".[9] Szalavitz believes tough love rhetoric encourages unnecessarily harsh rules, "brutal confrontations", and a presumption that pain produces growth.[3][2]

The British think tank Demos asserts that tough love, understood as authoritative parenting in contrast to authoritarian parenting, is beneficial in the development of preferred character traits in children up to five years old.[10]


The phrase "tough love" itself is believed to have originated with Bill Milliken's book of the same title[a] in 1968.[2][11][12][7][b]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The book is: Milliken, B.; Meredith, C. (1968). Tough Love. Old Tappan, N.J.: F. H. Revell Co. OCLC 384094.
  2. ^ The first use of the term in professional literature appears to be: Alcohol Highway-traffic Safety Workshop for the Judiciary. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1974. pp. II–76.


  1. ^ Milliken 2007, p. 45.
  2. ^ a b c d e Jung 2015, p. 109.
  3. ^ a b Szalavitz 2006.
  4. ^ Vine, Sarah. "Tough love or TLC?", The Times, 31 August 2007.
  5. ^ Jardine, Cassandra. "The ultimate betrayal or just tough love?", Daily Telegraph, 4 March 2009.
  6. ^ Hawkes 2016, p. 63.
  7. ^ a b Hawkes 2016, p. 62.
  8. ^ Szalavitz, Maia. "The Trouble With Tough Love", The Washington Post, 28 January 2006.
  9. ^ 2004 Youth Violence Prevention, National Institute of Health.
  10. ^ "Tough love 'is good for children'", BBC News, 8 November 2009.
  11. ^ Hall, Hall & Daman 2010, p. 162.
  12. ^ Miller 2009, p. 86.

General and cited references[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of tough love at Wiktionary