What Is Tough Love? (How To Tell It Like It Is)

Everybody needs tough love every once in a while. There are instances where there are things that need to be said so that a friend can hear what they need to hear. These things may seem relatively harsh, but it’s beneficial for them in the long run.

If you want to be able to use this approach properly, you’ll also need to learn exactly what tough love is. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about tough love, and how you can ultimately use it on a friend, given the right situations.

What Is Tough Love?

Tough love is when you say something to someone you care about you know will hurt them. However, that hurtful thing is something they need to hear so they can improve, or become better in the future.

For example, if a friend can’t move on from a breakup even though the reason for that breakup was particularly hurtful to them, you may need to use tough love on them to remind them how awful that relationship was. In your honesty, you may end up hurting their feelings, but you know it’s something they need to hear so that they can move on properly.

Another useful example of when to use tough love is when a friend starts to act in such a way that it’s hurtful and damaging. For whatever reason, if a friend changes and starts doing hurtful things, you’ll need to confront them so that they can steer away from this path.

You’ll need to use tough love and tell them how their actions are being received by you and those around them.

Using tough love doesn’t always need to be because someone does something wrong, or wants to return to something that’s terrible for them (like a toxic relationship, for example). It can also be used on friends who don’t seem to believe in themselves enough.

If a friend feels particularly down and they don’t believe in themselves anymore, you can “simulate” tough love by convincing them that they’re capable of doing amazing things. You may then need to keep pushing them so that they’ll be motivated to do better. You do this because you know they’re capable of doing great things. They, however, think otherwise. As a friend, it’s then up to you to be tough to that friend so that they can be pushed to do better.

How To Tell It Like It Is

A Woman Supporting Her Friend

To be able to use tough love on a friend, you’ll need to tell it like it is. You’ll need to be honest, persistent, and even harsh at times just to get your point across. Take note of the following tips so that you’ll know how to tell it like it is.

Know that you’re simply doing what’s best for them

It can be hard to use tough love because we don’t like the idea of hurting our friends. If you’re hesitant to tell it like it is because you don’t want to cause pain, remind yourself that you’re doing this for them. If used as a last resort, using tough love on a friend could be what’s best for them. It may hurt them now, but it will help them become better in the end.

Don’t be afraid of inflicting temporary pain if it means betterment for the future. In time, they’ll understand why you needed to be tough with them.

Be honest, but don’t be needlessly hurtful

While you’ll often need to be brutal and harsh when using tough love on a friend, remember to never be needlessly hurtful. This means you shouldn’t say things that are hurtful but aren’t relevant to the point you’re trying to make.

For example, if your co-worker who’s also your friend is on the brink of getting fired because they’ve been slacking off for the past weeks or months, use tough love to shake them up. Tell them they’ve been doing poorly and that they need to do better in order to stay employed.

However, don’t tell them they’re somehow “incompetent” or “stupid” in any way. These are hurtful comments that add nothing to your point. You can simply mention the truth: they’ve been slacking off. There’s no need to use other hurtful descriptors. Be honest and hurtful, as long as it’s helpful, but never go out of your way to insult them needlessly.

Acknowledge the fact that you’re demonstrating tough love

To “lessen the blow,” in a way, you can start by telling your friend that you’re going to use tough love on them before you say what you need to say. This way, they’ll know what’s coming they won’t be taken aback.

This will also reinforce the fact that you’re merely saying the things you’re about to say for their sake. You’ll be hurting them with your words, but they’ll ultimately be able to reflect on everything you’ll say and use that to be better. If you acknowledge doing this before actually doing it to them, they’ll be prepared for your words. It may still hurt, but at least it won’t come as a surprise.

Don’t take it personally if they get offended

Friends Talking While Having Coffee

Since the things you’ll be saying when you’re using tough love can be hurtful, your friend may end up getting offended. This is okay. It’s a completely reasonable response.

With that in mind, if they do get offended when you tell it like it is, don’t take it personally. Allow them to say things back to you, or whatever it is they need to say just so they can let it out. Expect this to happen, in fact.

Be understanding. After all, you can’t just expect someone to listen to you say possibly hurtful things to them and have them not retaliate. Even if the things you’re saying are for their sake.

If a person is going through a particularly rough patch and you’re using tough love on them to help them move on, you’ll need to be even more understanding if they end up getting offended. You’ll need to be the bigger person in this situation. Take everything they throw at you, but never take them to heart.

Always apologize if you ever take things too far

If somehow you take things a bit too far, always apologize. This can happen when you get caught up in the heat of the moment or when they truly don’t listen to anything you’re saying anymore.

As we’ve mentioned already, you shouldn’t be needlessly hurtful. You should only say things that are relevant to the point you’re trying to make. Words they need to hear. However, we can get caught up in our emotions and go too far accidentally. We end up saying things we don’t mean, or don’t need to say at all.

Don’t feel too bad when this happens. It’s completely normal for us to make this mistake. However, you should always apologize. Say sorry for taking things too far, but reiterate the fact that you’re simply using tough love because you want to help them out.

Ask for help from your other friends

Remember, when a friend needs tough love just so they can hear what they need to hear, you don’t always have to be the only one who says those words. You can also ask for help from your other friends.

If you belong in a social circle and one of you needs to be told truthful, yet hurtful things for their own sake, ask the others to help you out too. You can all then use tough love on that one friend that needs to be told like it is.

This may seem like you’re ganging up on that one friend, but this is highly necessary so that they’ll listen. It will also show that everyone in the group cares about that one person. Besides, it will make things infinitely easier for you. It’s better to do this with other friends than just doing it alone.

Do it at the right place, at the right time

When you’re using tough love, a lot of the things you’ll end up saying may be personal. They shouldn’t be too out of line, but they can be personal enough that it pushes them out of the situation they’re stuck in.

That said, make sure to only use tough love at the right place, at the right time. Don’t say things that are too personal to your friend in public. You don’t want others eavesdropping on these things. Make sure you’re in a private and comfortable place. It could be your home, their home, or anywhere you and your friend enjoy constantly going to.

Remain supportive

Two Friends Hugging

Since the only reason why you’re doing this is to help your friend, make sure to maintain your support after all is said and done. Once you’ve said your piece, continue providing support. Be there for them. It will show that you truly do care about them and that the only reason why you’ve said hurtful things to them is to ultimately help them in the end.

Be better at conveying the words you need to say

It will be hard to tell it like it is if you’re not capable of conveying your words properly. Practice how to be articulate so that you’ll be able to get your point across. Better yet, you can practice saying the things you need to say to your friend so that the only words they’ll hear from you are the ones they need to hear. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you stumble along the way while using tough love, take a pause and think about your words. Remember, it’s very important that you keep a fair balance here. You want to be truthful enough regardless of how painful it may be to them, but you also don’t want to hurt them any more than you should.

It can be hard to do this if you’re not good with your words or aren’t prepared. If you’re not that articulate yet, you can check out our article on how you can be more articulate. If you don’t have the time to learn this social skill, simply practice saying the things you need to say before you meet your friend.

Be patient

Patience is very important when dealing with someone who needs tough love. Don’t expect them to get better immediately. You also shouldn’t expect them to fully understand you immediately. Give them time. They may need it to process the things you’ll tell them. They may also just need time to heal or become better. That’s not something that happens overnight, after all.

Just remain patient and wait on them. Just remember to be there for them when they need you.

Should You Always Use Tough Love?

Friends Looking Away From Each Other

When it’s already necessary, yes, you should. However, this shouldn’t be your first option. Once you’ve given proper advice already and have helped them in a lot of ways and those still aren’t enough, that’s when you should use tough love.

We resort to using tough love when normal advice fails. When a friend doesn’t listen anymore, or when they keep being stubborn and unmoving in response to your words, you use tough love so that they’ll listen to you. You know they need to listen to you so they can become better. It’s hurtful, yes, but it’s also highly necessary.

You should also remember that everybody reacts to tough love differently. Some people find this very disagreeable, but there are also some who understand its importance. That said, don’t expect everyone to respond similarly to tough love. One friend may completely understand where you’re coming from, while one will completely and immediately find you offensive.

It’s then up to you to adjust to their responses. What’s important now is that you know when to use it, how to use it, and why you use it. Employing tough love and telling it like it is can be the best option at times. But when it’s not necessary, never resort to it.

Friendships aren’t always good times and sunny days. A lot of times, it can be difficult and painful. Using tough love in the most difficult of times can be necessary. Just make sure you know what you’re doing before you actually use it. If a friend of yours need it right now, re-read everything above and make sure you have this technique to a tee. Good luck!

About The Author

Scroll to Top